User Submitted Wine Questions Answered by Our Wine Experts

Is wine better or worse with a synthetic cork instead of a natural cork?

QUESTION: Is wine better or worse with a synthetic cork instead of a natural cork?

I hate synthetic corks and love natural cork or Stelvin screw tops. Synthetic corks are often very difficult to pull out of the bottle. They haven’t yet convinced me that a wine can age as well with a synthetic cork as they can with natural cork or even screw top. To me, synthetic cork indicates cheap wine or a wine that is unlikely to be made in a natural way.

Do screw caps on wine bottles indicate a cheap wine?

QUESTION: Do screw caps on wine bottles indicate a cheap wine?

No.  Cheap wine indicates cheap wine.  There is an issue with corks as a small percentage of them will cause a problem with the wine in the bottle.  The most famous of these is TCA which is a bacterium that, while harmless, can cause a wine to smell and taste muted at best or like wet cardboard at worse.  Other issues are imperfect seals which cause a wine to age prematurely.

What differentiates old world wines versus new world wines?

QUESTION: What differentiates old world versus new world wines? 

This is a question that does not have a consensus in the wine business. It used to be that countries like France were old world and New Zealand were new world. In general, these arguments can still stand. New Zealand really is a new wine producing country. However, it gets into murky water. Some people would consider South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Lebanon and Portugal as new world producers.

What does decanting do to a wine?

QUESTION: What does decanting do to a wine?

There are two reasons to decant a wine.  The first reason is to remove the sediment that can build up in a wine over time.  Sediment is particulate matter that has fallen out of the wine.  It is safe to consume, but some find it unpleasant and unattractive.  The older the wine, generally the more sediment, although certain types of grapes produce more than others.  To decant a wine for sediment, stand the bottle up in a cool place for a few days at minimum.  

What does it mean for a wine to be unbalanced?

QUESTION: What does it mean for a wine to be unbalanced?

When a wine is young, it can take years for all the various elements, such as acidity, tanning and fruit to integrate. Until such time the wine can be considered out of balance. However, some young wines can be balanced in the beginning and age gracefully to develop more elegance or character. A lot of the time, a wine professional will refer to a wine as being unbalanced if the wine tastes too strongly of one particular element, very commonly oak, alcohol or acidity.

What's the difference between Petite Syrah, Syrah, and Shiraz?

QUESTION: What's the difference between Petite Syrah, Syrah, and Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape.  It tends to be labeled as Shiraz in Australia and Syrah in the rest of the world (remembering that in France it is more likely to have a geographic name such as St. Joseph or Cote Rotie).  There are in fact different strains of Syrahs around the world and often in the same vineyard.

Should wine be stored flat like in wine racks? Or, is it ok to have it standing up like in most supermarkets?

QUESTION: Should wine be stored flat like in wine racks? Or, is it ok to have it standing up like in most supermarkets?

Madeira is the only wine that should be stored standing up. If the cork fails and falls into the bottle, it will still survive. Any other wine should be stored lying down in a cool, dark, humid environment, away from vibration and fluctuations in temperature. Supermarket shelves have a high turnover, so there is no danger of the wine being stored long enough to have the fact that it is standing have any impact.

Can you trust wine distributors or are they all driven by relationships with the winemakers?

QUESTION: Can you trust wine distributors or are they all driven by relationships with the winemakers?

No to both parts.  Distributors are no different than any other aspect of business.  There are ones to trust and ones that are only interested in selling their inventory.  If you find a distributor whose wines you consistently like, then it may be likely you can trust them.  Look to see if they carry the same wines you like every year.  If so, support them the way you would any other business.

What kind of wine should you age and what kind of wine can be enjoyed immediately?

QUESTION: What kind of wine should you age and what kind of wine can be enjoyed immediately?

Most people won’t know that the oldest wines in the world are white. They generally can age better than reds, depending on the grape variety. The oldest wine I ever tasted was carbon dated to 1670, it was white and only 6% alcohol but the storage was responsible for its great condition, cut off from any form of light, buried for centuries in cold, damp London clay. The longest lived wines are Madeiras, most of which are made from white grape varieties. Some of the great old white Burgundies [Chardonnay] would be classified as some of the greatest wines in the world.

What is the best way to tell the difference between an OK wine and a good wine in the supermarket?

QUESTION: What is the best way to tell the difference between an OK wine and a good wine in the supermarket?

Price is not always an indication and many times the ratings or reviews they put on the shelf are just to push that brand. This is a very difficult proposition, especially in a supermarket where the “wine person” can change from week to week.  I would recommend trying to learn something specific about the wines you like and looking for similar qualities.  For example, the back label may indicate an importer or distributor that you have noticed on a different bottle that you enjoyed.

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