Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Got Wine-gifted?: Regifting, Drinking, Saving & How

Sweet table wine is the holiday fruitcake of beverages, though the latter can be quite tasty if done correctly. Photo courtesy of Every Stock Photo.


the holiday season is off and running, and no double, wine bottles will come and go. Throw a party and voila! Instant wine cellar for a good little while.

So how does one know what to keep, what to regift (ewww – did I say that?!?!), what to drink, and how to store?

What do you have?
For those unfamiliar wines – the bulk of the wines that will come your way, no doubt – find out what you have. Without judging the giver, go on line and do some research. Type in the producer, name of the wine, grape (varietal) and year into (, ( or even Wine Enthusiast ( Is the bottle a good table wine, something in the $15-$25 range? Is it a pizza wine, an inexpensive one that advertises widely and seems known to all, typically under $10-12? Is it a library wine, an officious way of saying a wine that one stores, waits while it improves with age, and saves for special occasions? Takes notes if you like, and then simply sort wines into the three groups.

What to regift?
A temptation may be to regift the unfamiliar. Never heard of that wine? You try it, my dear friend. Let me suggest something different: regift what you know. You’ll feel comfortable and confident giving the bottle to another.

What not to re-gift: on penalty of death, do not even thing about regifting sweet table wines. Sweet table wine is the liquid equivalent of the holiday fruitcake: one in a hundred might be good, but the vast majority is not. Cook with them, pour them over ice cream, poach pears in them, but please, don’t pass them on to someone else. Chances are the original giver is not too terribly familiar with wine, and that’s OK. It’s the thought that counts. Apologies to those who like them, and especially Debby W., who loves her Manischewitz, God bless her.

Cain Five is a library wine. Photo courtesy of Cain Five.

What to Drink Now?
A general rule of thumb goes like this:
Two types of wine do not store well: Very inexpensive wines ($10 bottles and under) and most white wines, including non-vintage Champagne. Their character will change with time. Drink inexpensive wines within a few months, and most whites within a year. Keep them flat and in a cool dark place.

Wines that store well:
Sweet dessert wines and aperitifs store brilliantly. The sugar content keeps the wine from oxidizing quickly. Once again en vogue, dessert wines pop up this season like exquisite orchids. In this category, also include Sherries and Ports.

And red wines ... red wines vary by producer and varietal. For instance, a general rule of thumb is store French and Italian wines but drink Spanish and U.S. wines. French and Italians produce their wines with the expectation that the consumer will keep them, waiting many years until they mature. Most U.S. and Spanish producers release their wines near peak, expecting them to be consumed within a year or two. Furthermore, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Bordeaux and Zinfandel store brilliantly, but Beaujolais Nouveau do not.

Confused? Not to worry. Many producers want to steer their customers in the right direction. Read the back label on wine bottles. If the producer advises that the wine is ready to drink now or can be savored years from now, just like Yogi Berra: take it.

Wine-Searcher and Wine Enthusiast are good sources of sound wine facts.

How to Store Wine, Pt
Storing wine is not brain surgery. Unless a serious cache of wine futures has come your way, there’s no need to invest in climate-controlled cases or other gadgets. Keep six basic points in mind and your wine will be fine: Dark, Still, Cool, Flat, Cork and Time.
1. Dark. Even with tinted bottles, light and especially ultraviolet light, provokes chemical changes – tanning it, so to speak, so that, like skin, the wine will age prematurely. Wrap the bottle in a thick cloth if a dark space is hard to find.
2. The stiller, the better. Do not move the bottle. Motion, including steady vibrations, disturbs wine. Why? I have no idea. Just put the bottles in a place that people seldom use. Personally in a small apartment, I favor the bottom of a closet. They don’t call them wine closets or wine cellars for nothing!
3. Cool and steady. Wine bottles store best in constantly cool, but not cold, places. Widely varying temperatures will also age wine.
4. Flat. Store bottles horizontally, not vertically. The wine itself will keep the cork from drying out.
Got pizza? Then, YellowTail is your drink. Photo from Discovery Yellowtail.

5. Cork. Cork is the last line of defense for preserving wine. In very dry climes, the corks dry out, allowing air in the bottle, oxidizing the wine and causing it to age prematurely. In very wet climes, corks mildew, also causing the wine to spoil. Check the cork. DO NOT TAKE OFF THE ALUMINU M WRAP, but press gently on the top of the bottle with your finger. If there is a lot of give, consider drinking the wine now. If the cork give seems almost spongy, the wine may be shot. It happens. For screw tops … well, ignore the last two tips.
6. Time. Timing is key. Store a wine too long and vinegar pours out. Clearly, not the desired effect. The vast majority of gifted wines is not the ones designed to age for a decade or two. Believe me, the giver will tell you, if it is. Go back to your initial research, look at the guidelines that the producer recommends and store wine accordingly. If the label remains mum, then store good red wines for no more than two to five years, just to be safe.

Here’s to the Holidays! Enjoy some for the season, share a few with others, and savor the rest throughout the New Year.

Next Up: How to Store Wine Pt 2: A Tale of Woe and Love.

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