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WineSpectator.com: Q&A's

Is fluorescent lighting bad for wine? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, I visited a high-end wine retailer and was surprised to see their premium wines displayed under bright fluorescent lighting. Doesn't that damage the wines? —Steve, Canberra, Australia Dear Steve, You’re right that certain types of light, principally ultraviolet light, can harm wine—exposure to it is one of the four primary considerations for proper wine storage, along with temperature, humidity and vibration. And it's one of the reasons most wine is bottled in tinted glass, to give it a little extra UV protection. Ultraviolet light damage isn't instantly perceptible, but over time, a wine exposed to UV light can age prematurely. Ultraviolet light—electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun, tanning lamps and black lights—can harm a person’s skin, eyes, as well as degrade polymers and dyes, so it's no surprise that it's also not good for wine. UV rays can break down molecules and accelerate degradation in wine, hence the premature aging risk. Not all light is necessarily bad, however. LED lights (which are also made in tube format and can easily be confused for fluorescent lights) are best, because they emit a fraction of the heat and UV radiation of most other light sources. —Dr. Vinny
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What's your approach to analyzing the characteristics of a wine? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, What's your approach to analyzing the characteristics of a wine? —Bennett, Cape Town, South Africa Dear Bennett, I think of wine tasting as a skill, one that you can improve at. One of my colleagues used to say it was kind of like going to the gym—it’s a lot easier if you do it every day than if you only go once every three months. So get your reps in! I’m sure you could ask many wine lovers this question and get just as many answers—there's no wrong approach. For me, the practice of being a good wine taster starts long before I sit down to taste a glass of wine. I make a conscious decision to pay attention to how things smell and taste everywhere I go. Be curious to smell all of the candles or teas or spices or essential oils when you’re at a store. Smell all of them. If you don’t know what currants taste like, buy some when they're in season. Read menus, and ask servers questions about ingredients. Expand your cooking repertoire. Conduct comparative tastings of other things. like chocolate or coffee. I’m the person that gives friends blind tastings of apples to see which variety they like best. When I buy four different types of cheddar for my mac and cheese recipe, I taste each one separately and note how they differ. Next, I think it’s important to read plenty of tasting notes—from the backs of bottles, or winemaker’s notes or maybe even a really awesome website with hundreds of thousands of tasting notes? The more I read, the better my vocabulary. When I’m tasting a wine, sometimes a descriptor just pops into my head, which is probably just my memory kicking into gear from paying attention to all those smells and tastes I’ve had in my life. The descriptors aren’t just about flavors, but also about a wine’s personality. Does it seem precise, or rustic? Is it harmonious, or is there something that dominates or sticks out? Other tines, I’ll go through a mental checklist, looking for fruit flavors, spice, oak, herb, mineral notes. If I think I taste fruit, can I be more specific? Is it berries, or citrus? And from there I can run through all the types of citrus I know, and all the ways the citrus can be delivered, from zest to marmalade and everything in between. I recently also talked about how it can help to think of flavors as colors. I’ll close my eyes and think of what it tastes like, which is super abstract, but sometimes that’s how my fuzzy head works. Finally, I’ll scan through clues about body: How dense are the tannins? How piercing is the acidity? How aggressive are the bubbles? Texture is important to the overall appreciation of a wine, so don’t forget to pay attention to that as well. —Dr. Vinny
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Where do a wine's spice notes come from? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, Where do a wine's spice notes come from? —Thomas, Savannah, Ga. Dear Thomas, Some wines are born spicy; others are made that way. That’s to say that some grapes naturally have a spicy taste, like Muscat or Gewürztraminer. Other grapes have herbal notes, like Cabernet Franc, or a floral personality, like Riesling. Then there are decisions a winemaker can make to highlight a spicy note, or introduce one. Fermentation temperatures, types of yeast, and whole-cluster fermentations will affect a wine’s spiciness. But the biggest influence probably comes from oak barrels, which can add all kinds of spicy notes—everything from cedar to tobacco to vanilla to baking spices. —Dr. Vinny
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If a wine is good when it's young, can it still age well? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, I've noticed a trend toward making wines in a more approachable-when-young style. If a wine is good when it's young, will it still be good in 10 years? —Mike, Connecticut Dear Mike, Wine cellars aren't hospitals. If a wine is unbalanced in its youth, it’s not going to magically fix itself with time in the cellar. Tannins might “soften” over time, but if you don't like a tannic wine when it's young, you probably won't like it any better when it's old. You are correct that there has been a shift to wines being much more approachable on release. There are more people drinking more wine at more moments (and with more types of foods) now than ever before. Fine wines aren’t just a luxury item anymore, requiring storage in optimal conditions before its ready to enjoy. That said, I think most wine lovers will agree—as the ancient Greeks and Romans discovered many years ago—that when a wine has the potential to age, and when it is well-aged, it can be magnificent. Aging doesn’t make a wine better or worse, but it changes it. I always worry that people will unnecessarily age their wines without understanding how they might evolve—fruit flavors will fade and secondary notes of earth and spice will become dominant. I think that winemakers have a lot more information at their disposal about how to make the wines they are aiming to make, and can track tannins, anthocyanins, acidity, pH and phenolics—all the components that will be affected by aging. With all of this data and better understanding of the impact of their decisions, I think it’s realistic that wines that are made and delicious now will also age into terrific wines in the future. —Dr. Vinny
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How long does it take to make a bottle of wine? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, How long does it take to make a bottle of wine? —Rick, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. Dear Rick, The process of turning grapes into wine doesn't take too long at all—the fermentation process by which yeast turns the sugar in grape juice into alcohol can take as short as a week. But winemakers usually want to massage that young wine in a few different ways before it goes into bottle, and they also may want the wine to age in bottle for months or even years before releasing it to the public. Once fermentation is complete, winemakers typically want the wine to stabilize a bit, allowing the solids suspended in the wine to settle out. This process can include several rackings, when the wine is moved from one container to another, leaving sediment behind. Or the winemaker might want the wine to spend some extra time exposed to those leftover solids, called the lees, for added complexity. Other steps, like malolactic conversion and barrel aging, can take months or years, and the blending process (and letting a wine age additionally after bottling) can also take time. The fastest commercially produced wine to go from grapes to bottle that I know of is Beaujolais Nouveau, which is picked and bottled in a matter of weeks, to be released each year on the third Thursday of November. There are other examples of wines that reach shelves the same vintage as they were harvested, like crisp whites from the Southern Hemisphere, where harvest takes place around March and the wines can be released around September. But wines typically take at least a year or more to reach retail shelves. One of the most extreme examples at the other end of the spectrum was on display at the New York Wine Experience in 2016, when Marqués de Murrieta's Vicente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga treated guests to a white wine from Rioja which was released 28 years after the grapes were picked. It matured for 21 years in American oak barrels, then matured for another 67 months in a concrete tank. And it was phenomenal. —Dr. Vinny
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