June 18, 2008

Finding Fault #1: Cooked?

It's generally agreed that wine should be stored between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps not coincidentally, if you dug a deep hole in your backyard, this is the same temperature you would likely find at the bottom of it. It's why we put wine in cellars.

Deep in the cool ground is one thing. Excessive exposure to heat is another altogether. According to wikipedia, my new source for everything, "Wines that are stored at temperatures greatly higher than [55 degrees] will experience an increased aging rate." We call this "cooked." Cooked wines can oxidize, lose taste, color and aroma. We call this "flattening."

It is also the most widespread and common fault in wine (again according to wikipedia). So we at the Lab, decided to "cook" a bottle to see what happens.

We started with two bottles of identical wine. Something called Sustainable Red from Parducci (2005) that I bought at Whole Foods for $10/ea (which means you can probably find it for $6 somewhere else). The folks at the Mendocino Wine Co who own Parducci are pretty smug about their greenness, they claim to be the first carbon-neutral winery. As I drive a Prius hybrid, I'm happy to be working with them.

It was in the mid-80s in LA yesterday, hotter still inside my car which I intentionally parked in the sun, leaving one of the Sustainables inside. The other, I put in my 55 degree wine fridge. After 90 minutes, the cork on the bottle had actually burst through the seal. That's an undoctored photo of the unadulterated pushed-cork to the right. I think if I'd let it go another 30 minutes, I would've spent the afternoon looking for seat covers.

After the exposure, I put both bottles in the fridge. The real fridge, not the wine one. And let them both get cold. An hour before opening, I took them out of the fridge to warm back up to something closer to room temperature. I opened both bottles and let them breath in the bottle for 30 minutes. I marked one of the bottles with a black dot, and put a rubber band on the stem of a wine glass. I then asked my wife to pour a glass from each bottle, and make a note of which bottle went into which glass. As I had failed to tell her that I spent my day driving around with an inexpensive bottle of red wine riding shotgun, she had no idea what we were doing. This way, we both managed to taste "blind."

Up first, no rubber band: Jammy notes on the nose with some pleasant oakiness. Ripe plum and bright red fruits. A drying, tannin finish with an interesting, almost chalky texture on the tongue. My wife loved this. And I thought it was pretty good.

Rubber band was next: Herbaceous nose, green cedar and something astringent. In the mouth, pretty indifferent, uncomplex stuff. But the finish was exceptionally bitter. Actually made my wife gag a little.

My wife looked at me crossly, and held up the offensive glass. "What did you do to this?" I told her I cooked it. Showed her the pictures. She nodded at me in the motherly, patronizing way that I've seen her use with the kids when they do things like jam frozen peas up their nose.

"So which one had the black dot?" I asked. She turned over the card where she had written her key, and made a face.

We were both VERY shocked to discover the wine we both preferred had been my motoring partner. The bitter wine that made my wife choke was, it turns out, the one from the pristine conditions of the cellar.

Conclusions? First, I'd say the experiment isn't over. I'm putting both bottles back in the fridge and plan to taste them -- again blind -- tomorrow. Second, it may be that "an increased aging rate" is a good thing for an inexpensive, young-to-the-point-of-green, wine to endure. I'm not advocating that you leave cheap wine in the sun. Then again, if you only paid $4.99 for it. Why not?


David McDuff said...

In your test scenario, it seems that you ended up successfully if inadvertently creating jam by cooking unripe fruit. The heat, in this case, added a sweetness (that was missing) and dulled the edginess (that was overly abundant) in the original product.

You might consider running this test again but with a slightly less blind scenario, i.e., using a wine you already know to be good/balanced. I wonder if you'd come to the same conclusions.

J David Harden said...

That is going straight onto the Lab's to do list!

Arthur, winesooth.com said...

Very cool! I would also get 5 -6 bottles taste one before the experiment and make sure that you do not have too much bottle variation. Taste two bottles after being exposed to heat.

rjcosme said...

That's interesting, i live in the Philippines with temperatures running from 28 to 35 deg centigrade, that's 82 to 95 in Fahrenheit. I keep a couple of dozen bottles of inexpensive wines in my living room, from 6 months to up to a year, away from sun and vibration and humidity in our country is quite high. So far have no reason to complain about the quality of the bottles i've opened. I had a Vouvray kept for more than 6 months and when we opened it the taste was exquisite.

Maybe same as in your experiment, wine can take some heat and actually improve but the mystery is how much heat can it take. That sounds like a good experiment, probably same wine different temperature levels and/or different length of exposure.