People ask me questions about wine all the time — at wine tastings and classes that I conduct, on the street and in emails and phone calls. I answer them, of course, but wish today to share some of those questions and answers with you.
Q: I recently tasted a wine called mourvedre that I really liked, but I can't find other examples from other wineries. Where can I find more mourvedre?
It is the fourth-largest planted red grape in Spain where it goes by the name monastrell; terrific, often 100 percent, examples come from the regions of Murcia, Yecla, Valencia and Jumilla, wines from which are increasingly available in the States. In California and Australia, it's often called mataro (as well as mourvedre) and you will find it ubiquitously Down Under in the famous Aussie "GSM" blends (grenache, syrah and mataro/mourvedre). In California, Cline Cellars, Tablas Creek Vineyards, Quivira Vineyards and J. Lohr winery, to name a few, also make tasty all-mourvedre reds.
Q: How long can I age my pinot noirs?
A: Well, that very much depends on what kind of pinot noirs you have. By and large, pinot noir is delicious right from the get-go, on release from wherever it's made. Some pinots develop beautiful tertiary aromas and flavors with age, just as many red wines do (the only reason or goal, apart from mere storage, to age any wine). But pinots do that more quickly than many other reds, within the first five to seven years of cellaring.
More age-worthy pinot noirs include premier and grand cru Burgundies and top-flight American and New Zealand pinots.
Q: (While tasting a Spanish white made from old-vine white grenache grapes): I've only experienced the rich texture that this wine has when I've tasted sweet white wines; but this is dry. How come this is so luxurious?
A: In large part, sweet white wines get their voluptuous character from both their sugar content and the amount of glycerol in them. These make for a thicker texture than mere dry white wines.
This wine comes from vines that are 100-plus years old. Such vines give grapes that are very concentrated in texture, color and all the other elements that go into making a grape (phenols, esters, etc.) It's the old vines that give this dry white its depth of character, power — and texture.
Q: Years back, information about a wine often stated if it traveled well. But you no longer hear anything about how well a wine travels even though they are now shipped worldwide. Don't today's wines still degenerate in terms of quality and longevity from excess heat or cold and vibration or shaking during shipping?
A: Wine in bottle or bag gets jet lag, too, just like you do. Most wines from foreign lands get here by ship and rail, then truck, over many weeks' time. It isn't a pleasant trip, certainly not even business class. And foul weather — the super hots of summer and the frigidities of winter — also take a toll; not to mention the storage conditions of the warehouse or retail store where the same wine spends its time before going home with you.
Yes, all those things you mention, and more, bottle-shock a wine, rendering it dulled in aroma or flavor, what some wine folk call "closed." (Worst is that a wine would be cooked, oxidized or otherwise spoiled by heat.)
But also just like you, rest and calm after a long journey restores both body and soul. You'd take a week; a wine, either white or red, might need a few for total recovery.
Neither red nor white, sparkling nor rose, "travels well" in any meaningful sense. Recuperation is a function of what anything that travels starts out with. Stouter, better-integrated wines suffer less deterioration from shipping than do lesser wines. But they all get bottle shock.
Q: What's "contains sulfites" on a label of wine about? Is that what gives me headaches? I don't get headaches from foreign wines that I have on vacation. Is that because foreign wines don't have sulfites?
A: Sulfite describes a form of sulfur (sulfur dioxide, for example, or sodium sulfite or sulfate) that is present in all wine, made anywhere, even "organic" or "natural" wines, to lesser or greater degrees depending on winemaking.
The reason that you do not get headaches from drinking wines on vacation is that you are on vacation.
Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.