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WineSpectator.com: Q&A's

What’s the difference between wine aged in French oak vs. American oak barrels? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, What’s the difference between wine aged in French oak vs. American oak barrels? —Paul, Prior Lake, Minn. Dear Paul, Oak barrels are a key piece of a winemaker’s arsenal of tools used to craft a wine to their style, so they typically choose according to their needs (and budget—new oak barrels can cost up to $2,000 or more). Wines can be fermented and/or aged in oak barrels (the newer the barrel, the greater its influence on the wine), and a typical oak barrel aging regimen can last anywhere from six months to two years or longer. Barrels are made from oak trees grown in many parts of the world, though French and American oak are most widely used. Generally speaking, French barrels are known for imparting more subtle smoke and spice notes, with silkier textures, while American barrels tend to be more potent, lending a wine notes of vanilla, cream soda or coconut, with a creamier texture. Barrel-destined oak trees ideally grow in cool climates, which allows them to mature slowly and develop a desirably tight grain. Most of the French oak for barrels comes from one of five forests—Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Tronçais and Vosges—and each is considered to have distinct characteristics. The two species of oak trees mainly used for barrels in France are Quercus robur and Quercus sessiliflora. American barrel oak, typically Quercus alba, is grown in 18 different states, mostly in the Midwest and in the Appalachians, as well as Oregon. And France and the United States aren’t the only sources for barrel oak. Quercus robur oak trees from Slavonia in Croatia and Quercus petraea trees from Hungary yield well-regarded barrels as well. —Dr. Vinny
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What’s the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, What’s the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? —Stan, Auburn, Ala. Dear Stan, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are two different names for the same white wine grape. But even though they technically refer to the same grape (or the wines made from that grape), the different terms can be reflective of the region in which the grape is grown, or of the style of wine typically associated with those regions (just like Syrah is also known as Shiraz in some parts of the world). No matter where it’s grown, the underlying primary elements of Pinot Gris/Grigio are citrus flavors and bright acidity. Pinot Gris is the name for this grape in its native France, where it thrives in the Alsace region. Alsatian Pinot Gris tend to be on the richer, plumper side of the PG spectrum, showing off honey and spice notes. Pinot Gris can also be made into sweet, dessert-style wines in Alsace, known as Vendanges Tardives, which are made from late-harvested grapes. Pinot Grigio is the Italian name for this grape, and the light, crisp, clean and refreshing Pinot Grigios from northeastern Italy are the best-known versions of this wine here in the United States. Winemakers outside of France and Italy will typically pick the version of the name that invokes the style of their wine. Whatever you call it, it's hugely popular. According to Wine Spectator sister publication Impact Databank, it’s the second-most-consumed white wine in the U.S., behind Chardonnay and ahead of Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc. Not only that, Italian Pinot Grigios are the most-imported wines by volume, a position held since 2002. —Dr. Vinny
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My fridge broke and the wine was exposed to heat—about 90 F. Is it still OK? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, My wine fridge broke down and the temperature rose to 90 F for a day or two. The corks look OK. Should I keep storing them in the repaired wine fridge, or are they cooked? —Michael, from Twitter Dear Michael, Once a wine’s been exposed to heat, there’s nothing you can do to reverse any damage that may have occurred. And I say “may” because you really don’t know if anything’s wrong until you open the bottle and taste it. Heat damage is hard to predict: Even two identical bottles of wine exposed to the same amount of heat might not fare similarly. Early in my wine-buying days, I purchased six bottles of the same wine. I didn’t know I had to worry about heat, and I left the box in the trunk of my car on a very hot day. Some of the bottles seeped wine (a leaking cork is a clear sign that the wine inside was overheated); some didn’t. Two of them turned out to be “cooked” and the other four were fine. A “cooked” wine tastes how it sounds: The fruit flavors seem stewed instead of fresh, there can be a baked or burnt note, and the color can take on a more brownish hue. And until you open the wine and taste it, there's no way to know if it's been damaged. The best thing you can do is keep them properly stored until you're ready to open them. (Check out Wine Spectator's "How to Store Wine 101" for tips.) If your fridge breaks down again, make sure to keep the door closed so that the wines stay cool for as long as possible. —Dr. Vinny
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Does Germany make any red wines? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, Does Germany make any red wines? —John, Virginia Dear John, It sure does! In fact, according to Wines of Germany, the country is the third-largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world behind France and the United States. But don’t look for Pinot Noir on German wine labels: It’s called Spätburgunder there. The name means late-ripening (spät) Pinot (Burgunder). Nearly all of the winemaking regions grow Pinot Noir, most notably Ahr, where Spätburgunder accounts for more than 50 percent of plantings. Check out Wine Spectator Germany taster Aleks Zecevic’s recent report on Spätburgunders for a great overview of the category and some tips on producers to look for. Germany’s incredible whites, led by Riesling, dominate the country's vineyard acreage, but there’s been a steady increase in red grape plantings since the 1990s, led by Spätburgunder. Other notable reds grown in Germany include Dornfelder, Dunkenfelder, Heroldrebe, Domina and Lemberger. —Dr. Vinny
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How do sommeliers open wine bottles with wax capsules? (Wine Spectator)
Dear Dr. Vinny, I saw that the 2014 Booker Oublié (Wine Spectator's No. 10 Wine of 2017) was served at the New York Wine Experience. How did the sommeliers at the Wine Experience deal with the wax capsule on those bottles? —Bill, Los Angeles Dear Bill, I asked David Gordon, the wine director for Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Tribeca Grill and who headed the team of all-star somms that opened and screened all the bottles served at the Wine Experience seminars. "The corkscrew goes directly into the top of the wax," Gordon says. "The cork will come out cleanly—no need to try to take off the wax before putting in the corkscrew." I also checked in with Booker owner Eric Jensen, and he agreed. He added that the shiny wax tends to be more crumbly and trickier to deal with, and you’re more likely to get wax in your wineglass with the crumbly stuff. “When [the wax is] soft and muted in color (indicating it's not paraffin-based, which can cause more chipping)," he says, "you just aim straight down the middle and pull out [the cork] as normal.” Another strategy is to treat it like a regular foil capsule: Just slice and chip away the wax from the top of the bottle. It’s messier, but I recommend doing this with older wines that might have fragile corks. With some wax capsules, on wines that you are not concerned about stirring up any sediment, you can avoid the mess by melting the capsule off in a cup of very hot water, but take care to dip only the capsule in so as to avoid heating up the wine. You can wipe the melted wax clean with a paper towel, but don't burn yourself! Yet another option, a tip I got from Howell Mountain's Dunn family, is to rotate the wax capsule over a lit candle or other open flame to soften it. —Dr. Vinny
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