Posts Tagged With: Wine

Does Wine Get Better With Age?

All my life, I’d heard that wine gets better with age. The myth is perpetuated through the exorbitant prices people pay for certain bottles of aged wine. The truth is, some wines do improve with age, while others reach their peak within 2-3 years. We decided to find out for ourselves when my parents stumbled across a couple of bottles of wine they had bought in the mid-1980s. This didn’t merely make them “aged,” but downright old: 30  years is a long time to wait to open a bottle of wine. Would it still be drinkable, let alone good? We were soon to find out, and turned the whole experience into a food challenge: determining whether wine really does improve with age.

The ancient Greeks and Romans prized aged wines, often storing them in sealed earthenware jugs where they would keep for many years. After the fall of the Roman Empire, wines were paler, light bodied, and lower in alcohol content. These did not age well and would turn to vinegar after a few months, so old bottles were steeply discounted. In the 17th century the cork and bottle were invented, and wines were being produced with a higher alcohol content, two factors leading to improved preservation and aging.

Today, it is estimated that only 10% of red wines and 5% of white wines improve enough to taste better after 5 years of aging, and only the top 1% of all wine tastes better when it’s a decade old. Wines with the best potential for aging have low pH levels and a high amount of tannins, meaning reds such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

We were not really looking forward to this challenge. We had my parents over to participate, since they are pretty knowledgeable about wine. They had opened old bottles before that had gone sour and tasted like vinegar. Our hopes were not high, putting it lightly.

Our well-aged wine.

Our well-aged wine.

The wines we tried: a 1985 Hangtown Red California Red Wine, and a J. Lohr California Red Wine that had been purchased in South Dakota sometime between 1983-1986. So, two 30 year-old bottles of generic red wine awaited our palates. Right on!

We ran into trouble almost immediately. Both corks splintered when we tried to remove them. To properly store wine, you are supposed to lay the bottle on its side and give it a quarter turn every couple of months. These bottles were sitting upright in a box for decades, and so the corks had long ago dried out. This can lead to oxygen leaking into the bottle, leading to an off-taste (at best) and mold (at worst). Still, we didn’t let a little thing like crumbling corks stop us. We soldiered on, eventually prying one cork out and pushing the second cork into the bottle. Luckily, we had a strainer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

We poured the wine into glasses. For comparison and contrast, we had a “fresh” bottle of wine, as well. The first thing we noticed was the difference in color. The “new” wine was bright, almost purple in color, while the older wines had faded somewhat to a brownish-red color.

The corks had crumbled and were difficult to remove thanks to improper storage techniques.

The corks had crumbled and were difficult to remove thanks to improper storage techniques.

Now it was time for the ultimate test: the tasting! Everybody seemed reluctant, so I picked up the glass of J. Lohr California Red and took a deep swallow.

Fortunately, not only had it not oxidized or turned to vinegar, it was actually pretty good. For a cheap red wine that was 30 years old, anyway. It tasted to me of prunes. The others followed suit – Tara and my parents – and we all agreed. We were pleasantly surprised.

The second glass, the 1985 Hangtown Red, was pretty similar. I thought this one had more of a smokiness to it, but it was certainly drinkable, if not delicious. Again, everybody took a sip or two. Again, we were all surprised.

“You know,” I said, “If you were trapped on a deserted island and these two bottles of wine washed up on shore, you’d be thanking your lucky stars,” I commented.

“You’d be smashing them open by the neck to drink them,” my dad countered.

So, there you go. I don’t know if this challenge was the exception or the rule, but our well-aged red wines – while not necessarily improving in flavor – didn’t really suffer all that much. In fact, I ended up finishing the entire glass of J. Lohr. I’ll admit: I actually liked it!

L to R: J. Lohr CA Red (circa early-mid 80s), Hangtown Red CA Red (1985), 120 Cabernet Sauvignon (2011).

L to R: J. Lohr CA Red (circa early-mid 80s), Hangtown Red CA Red (1985), 120 Cabernet Sauvignon (2011).

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325/365: National Beaujolais Nouveau Day*

If you’ve got grape expectations for today, you won’t be disappointed. The third Thursday in November – this year, that’s the 21st – is National Beaujolais Nouveau Day.

It’s also National Gingerbread Day, so run as fast as you can if you’re in the mood for eating a gingerbread man. But we’ve already done this back in June, so we’re popping our corks instead.

Turns out Beaujolais Nouveau Day is celebrated internationally and is a rather big deal. It’s even got its own website. It occurs on the third Thursday of November and is celebrated in France with fireworks, music, and festivals. Wow, who knew? At one minute past midnight, the newest batch of Beaujolais – a fresh and fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape in the Beaujolais region of France, and fermented for just a few weeks – is released to the public, per French law. Per French law. They take this stuff seriously! The wine was created about a century ago by locals as a “cheap and cheerful” way to celebrate the end of the harvest season. Up until 1951 the wine was only enjoyed locally, but that year a wine merchant named Georges Duboeuf came up with the idea of holding a race to Paris carrying bottles of the newest vintage wine. By the 1970s this had become a national event, and it spread to neighboring countries in Europe during the 80s and to North America and Asia in the 90s. Today the wine is enjoyed around the world, and the latest vintage is eagerly anticipated by many.

I happen to be pretty familiar with this wine, even though I prefer whites. My dad will sometimes have a bottle of Beaujolais on hand, and I don’t mind the flavors. We picked up a bottle from Trader Joe’s over the weekend, and it proved to be the perfect after work drink. Not bad at all for a red – fruity and light!

National Beaujolais Nouveau Day

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149/365: National Coq Au Vin Day. Again.

May 29 is National Coq au Vin Day! Again.

For some reason, there are a few duplicate food holidays. I don’t get it: with so many great foods left uncelebrated – can you believe there’s no National Ketchup Day, for instance?! – it’s weird that some foods get more than multiple holidays. Especially something so random and specific as National Coq au Vin Day, which is also celebrated on March 22nd. We just encountered this with wine over the weekend, as there is both a National Wine Day and a National Drink Wine Day. It goes without saying that you’re going to drink it, right? What other option do you have, other than inserting an IV tube full of chardonnay into a vein? Which, come to think of it, would save you the trouble of pouring…

Anyway. The only explanation that I can come up with is, one of the Coq au Vin holidays is listed as a “National” day, and the other isn’t. What is especially frustrating is that I busted my ass in March, recreating Julia Childs’ signature dish for the challenge. And equally annoying? March 22nd was also National Water Day, which we chose to skip because, well, how hard is it to pour yourself a glass of water? That was before we realized there was a second National Coq au Vin Day, though.

As delicious as the dish was the first time around – and it was really good, one of our favorite food challenges to date – it was very time-consuming and required a ton of prep work. I just didn’t have it in me to do it again on a weeknight, so I turned to Trader Joe’s for help this time. They’ve got a frozen Coq au Vin that looked decent enough in the picture on the box. And most importantly, required virtually no prep other than preheating the oven and sticking it in there. So, if you want the history of Coq au Vin again, click on my link above.

And the Trader Joe’s version of this classic French dish? It was passable…but barely. After having that delicious homemade Coq au Vin last time, there was no way this could be anything other than a letdown. But, hey…at least it didn’t take a lot of work!

Coq au Vin

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145/365: National Wine Day*

Today is a grape excuse to imbibe in a glass of vino. Or two. Or a bottle. Hey, I won’t judge! May 25 is National Wine Day!

Not to be confused with National Drink Wine Day (February 18). Since I already discussed the history of wine in that post, I’ll discuss a few interesting wine facts instead.

It’s also National Brown Bag It Day. But brown bags, while high in fiber, lack flavor. So, wine it was!

Italy is the world’s top wine producer, followed by France and Spain. The United States comes in at #4, and Argentina caps the list in the fifth spot.

The top 5 wine producing states in the U.S. are – in order – California, Washington, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Not all wines improve with age. In fact, 90% are best enjoyed within the first year of being bottled.  White wines darken with age, while red wines turn lighter.

Put a cork in it? Not necessarily. Screw caps are gradually replacing corks, even on more expensive bottles of wine. 93% of New Zealand wines and 75% of Australian wines contain screw caps.

A 5-ounce glass of wine contains 100 calories and no fat or cholesterol.

A typical glass of wine requires 1/2 pound of grapes to make.

There are approximately 10,000 varieties of wine grapes worldwide.

Wine grapes are the #1 fruit crop in the world.

Richard Nixon loved Chateau Margaux from France. During state dinners, he instructed his wait staff to serve him the good stuff but pour cheaper wines for the guests, hiding the label with a napkin.

“Wine is bottled poetry” – Robert Louis Stevenson.

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk” – Charles Baudelaire

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever” – Aristophanes

“Wine makes a man more pleased with himself, I do not say it makes him more pleasing to others” – Samuel Johnson

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance” – Benjamin Franklin

“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food” – W.C. Fields

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing” – Ernest Hemingway

“The wine-cup is the little silver well, Where truth, if truth there be, doth dwell” – William Shakespeare

“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the wine I drink, I feel shame! Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the vineyards and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this wine, they might be out of work, and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this wine and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver?'” – Jack Handey

“Red red wine you make me feel so fine, you keep me rocking all of the time; red red wine you make me feel so grand, I feel a million dollars when you’re just in my hand” – UB40

National WIne Day

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49/365: National Drink Wine Day*

I don’t mean to whine over today’s food holiday. Well, actually, I do. Today is National Drink Wine Day! It’s also National Crab Stuffed Flounder Day, but holy crap, that sounds like a lot of work. We were much more eager to just sit back and sip some vino, so that’s precisely what we did!

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes, and has been a popular drink throughout the ages, dating back as far as 6000 B.C. A few years ago, archaeologists found wine residue inside 8,000 year old ceramic storage jars in Georgia (the country, not the state), making Russians the world’s first winos! It was very popular in ancient Greece and Rome; both countries honored gods of wine (Dionysus for the Greeks, Bacchus for the Romans). Catholics associate it with religion, as well; according to the Bible, Jesus famously turned water into wine, which you’ve gotta admit is a pretty nifty parlor trick, ranking right up there with the parting of the Red Sea. Take that, Moses! Ancient bottles from Christ’s private cellar are listed at upwards of $1000 on eBay. Eventually wine made its way to Asia and spread throughout Europe. Thomas Jefferson became a big wine aficionado after serving as ambassador to France, and attempted to plant vineyards in his home state of Virginia. The French grapes were just as snobby as their home country, and refused to grow in the Virginian soil. Jimmy Carter was more successful; to this day his family produces and bottles their own wine in Georgia (the state, not the country), perhaps in an effort to distance themselves from the whole Billy Beer fiasco.

My parents have loved wine since the 1970s, but it took me a lot longer to develop an appreciation for it. It’s really only happened within the past seven years or so. Nowadays, I enjoy it on occasion. I’m partial to white wines, especially sauvignon blancs from the Marlboro region of New Zealand, though sometimes red, red wine makes me feel so fine and keeps me rocking all of the time, too. This evening Tara and I enjoyed a German Riesling from Trader Joe’s.

Here’s a little music to get you in the mood.


Drink Wine Day

Categories: Alcohol | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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