Keep your nose away from the cork

Over the years of scribbling these articles about kosher wines and distilled spirits, I’ve gotten a fair amount of correspondence from readers asking questions. This week I’m going through my email bag to answer some of them.

What is the difference between red and white wine glasses? Do I really need to buy both?

To start with your second question first: no, nobody “needs” to buy wine glasses of any sort to enjoy wine. The only really essential step is figuring out a surefire method of getting the wine to your mouth. Drinking directly from the bottle, for example, works fine, though it is considered gauche. That’s why we use stemware.

As for the stemware itself, the biggest difference between red and white wine glasses is marketing.  It is certainly correct to maintain that the shape and size of a wine glass directly affect one’s sensory perception of a wine’s aroma and flavor. To a very large extent, however, the differences are intimately linked to one’s personal sensory perceptions and subjective aesthetic judgments. In the same way that some films are aesthetically more enjoyable when viewed on a big screen in a darkened theater as opposed to watching it on one’s Smartphone on an airplane, some wines simply seem to taste better when consumed with this glass over that glass.

I put a bottle of wine in the freezer to chill it, but then forgot it was there. Once defrosted, is it safe to drink?

Yes, it should be fine. Wines, like many other liquids — are reasonably tolerant to freezing. Some wines might not bounce back as vigorously as others, but the change is likely to be fairly subtle.

There is a good chance the wine would no longer benefit from cellaring, since dramatic temperature fluctuations can take their toll on a given wine’s shelf life. A more worrisome consideration would be the wine’s closure. Being mostly water, frozen wine can expand, which could cause the cork to move. This would likely break the seal, potentially allowing oxidation to spoil your wine. So once thawed, I’d drink it sooner rather than later.

In future, rather than putting a bottle of wine in the freezer, the best way to rapidly chill wine is in a bucket filled 2/3 with ice and 1/3 with water. It should only take six-to-eight minutes to bring a wine from room temperature to 50-55°. Ice alone in that bucket would be much slower in lowering the bottle’s temperature, since air in between cubes or even crushed ice does not conduct the cold as well as water.

What should I be able tell about a wine from smelling its cork?

Not much. It’s like trying to determine how a car will handle on the road solely by observing the condition of its tires. The ritual of waiters placing a freshly pulled cork in front of their patrons harkens back to the days of rampant wine fraud. To prevent restaurants serving up fakes, uncorked out of sight and brought to the table already open, wine producers began branding their corks. Restaurants adopted the practice of opening the bottles in front of the patrons at the table, brandishing the cork to display the wine’s authenticity and their integrity. Give the cork an approving glance, but little more. Absolutely no need to sniff it.

What’s good this week?

Try the Shirah, Luna Matta Aglianico (Paso Robles, Calif.), 2014 ($65; shirahwine.com). Aglianico, a southern Italian grape varietal presented here in a Paso Robles, Calif., guise, offers terrific complexity, with lovely dried red fruit, licorice, black plum, strawberry, leather and exotic spice flavors in a big, poised lengthy finish. Even better than the stellar previous vintage. It’s delightful, multifaceted, and thoroughly engaging. L’chaim! n

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