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Frequently Asked Questions
What's the best temperature for serving wine?
As a general rule of thumb:
Red wine, 65 degrees (F).
White & rosé wine, 55 degrees (F).
Champagne & other bubbly, 45 degrees (F).
To get to those temperatures reds can normally just be kept in a cool cellar or closet. This is also called "cellar temperature." Whites and rosés can be put in the fridge for a few hours, and the bubblies longer.
It is actually easier to use an ice bucket though. Fill the bucket up with ice about 4/5ths, cover the ice with water. If the "room" temperature of your reds are over 65 degrees, immerse them for five minutes; whites and rosés for ten minutes; and bubblies for fifteen to twenty minutes. (Light reds such as Bardolino, Valpolicella, Nouveau and plain ole Beaujolais, and others of that weight should soak nearly as long as the whites.)
How long can I store wine? What will I need?
Most wine, the overwhelming majority of wine, made or imported into the USA up to the $20.00 price point, is meant to be consumed within a year or two of release. Sure some of these will get better in another year of two, and if you happen let that happen; fine. Most of the worlds wines (at least 90%) are meant to be consumed young. Of the hundreds of questions we get here at the wine board a large number come from people who have hung onto wine too long. We get very few from those who popped it too soon.
White wines are not generally cellared for long periods of time although there are exceptions such as the very best Graves and Sauternes for instance.
Red wines can be and are cellared for longer periods of time. Some of the very finest reds can be cellared for several decades. A lot depends on the type of grape and the vintage.
What is the best way to save leftover wine?
This is a bit of a loaded question and a very controversial topic. No other wine topic generates as much confusion and misinformation as this. The warning about sulfites on the wine bottle is required because a very small percentage of the population has a deadly allergy to sulfites. These individuals are highly allergic to raisins and many other food items that naturally contain sulfites. For others, sulfites cause no problems.
What makes one wine more expensive than another?
How the wine is produced (hand-picking, use of oak etc. adds to the cost)
The origin of the wine (some vineyards are very small and unique)
Demand for specific grape varieties (example: Syrah is twice the cost of Chardonnay)
The most crucial factor in a wine's pricing is the level of demand - if a producer can sell his wine 10 times over (like many top Burgundy and California producers) then he is in a position to command a premium price for his product.
How do I spot a quality wine?
At the simplest level, there are two main indicators of quality: balance and length; i.e. the component parts of the wine all complement each other and the flavour of the wine persists once it has been swallowed. Price alone is not an indicator of quality.
How important is the vintage?
Improved wine-making technology means disastrous vintages are now relatively uncommon. More often, one simply encounters different styles of vintage; for example,in Bordeaux, 1997 was a lighter, forward vintage in comparison with 1996 or 1995. In marginal climates, vintage variation is more prominent and is a good indicator of style.