Monday, January 21, 2008

When Good Wine Goes Bad

Abused Haut Brion and Lafite Rothschild

Or why provenance matters...

It always drives me nuts when people tell me they're really getting into collecting wine and proudly proclaim that they've started a nice little collection. Except that 9 times out of 10 their vinous treasures are happily ensconced in one of those honeycomb racks above the fridge or worse, near the oven. When you see them, usually they're leaking or the corks are pushing out, a sure sign of heat damage. Such was the case in the picture above.

Why is this bad, you ask?

Because wine is a perishable product, like milk or eggs. Would you leave the milk out on the counter, or worse, near a heat source? No, of course not, it goes bad. Well, guess what, the same thing happens with wine. It's a living, breathing product, and the better examples need time to grow into their own to really shine. During this time, they, like milk, need cool temperatures and a certain level of humidity, or they go bad. Why do you think wines are cellared at the winery in very cool caves or cellars?

Now, granted, 99% of wine sold in the world is meant to be drunk right away and NOT cellared. But even these quaffers can't be put in the kitchen next to a roaring flame for too long. Like every other organic product exposed to high heat, they caramelize and, basically, cook. The best thing to do is leave them in a cool place in your house until you are ready to drink them. Whites can even be placed in the fridge for a long time.

But if you're going to spend the money to buy age-worthy wines, spend a little more and either store them professionnally or buy a wine fridge. It will be worth it, so that in 5, 10, 20, 30 years, your wine can be enjoyed in all its glory. In addition, when buying older wines already aged, make sure they've been well-stored and that they have good provenance. Otherwise you end up with bottles like the ones in the pic above, which can't even be used for vinegar. The low fill levels show that the wine leaked due to heat damage. These wines are undrinkable.

Which is a shame, as the pristine examples of those bottles that I've had are otherwordly examples of what wine can be. Something more than a simple quaffer, something that makes you sit up, smile, and realize that all is good in the world and that God exists. They make you want to sit with them, get to know them, and allow them to envelop all your senses.

So go ahead and buy ageable wines, but take care of them or you'll end up with expensive colored water.

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