A Few Questions Answered
By Nate Norfolk
I’ve worked in a wine shop for almost nine years and there are many questions customers ask me over and over again. So I thought that there would be no better forum to answer these reoccurring quandaries than this article. I hope you find the information useful, and if you personally have anything wine-related you would like to ask me, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
Why do wine labels say “Contains Sulfites”? Are sulfites bad for you and do they give you a headache? What are they, exactly?
Sulfites are produced by all grape-based wines naturally during fermentation. Even with no addition of outside sulfites, wines still contain them. Some people are intolerant of the stuff, especially asthmatics. If someone were allergic to sulfites, the consumption of any kind of dried fruit, especially apricots, could be fatal. Most wine contains somewhere between 10 and 200 parts per million of sulfites, with white wines typically having a higher concentration.
But sulfites alone can’t always be blamed for giving wine drinkers headaches. The wine induced-headache is more likely caused by dehydration or a reaction to histamines that naturally occur in red wines. Over 99 percent of commercial wineries add a small amount of sulfites to their wines solely for the sake of preservation. Without a small amount, most wine would turn into vinegar within a few months. The U.S. is one of the few countries that have a mandatory sulfite labeling law. So keep in mind, if you buy wine in Europe and it doesn’t say that it contains sulfites, it’s not necessarily because they aren’t there.
I think there are great wines in the $10 range. That’s best thing about wine right now – there is so much of it and the competition among the cheap brands is fierce. I’m personally a huge advocate of Spanish wines in this price range. That’s where I think the best value to quality ratio is. A few favorites are Borsoa 2005 Tempranillo/Garnacha at $8, Tres Ojos 2004 Garnacha at $8 and Navarro Lopez 2001 Crianza Tempranillo at $11.
If you see a low-priced bottle of wine with the same high Wine Spectator, e.g., professional rating as an expensive bottle, are they of the same quality?
This depends. For instance, you might see a bottle of Merlot from Napa Valley that is rated 92 points and costs $15, and maybe it’s right next to different bottle of Merlot from Napa Valley that is rated 88 points and costs $45. In this instance, the less expensive of the two is supposedly of a higher quality. But it would be entirely unfair to assume that every wine with a good rating will be something you’ll like. If you hate port wine and stumble upon one that’s incredibly cheap with a stellar rating, in the end you still won’t like it. When wines are given ratings they are usually tasted blind side by side with other wines made from the same grape variety and from the same region. Most wine critics are adamant that scores are reflective of the quality of wine for its type and geographic origin, and that price is irrelevant.
How long can you keep wine after it has been opened?
This is more art than science. In almost every circumstance, a wine will be at its optimum the first day it’s opened. Most wines 10 years or older won’t hold up very well overnight. Three days is usually the absolute maximum a wine can be open without showing signs of oxidation (tasting like vinegar). There are exceptions to this rule, however. Tawny port, Madeira, some Sherries and other fortified wines can sit opened on a shelf and taste fresh for at least a month. If you aren’t going to finish a bottle the day it’s opened, I recommend refrigerating it, even if it is red. There are also a variety of products available to help preserve wine that’s been opened; the Vacuvin sucks the air out of a bottle of wine, and Private Preserve is a spray composed of inert gas that forms a kind of blanket between wine and oxygen. VS