VINO & VERITAS: Answering the important questions

BY DUNCAN CHAISANGUANTHUM

As writers of a wine column, Duncan and I are inundated with questions about wine, requests for dates and groupies wanting a piece of our action. Okay… just the first one. Here are some of the questions:

What makes a wine red or white? Do green grapes produce white wines and red/black grapes produce red wines?

Yes, as a general rule. For example, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is dark red whereas the Chardonnay grape has a light green color. The nuance is that light and dark grapes tend to produce the same color juice. However, grape juice for red wines is left in contact with the skins and seeds in a process called maceration. This process transfers the color. Rose wines are made from red/black grapes but the process of maceration is abbreviated.

What’s the deal with synthetic corks and screw caps?

The general view is that they actually do a better job (and at less cost) of preserving wine than traditional cork because of issues of wood drying out and bacteria. However, winemakers generally won’t use the newer corks or caps on expensive wines because they are associated with inferiority, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How long does an opened bottle of wine last?

This is a matter of taste, but our experience has suggested that after a week, the air has oxidized the wine into vinegar and rendered it completely undrinkable. While many companies sell fancy products to preserve wine, their benefits are questionable. What we simply do is put the cork back in (upside-down is easier) and store the wine in the refrigerator or freezer to slow down the oxidation process.

Is it true that in France, wines are generally blended whereas in the U.S. wines are generally not?

No, many American wines, despite suggesting the contrary, are blended. As I mentioned in a previous column, American law only requires a bottle labeled as “Merlot” or “Pinot Noir” to consist of 75 percent of the grape varietal on the label. Furthermore, while many French wines are blends (for example, Rhone), certain ones are pure varietals (like Chablis).

What is the French paradox?

Crudely stated: Why do French people, who inhale foie gras, do not exercise, and chain smoke, have longer life expectancies than Americans? The answer is because Americans abstain from alcoholic consumption. Studies show that people who have one to two drinks per day have longer life expectancies than those who refrain completely.

My girlfriend will have only one glass of wine at dinner, but I like to order a bottle when we go out for dinner. Suggestions?

We feel your pain. Sharing a bottle of wine is an enjoyable part of an expensive dinner and the wine-by-the-glass selection is generally limited and overpriced. Our friend, Max Goodman, also asks about the half-bottle, which we think is a good solution to this conundrum except for their limited selection. Unfortunately, our only suggestions would be simply wasting some wine or improving your or your girlfriend’s tolerance.

Why are most wineries near the ocean?

The ocean water has a stabilizing effect on temperature, which is important for growing grapes. Heat ripens grapes too quickly while extreme cold can prevent the grapes from developing adequate flavor.

What makes a wine kosher?

We bothered Rachel Masory in the library to learn the answer to this question but she told us she didn’t have time for us and to go away and leave her alone. In all seriousness, Rachel graciously answered our question but we failed to take any notes, let alone listen attentively. So in a nutshell and based upon our week-old memory: Whether or not Jews are involved in the process, proper supervision of the process and the use of kosher enzymes and substances. For example, gelatin is a standard wine “fining” product that typically is non-kosher.

Can I have a shout-out in the wine column?

Yes you can, Kristy Tillman.

Is now a good time to purchase Bordeaux futures?

Uhhh… Josh Solomondavi can be reached with such questions via email at jsolomon@law.harvard.edu. Josh: “You’re too late; the 2000s are gradually coming out now and are among the best in a long, long time (some say since 1961).” Special thanks to Josh for the answer and input into other parts of this column as well.

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