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     How to buy, how to store, how to serve wine, the question of how much aging, food and wine matchups    excerpetd from Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide 6th Edition: The Complete, Easy-to-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More Than 8,000 Wines from All the Major Wine Regions 
    Copyright © 1995, 1999, 2002 by Robert M. Parker, Jr.



    About Wine

    HOW TO BUY WINE

    If you have made your choices in advance, buying wine seems simple enough -- you go to your favorite wine merchant and purchase a few bottles. However, there are some subtleties to buying wine that one must be aware of in order to ensure that the wine is in healthy condition and is unspoiled.

    To begin with, take a look at the bottle of wine you are about to buy. Wine abuse is revealed by the condition of the bottle in your hand. First of all, if the cork has popped above the rim of the bottle and is pushed out on the lead or plastic capsule that covers the top of the bottle, look for another bottle to buy. Wines that have been exposed to very high temperatures expand in the bottle, putting pressure on the cork and pushing it upward against the capsule. And the highest-quality wines, those that have not been overly filtered or pasteurized, are the most vulnerable to the ill effects of abusive transportation or storage. A wine that has been frozen in transit or storage will likewise push the cork out, and though freezing a wine is less damaging than heating it, both are hazardous to its health. Any cork that is protruding above the rim of the bottle is a bad sign. The bottle should be returned to the shelf and never, ever purchased.

    Finally, there is a sign indicating poor storage conditions that can generally be determined only after the wine has been decanted, though sometimes it can be spotted in the neck of the bottle. Wines that have been exposed to very high temperatures, particularly deep, rich, intense red wines, often form a heavy coat or film of coloring material on the inside of the glass. With a Bordeaux less than 3 years old, a coating such as this generally indicates that the wine has been subjected to very high temperatures and has undoubtedly been damaged. However, one must be careful here, because this type of sediment does not always indicate a poor bottle of wine; vintage port regularly throws it, and so do the huge, rich Rhône and Piedmontese wines.

    On the other hand, there are two conditions consumers frequently think are signs of a flawed wine when nothing could be further from the truth. Some uninformed consumers return bottles of wine for the very worst reason -- because of a small deposit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. In fact, this is the healthiest sign one could find in most bottles of wine. The tiny particles of sandlike sediment that precipitate to the bottom of a bottle simply indicate that the wine has been naturally made and has not been subjected to a traumatic flavor- and character-eviscerating filtration. Such wine is truly alive and is usually full of all its natural flavors. However, keep in mind that white wines rarely throw a deposit, and it is rare to see a deposit in young wines under 2-3 years of age.

    Another reason that wine consumers erroneously return bottles to retailers is the presence of small crystals called tartrate precipitates. These crystals are found in all types of wines but appear most commonly in white wines from Germany and Alsace. They often shine and resemble little slivers of cut glass. They simply mean that somewhere along its journey a wine was exposed to temperatures below 40°F. in shipment, and the cold has caused some tartaric crystals to precipitate. These are harmless, tasteless, and totally natural in many bottles of wine. They have no effect on the quality and normally signify that the wine has not been subjected to an abusive, sometimes damaging, cold stabilization treatment by the winery for cosmetic purposes only.

    Fortunately, most of the better wine merchants, wholesalers, and importers are more cognizant today of the damage that can be done by shipping wine in unrefrigerated containers, especially in the middle of summer. However, far too many wines are still tragically damaged by poor transportation and storage, and it is the consumer who suffers. A general rule is that heat is much more damaging to fine wines than cold. Remember, there are still plenty of wine merchants, wholesalers, and importers who treat wine no differently than they treat beer or liquor, and the wine buyer must therefore be armed with a bit of knowledge before he or she buys a bottle of wine.

    HOW TO STORE WINE

    Wine has to be stored properly if it is to be served in a healthy condition. All wine enthusiasts know that subterranean wine cellars which are vibration free, dark, damp, and kept at a constant 55° F. are considered perfect for wine. However, few of us have such perfect accommodations for our beloved wines. While these conditions are ideal, most wines will thrive and develop well under other circumstances. I have tasted many old Bordeaux wines from closets and basements that have reached 65-70° F. in summer, and the wines have been perfect. In cellaring wine, keep the following rules in mind and you will not be disappointed with a wine that has gone over the hill prematurely.

    First of all, in order to cellar wines safely for 10 years or more, keep them at 65° F., perhaps 68°, but no higher. If the temperature rises to 70° F., be prepared to drink your red wines within 10 years. Under no circumstances should you store and cellar white wines more than 1-2 years at temperatures above 70° F. Wines kept at temperatures above 65° will age faster, but unless the temperature exceeds 70°, will not age badly. If you can somehow keep the temperature at 65° or below, you will never have to worry about the condition of your wines. At 55° F., the ideal temperature according to the textbooks, the wines actually evolve so slowly that your grandchildren are likely to benefit from the wines more than you. Constancy in temperature is most essential, and any changes in temperature should occur slowly. White wines are much more fragile and much more sensitive to temperature changes and higher temperatures than red wines. Therefore, if you do not have ideal storage conditions, buy only enough white wine to drink over a 1-2-year period.

    Second, be sure that your storage area is odor free, vibration free, and dark. A humidity level above 50% is essential; 70-75% is ideal. The problem with a humidity level over 75% is that the labels become moldy and deteriorate. A humidity level below 40% will keep the labels in great shape but will cause the corks to become very dry, possibly shortening the potential life expectancy of your wine. Low humidity is believed to be nearly as great a threat to a wine's health as high temperature. There has been no research to prove this, and limited studies I have done are far from conclusive.

    Third, always bear in mind that wines from vintages which produce powerful, rich, concentrated, full-bodied wines travel and age significantly better than wines from vintages that produce lighter-weight wines. Transatlantic or cross-country transport is often traumatic for a fragile, lighter-styled wine from either Europe or California, whereas the richer, more intense, bigger wines from the better vintages seem much less travel-worn after their journey.

    Fourth, I always recommend buying a wine as soon as it appears on the market, assuming of course that you have tasted the wine and like it. The reason for this is that there are still too many American wine merchants, importers, wholesalers, and distributors who are indifferent to the way wine is stored. This attitude still persists, though things have improved dramatically over the last decade. The important thing for you as a consumer to remember, after inspecting the bottle to make sure it appears healthy, is to stock up on wines as quickly as they come on the market and to approach older vintages with a great deal of caution and hesitation unless you have absolute faith in the merchant from whom you bought the wine. Furthermore, you should be confident that your merchant will stand behind the wine if it is flawed from poor storage.

    THE QUESTION OF HOW MUCH AGING

    The majority of wines taste best when they are just released or consumed within 1-2 years of the vintage. Many wines are drinkable at 5, 10, or even 15 years of age, but based on my experience only a small percentage are more interesting and more enjoyable after extended cellaring than they were when originally released.

    It is important to have a working definition of what the aging of wine actually means. I define the process as nothing more than the ability of a wine, over time, 1) to develop more pleasurable nuances, 2) to expand and soften in texture and, for red wines, to exhibit an additional melting away of tannins, and 3) to reveal a more compelling aromatic and flavor profile. In short, the wine must deliver additional complexity, increased pleasure, and more interest as an older wine than it did when released. Only such a performance can justify the purchase of a wine in its youth for the purpose of cellaring it for future drinking. Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of the world's wines falls within this definition of aging.

    It is fundamentally false to believe that a wine cannot be serious or profound if it is drunk young. In France, the finest Bordeaux, the northern Rhône Valley wines (particularly l'Hermitage and Côte Rôtie), a few red Burgundies, some Châteauneuf-du-Papes, and, surprisingly, many of the sweet white Alsace wines and sweet Loire Valley wines do indeed age well and are frequently much more enjoyable and complex when drunk 5, 10, or even 15 years after the vintage. But virtually all other French wines -- from Champagne to Côtes du Rhône, from Beaujolais to the petits châteaux of Bordeaux, and the vast majority of red and white Burgundies -- are better in their youth.

    The French have long adhered to the wine-drinking strategy that younger is better. Centuries of wine consumption, not to mention gastronomic indulgences, have taught the French something that Americans and Englishmen have failed to grasp: Most wines are more pleasurable and friendly when young.

    The French know that the aging and cellaring of wines, even those of high pedigree, are often fraught with more disappointments than successes. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in French restaurants, especially in Bordeaux, the region that boasts what the world considers the longest-lived dry red wines. A top vintage of Bordeaux can last for 20-30 years, sometimes 40 or more, but look at the wine lists of Bordeaux's best restaurants. The great 1990s have long disappeared down the throats of Frenchmen and -women. Even the tannic, young, yet potentially very promising 1996s, which Americans have squirreled away for drinking later this century, are now hard to find. Why? Because they have already been consumed. Many of the deluxe restaurants, particularly in Paris, have wine lists of historic vintages, but these are largely for rich tourists.

    This phenomenon is not limited to France. Similar drinking habits prevail in the restaurants of Florence, Rome, Madrid, and Barcelona. Italians and Spaniards also enjoy their wines young. This is not to suggest that Italy does not make some wines that improve in the bottle. In Tuscany, for example, a handful of Chiantis and some of the finest new-breed Tuscan red wines (e.g., the famed Cabernet Sauvignon called Sassicaia) will handsomely repay extended cellaring, but most never get the opportunity. In the Piedmont section of northern Italy, no one will deny that a fine Barbaresco or Barolo improves after a decade in the bottle. But by and large, all of Italy's other wines are meant to be drunk young, a fact that Italians have long known and that you should observe as well.

    With respect to Spain, it is the same story, although a Spaniard's tastes differ considerably from the average Italian's or Frenchman's. In Spain, the intense smoky vanilla aroma of new oak (particularly American) is prized. As a result, the top Spanish wine producers from the most renowned wine region, Rioja, and other viticultural regions as well tend to age their wines in oak barrels so that they can develop this particular aroma. Additionally, unlike French and Italian wine producers, or even their New World counterparts, Spanish wineries are reluctant to release their wines until they are fully mature. As a result, most Spanish wines are smooth and mellow when they arrive on the market. While they may keep for 5-10 years, they generally do not improve. This is especially true with Spain's most expensive wines, the Reservas and Gran Reservas from Rioja, which are usually not released until 5-8 years after the vintage. The one exception may be the wine long considered Spain's greatest red, the Vega Sicilia Unico. This powerful wine, frequently released when it is already 10 or 20 years old (the immortal 1970 was released in 1995), does appear capable of lasting for 20-35 years after its release. Yet I wonder how much it improves.

    What does all this mean to you? Unlike any other wine consumers in the world, most American and many English wine enthusiasts fret over the perfect moment to drink a wine. There is none. Almost all modern-day vintages, even ageworthy Bordeaux or Rhône Valley wines, can be drunk when released. Some will improve, but many will not. If you enjoy drinking a 1989 Bordeaux now, who would be so foolish as to suggest that you are making an error because the wine will be appreciably better in 5-10 years?

    In America and Australia, winemaking is much more dominated by technology. Though a handful of producers still adhere to the artisanal, traditional way of making wine as done in Europe, most treat the vineyard as a factory and the winemaking as a manufacturing process. As a result, such techniques as excessive acidification, brutally traumatic centrifugation, and eviscerating sterile filtration are routinely utilized to produce squeaky-clean, simplistic, sediment-free, spit-polished, totally stable yet innocuous wines with statistical profiles that fit neatly within strict technical parameters. Yet it is these same techniques that denude wines of their flavors, aromas, and pleasure-giving qualities. Moreover, they reveal a profound lack of respect for the vineyard, the varietal, the vintage, and the wine consumer, who, after all, is seeking pleasure, not blandness.

    In both Australia and California, the alarming tendency of most Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays to collapse in the bottle and to drop their fruit within 2-3 years of the vintage has been well documented. Yet some of California's and Australia's most vocal advocates continue to advise wine consumers to cellar and invest (a deplorable word when it comes to wine) in Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. It is a stupid policy. If the aging of wine is indeed the ability of a wine to become more interesting and pleasurable with time, then the rule of thumb to be applied to American and Australian Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays is that they must be drunk within 12 months of their release unless the consumer has an eccentric fetish for fruitless wines with blistering acidity and scorching alcohol levels. Examples of producers whose Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs can last for 5-10 years and improve during that period can be found, but they are distressingly few.

    With respect to red wines, a slightly different picture emerges. Take, for example, the increasingly fashionable wines made from the Pinot Noir grape. No one doubts the immense progress made in both California and Oregon in turning out fragrant, supple Pinot Noirs that are delicious upon release. But I do not know of any American producer who is making Pinot Noir that can actually improve beyond 10-12 years in the bottle. And this is not in any way a criticism.

    Even in Burgundy there are probably no more than a dozen producers who make their wines in such a manner that they improve and last for more than a decade. Many of these wines can withstand the test of time in the sense of being survivors, but they are far less interesting and pleasurable at age 10 than when they were 2 or 3 years old. Of course, producers and retailers who specialize in these wines will argue otherwise, but they are in the business of selling. Do not be bamboozled by the public relations arm of the wine industry or the fallacious notion that red wines all improve with age. If you enjoy them young, and most likely you will, then buy only the quantities needed for near-term consumption.

    America's most famous dry red wine, however, is not Pinot Noir but Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly from California and to a lesser extent from Washington State. The idea that most California Cabernet Sauvignons improve in the bottle is a myth. Nonetheless, the belief that all California Cabernet Sauvignons are incapable of lasting in the bottle is equally unfounded. Today no one would be foolish enough to argue that the best California Cabernets cannot tolerate 15 or 20, even 25 or 30 years of cellaring.

    I frequently have the opportunity to taste 20- to 30-year-old California Cabernet Sauvignons, and they are delicious. But have they significantly improved because of the aging process? A few of them have, though most still tend to be relatively grapy, somewhat monolithic, earthy, and tannic at age 20. Has the consumer's patience in cellaring these wines for all those years justified the expense and the wait? Lamentably, the answer will usually be no. Most of these wines are no more complex or mellow than they were when young.

    Because these wines will not crack up and fall apart, there is little risk associated with stashing the best of them away, but I am afraid the consumer who patiently waits for the proverbial "miracle in the bottle" will find that wine cellaring can all too frequently be an expensive exercise in futility.

    If you think it over, the most important issue is why so many of today's wines exhibit scant improvement in the aging process. While most have always been meant to be drunk when young, I am convinced that much of the current winemaking philosophy has led to numerous compromises in the winemaking process. The advent of micropore sterile filters, so much in evidence at every modern winery, may admirably stabilize a wine, but, regrettably, these filters also destroy the potential of a wine to develop a complex aromatic profile. When they are utilized by wine producers who routinely fertilize their vineyards excessively, thus overcropping, the results are wines with an appalling lack of bouquet and flavor.

    The prevailing winemaking obsession is to stabilize wine so it can be shipped to the far corners of the world 12 months a year, stand upright in overheated stores indefinitely, and never change or spoil if exposed to extremes of heat and cold, or unfriendly storage conditions. For all intents and purposes, the wine is no longer alive. This is fine, even essential, for inexpensive jug wines, but for the fine-wine market, where consumers are asked to pay $20 or more per bottle, it is a winemaking tragedy. These stabilization and production techniques thus affect the aging of wine because they preclude the development of the wine's ability to evolve and to become a more complex, tasty, profound, and enjoyable beverage.

    HOW TO SERVE WINE

    There are really no secrets for proper wine service -- all one needs is a good corkscrew; clean, odor-free glasses; and a sense of how wines should be served and whether a wine needs to be aired or allowed to breathe. The major mistakes that most Americans, as well as most restaurants, make are 1) fine white wines are served entirely too cold, 2) fine red wines are served entirely too warm, and 3) too little attention is given to the glass into which the wine is poured. (It might contain a soapy residue or stale aromas picked up from a closed china closet or cardboard box.) All of these things can do much more to damage the impact of a fine wine and its subtle aromas than you might imagine. Most people tend to think that the wine must be opened and allowed to "breathe" well in advance of serving. Some even think a wine must be decanted, a rather elaborate procedure, but not essential unless sediment is present in the bottle and the wine has to be poured carefully off. With respect to breathing or airing wine, I am not sure anyone has all the answers. Certainly, no white wine requires any advance opening and pouring. Red wines can be enjoyed within 15-30 minutes of being opened and poured into a clean, odor- and soap-free wine decanter. There are of course examples that can always be cited where the wine improves for 7-8 hours, but these are quite rare. Although these topics seem to dominate much of the discussion in wine circles, a much more critical aspect for me is the appropriate temperature of the wine and of the glass in which it is to be served. The temperature of red wines is very important, and in America's generously heated dining rooms, temperatures are often 75-80° F., higher than is good for fine red wine. A red wine served at such a temperature will taste flat and flabby, with its bouquet diffuse and unfocused. The alcohol content will also seem higher than it should be. The ideal temperature for most red wines is 62-67° F.; light red wine such as Beaujolais should be chilled to 55° F. For white wines, 55-60° F. is perfect, since most will show all their complexity and intensity at this temperature, whereas if they are chilled to below 45° F., it will be difficult to tell, for instance, whether the wine is a Riesling or a Chardonnay.

    In addition, there is the important issue of the glasses in which the wine is to be served. An all-purpose, tulip-shaped glass of 8-12 ounces is a good start for just about any type of wine, but think the subject over carefully. If you go to the trouble and expense of finding and storing wine properly, shouldn't you treat the wine to a good glass? The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by the Riedel Company of Austria. I have to admit that I was at first skeptical about these glasses. George Riedel, the head of his family's crystal business, claims to have created these glasses specifically to guide (by specially designed rims) the wine to a designated section of the palate. The rims, combined with the general shape of the glass, emphasize and promote the different flavors and aromas of a given varietal.

    I have tasted an assortment of wines in his glasses, including a Riesling glass, Chardonnay glass, Pinot Noir glass, and Cabernet Sauvignon glass, all part of his Sommelier Series. For comparative purposes, I then tasted the same wines in the Impitoyables glass, the INAO tasting glass, and the conventional tulip-shaped glass. The results were consistently in favor of the Riedel glasses. American Pinot Noirs and red Burgundies performed far better in his huge 37-ounce, 9 1/2-inch-high Burgundy goblet (model number 400/16) than in the other stemware. Nor could any of the other glassware compete when I was drinking Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines from his Bordeaux goblet (model number 400/00), a 32-ounce, 10 1/2-inch-high, magnificently shaped glass. His Chardonnay glass was a less convincing performer, but I was astounded by how well the Riesling glass (model number 400/1), an 8-ounce glass that is 7 3/4 inches high, seemed to highlight the personality characteristics of Riesling.

    George Riedel realizes that wine enthusiasts go to great lengths to buy wine in sound condition, store it properly, and serve it at the correct temperature. But how many connoisseurs invest enough time exploring the perfect glasses for their Pichon-Lalande, Méo-Camuzet, Clos de Vougeot, or Maximin-Grunhaus Riesling Kabinett? His mission, he says, is to provide the "finest tools," enabling the taster to capture the full potential of a particular varietal. His glasses have convincingly proved his case time and time again in my tastings. I know of no finer tasting or drinking glasses than the Sommelier Series glasses from Riedel.

    I have always found it amazing that most of my wine-loving friends tend to ignore the fact that stemware is just as important as making the right choice in wine. When using the Riedel glasses, one must keep in mind that every one of these glasses has been engineered to enhance the best characteristic of a particular grape varietal. Riedel believes that regardless of the size of the glass, they work best when they are filled to no more than one-quarter of their capacity. If I were going to buy these glasses (the Sommelier Series tends to run $40-70 a glass), I would unhesitatingly purchase both the Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses. They outperformed every other glass by a wide margin. The magnificent 37-ounce Burgundy glass, with a slightly flared lip, directs the flow of a Burgundy to the tip and the center of the tongue so that it avoids contact with the sides of the tongue, which deemphasizes the acidity and makes the Burgundy taste rounder and more supple. This is not just trade puffery on Riedel's part. I have experienced the effect enough times to realize that these glasses do indeed control the flow and, by doing so, enhance the character of the wine. The 32-ounce Bordeaux glass, which is nearly the same size as the Burgundy glass, is more conical, and the lip serves to direct the wine toward the tip of the tongue, where the taste sensors are more acutely aware of sweetness. This enhances the rich fruit in a Cabernet/Merlot-based wine before the wine spreads out to the sides and back of the palate, where it picks up the more acidic, tannic elements.

    All of this may sound absurdly highbrow or esoteric, but the effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make. If the Sommelier Series sounds too expensive, Riedel does make less expensive lines that are machine-made rather than hand-blown. The most popular are the Vinum glasses, which sell for about $20 per glass. The Bordeaux Vinum glass is a personal favorite as well as a spectacular glass not only for Bordeaux but for Rhône wines and white Burgundies. There are also numerous other glasses designed for Nebbiolo-based wines, rosé wines, old white wines, and port wines, as well as a specially designed glass for sweet Sauternes-type wines.


    Pomerantz 6 Bottle Wine Rack w/Pourer
    Pomerantz 6 Bottle Wine Rack w/Pourer
    Towle Beacon Hill Wine Cooler
    Towle Beacon Hill Wine Cooler Keep your wine at its perfect temperature in this attractive and functional Wine Cooler. Features a crosshatch design border, cast in a heavy durable solid brass, plated in brushed nickel - carefree, non-tarnish finish. 9" high x 5 3/8" dia.
    Atlantis Radius Wine Set, 5 pc.
    Atlantis Radius Wine Set, 5 pc.
    Lifetime Brands Ocean Glassware Wine Set/4
    Lifetime Brands Ocean Glassware Wine Set/4 The graceful stem on these glasses adds elegance to any table setting - from casual to formal. Coordinates beautifully with our Seychelles dinnerware pattern.
    Connoisseur White Wine Goblet
    Connoisseur White Wine Goblet Different wines require different shaped glasses to bring out the intensity of the aromas of the wine and to help direct the wine to specific parts of the tongue. White wines use a taller and slimmer glass. The clear glass lets you enjoy the delicate color of white wine and the long stem will keep the heat of your hands away from the glass, preventing the wine from warming. 19 1/4 oz.
    Farberware® Wine Stopper Set/2
    Farberware® Wine Stopper Set/2 Helps retain the freshness and flavor. Simply place the stopper in the opened bottle top and push the lever down. The stopper expands to form an airtight seal.
    Stemless Red Wine Tumbler Set/4
    Stemless Red Wine Tumbler Set/4 Many experts prefer stemless glasses for the full enjoyment of either red or white wines. These sophisticated wine tumbler are perfectly shaped for the maximum appreciation of bouquet, flavor and finish. Set of four, each 21 oz.
    Casa Moda™ EZ Out Wine Opener
    Casa Moda™ EZ Out Wine Opener Remove corks quickly and easily. Includes foil cutter and replacement worm screw.
    Hoffritz® Dripless Wine Pourer
    Hoffritz® Dripless Wine Pourer Guaranteed to prevent wine from dripping and spilling while pouring. The cap can be used for tasting as well as a cover to keep your wine fresh. 3".
    Towle Concentric Stainless Steel Double Wall Wine Coaster
    Towle Concentric Stainless Steel Double Wall Wine Coaster This wine coaster prevents drips of wine from staining table linens (or the table itself!). 18/10 stainless steel with a layer of air in-between that provides optimum insulation. Dishwasher safe.
    Elements Wine Decanter, 9 1/2
    Elements Wine Decanter, 9 1/2" high
    Tabla Monterey Multicolored Wine Glass Set/4
    Tabla Monterey Multicolored Wine Glass Set/4

    Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide 6th Edition: The Complete, Easy-to-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More Than 8,000 Wines from All the Major Wine Regions
    Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide 6th Edition: The Complete, Easy-to-Use Reference on Recent Vintages, Prices, and Ratings for More Than 8,000 Wines from All the Major Wine Regions
    Thoroughly revised and updated, this sixth edition of the Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide has been eagerly awaited by seasoned collectors and occasional drinkers alike. No one wants to waste his or her precious dollars on an unenjoyable bottle, and with Parker's advice in hand, no one ever will. Employing his famous 100-point rating system, Parker rates more than 8,000 wines from all the major wine-producing regions in the world -- including newly expanded sections on the popular wines of California and Italy. Each wine producer is evaluated separately, and Parker's independence allows him to be completely honest in his opinions. In addition, the book includes other essential information, such as how to buy and store wine, how to spot a badly stored and abused bottle, and how to find the best wine values for under $10.


    For more complete information about prices and models, readers can get in touch with Riedel Crystal of America, PO Box 446, 24 Aero Road, Bohemia, NY 11716; telephone number (631) 567-7575. For residents of or visitors to New York City, Riedel has a showroom at 41 Madison Avenue (at Twenty-sixth Street).

    Two other good sources for fine wineglasses include St. George Crystal in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, at (724) 523-6501, and the all-purpose Cristal d'Arques Oenologist glass. I have found that the latter works exceptionally well with white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Marsanne, and red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, Gamay, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese. For very fragrant red wines such as those produced from Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, and Grenache, this glass is acceptable, but I prefer other stemware. Designed by Dany Rolland, the gifted oenologist, wife, and partner of Libourne's Michel Rolland, the dimensions are: height 8 inches (4 1/2 inches of which for the stem); circumference 10 inches at the base of the tulip-shaped bowl, narrowing to 8 inches at the rim; capacity 12 ounces, or a half bottle of wine. Another fine glassware source is Spiegelau from Germany. For information on where their glasses are sold, readers should visit their Web site, www.Spiegelau.com.

    And, last but not least, remember: No matter how clean the glass appears to be, be sure to rinse the glass or decanter with unchlorinated well or mineral water just before it is used. A decanter or wineglass left sitting for any time is a wonderful trap for room and kitchen odors that are undetectable until the wine is poured and they yield their off-putting smells. That and soapy residues left in the glasses have ruined more wines than any defective cork or, I suspect, poor storage from an importer, wholesaler, or retailer. I myself put considerable stress on one friendship simply because I continued to complain at every dinner party about the soapy glasses that interfered with the enjoyment of the wonderful Bordeaux wines being served.

    FOOD AND WINE MATCHUPS

    The art of serving the right bottle of wine with a specific course or type of food has become terribly overlegislated, to the detriment of the enjoyment of both wine and food. Newspaper and magazine columns, even books, are filled with precise rules that seemingly make it a sin not to have chosen the perfect wine to accompany the meal. The results have been predictable. Instead of enjoying a dining experience, most hosts and hostesses fret, usually needlessly, over their choice of which wine to serve with the meal.

    The basic rules of the wine/food matchup game are not difficult to master. These are the tried-and-true, allegedly cardinal principles, such as young wines before old wines, dry wines before sweet wines, white wines before red wines, red wines with meat and white wines with fish. However, these general principles are riddled with exceptions, and your choices are a great deal broader than you have been led to expect. One of France's greatest restaurant proprietors once told me that if people would simply pick their favorite wines to go along with their favorite dishes, they would be a great deal happier. Furthermore, he would be pleased not to have to witness so much nervous anxiety and apprehension on their faces. I'm not sure I can go that far, but since my gut feeling is that there are more combinations of wine and food that work reasonably well than do not, let me share some of my basic observations about this whole field. There are several important questions you should consider:

    Does the food offer simple or complex flavors? America's -- and I suppose the wine world's -- two favorite grapes, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, can produce majestic wines of exceptional complexity and flavor depth. However, as food wines, they are remarkably one-dimensional and work well only with dishes that have relatively straightforward and simple flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon marries beautifully with basic meat-and-potato dishes, filet mignon, lamb fillets, steaks, etc. Furthermore, as Cabernet Sauvignon- and Merlot-based wines get older and more complex, they require simpler and simpler dishes to complement their complex flavors. Chardonnay goes beautifully with most fish courses, but when one adds different aromas and scents to a straightforward fish dish -- by grilling, or by adding ingredients in an accompanying sauce -- Chardonnays are often competitive rather than complementary wines to serve. The basic rule, then, is simple, uncomplex wines with complex dishes, and complex wines with simple dishes.

    What are the primary flavors in both the wine and food? A complementary wine choice can often be made if one knows what to expect from the primary flavors in the food to be eaten. The reason creamy and buttery sauces with fish, lobster, even chicken or veal work well with Chardonnay or white Burgundies is because of the buttery, vanilla aromas in the fuller, richer, lustier styles of Chardonnay. On the other hand, a mixed salad with an herb dressing and pieces of grilled fish or shellfish beg for an herbaceous, smoky Sauvignon Blanc or French Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley. For the same reason, a steak au poivre in a creamy brown sauce with its intense, pungent aromas and complex flavors requires a big, rich, peppery Rhône wine such as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas.

    Are the texture and flavor intensity of the wine proportional to the texture and flavor intensity of the food? Did you ever wonder why fresh, briny, sea-scented oysters that are light and zesty taste so good with a Muscadet from France or a lighter-styled California Sauvignon Blanc or Italian Pinot Grigio? It is because these wines have the same weight and light texture as the oysters. Why is it that the smoky, sweet, oaky, tangy flavors of a grilled steak or loin of lamb work best with a Zinfandel or Rhône Valley red wine? The full-bodied, supple, chewy flavors of these wines complement a steak or loin of lamb cooked over a wood fire. Sauté the same steak or lamb in butter or bake it in the oven, and the flavors are less complex; then a well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon- or Merlot-based wine from California, Bordeaux, or Australia is called for.

    Another telling example of the importance of matching the texture and flavor intensity of the wine with the food is the type of fish you have chosen to eat. Salmon, lobster, shad, and bluefish have intense flavors and a fatty texture, and therefore require a similarly styled, lusty, oaky, buttery Chardonnay to complement them. On the other hand, trout, sole, turbot, and shrimp are leaner, more delicately flavored fish and therefore mandate lighter, less intense wines such as nonoaked examples of Chardonnay from France's Mâconnais region or Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia area. In addition, a lighter-styled Champagne or German Riesling (a dry Kabinett works ideally) goes extremely well with trout, sole, or turbot, but falls on its face when matched against salmon, shad, or lobster. One further example of texture and flavor matchups is the classic example of a heavy, unctuous, rich, sweet Sauternes with foie gras. The extravagantly rich and flavorful foie gras cannot be served with any other type of wine, as it would overpower a dry red or white wine. The fact that both the Sauternes and the foie gras have intense, concentrated flavors and similar textures is the exact reason why this combination is so decadently delicious.

    What is the style of wine produced in the vintage that you have chosen? Several of France's greatest chefs have told me they prefer off years of Bordeaux and Burgundy to great years, and have instructed their sommeliers to buy the wines for the restaurant accordingly. How can this be? From the chef's perspective, the food, not the wine, should be the focal point of the meal. They fear that a great vintage of Burgundy or Bordeaux with wines that are exceptionally rich, powerful, and concentrated not only takes attention away from their cuisine but makes matching a wine with the food much more troublesome. Thus, chefs prefer a 1987 Bordeaux on the table with their food as opposed to a super-concentrated 1982 or 1990, or a 1989 red Burgundy over a 1990. The great vintages, though marvelous wines, are not always the best vintages to choose for the ultimate matchup with food. Lighter-weight yet tasty wines from so-so years complement delicate and understated cuisine considerably better than the great vintages, which should be reserved for very simple food courses.

    Is the food served in a sauce? Years ago, at Michel Guerard's restaurant in Eugénie-les-Bains, I ordered fish served in a red wine sauce. Guerard recommended a red Graves wine from Bordeaux, because the sauce was made from a reduction of fish stock and a red Graves. The combination was successful and opened my eyes for the first time to the possibilities of fish with red wine. Since then I have had tuna in a green peppercorn sauce accompanied by a California Cabernet Sauvignon (a great match), and salmon sautéed in a re d wine sauce happily married to a young vintage of red Bordeaux. A white wine with any of these courses would not have worked. Another great match was veal in a creamy morel sauce with a Tokay from Alsace.

    A corollary to this principle of letting the sauce dictate the type of wine you order is when the actual food is prepared with a specific type of wine. For example, coq au vin, an exquisite peasant dish, can be cooked and served in either a white wine or red wine sauce. I have found when I had coq au vin au Riesling, a dry Alsace Riesling with it is simply extraordinary. In Burgundy I have often had coq au vin in a red wine sauce consisting of a reduced Burgundy wine, and the choice of a red Burgundy makes the dish even more special.

    When you travel, do you drink locally produced wines with the local cuisine? It is no coincidence that the regional cuisines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence, and Alsace in France, and Tuscany and Piedmont in Italy, seem to enhance and complement the local wines. In fact, most restaurants in these areas rarely offer wines from outside the local region, thus mandating the drinking of the locally produced wines. One always wonders what came first, the cuisine or the wine? Certainly, America is beginning to develop its own regional cuisine, but except for California and the Pacific Northwest, few areas promote the local wines as appropriate matchups with the local cuisine. For example, in my backyard a number of small wineries make an excellent white wine called Seyval Blanc, which is the perfect foil for both the oysters and blue channel crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. Yet few restaurants in the Baltimore-Washington area promote these local wines, which is a shame. Regional wines with regional foods should be a top priority not only when traveling in Europe but also in America's viticultural areas.

    Have you learned the best and worst wine and food matchups? If this entire area of wine and food combinations still seems too cumbersome, then your best strategy is simply to learn some of the greatest combinations as well as some of the worst. I can also add a few pointers I have learned through my own experiences, usually bad ones. Certain wine and food relationships of contrasting flavors can be sublime. Perhaps the best example is a sweet, creamy-textured Sauternes wine with a salty aged Stilton or Roquefort cheese. The combination of two opposite sets of flavors and textures is sensational in this particular instance. Another great combination is Alsatian Gewurztraminers and Rieslings with ethnic cuisine such as Indian and Chinese. The juxtaposition of sweet and sour combinations and the spiciness of both cuisines seem to work beautifully with these two wines from Alsace.

    One of the great myths about wine and food matchups is that red wines work well with cheese. The truth of the matter is that they hardly ever work well with cheese. Most cheeses, especially favorite wine cheeses such as Brie and double and triple creams have a very high fat content, and most red wines suffer incredibly when drunk with them. If you want to shock your guests but also enjoy wine with cheese, serve a white wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape such as a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé from France. The dynamic personalities of these two wines and their tangy, zesty acidity stand up well to virtually all types of cheese, but they go especially well with fresh goat cheeses.

    Another myth is that dessert wines go best with desserts. Most people seem to like Champagne or a sweet Riesling, sweet Chenin Blanc, or a Sauternes with dessert. Putting aside that chocolate-based desserts are always in conflict with any type of wine, I find that dessert wines are best served as the dessert or after the dessert. Whether it be cake, fruit tarts, ice cream, or candy, I've always enjoyed dessert wines more when they are the centerpiece of attention than when they are accompanying a sweet dessert.

    If wine and food matchups still seem too complicated for you, remember that in the final analysis, a good wine served with a good dish to good company is always in good taste. à votre santé!

    WHAT'S BEEN ADDED TO YOUR WINE?

    Over the last decade people have become much more sensitive to what they put in their bodies. The hazards of excessive smoking, fat consumption, and high blood pressure are taken seriously by increasing numbers of people, not just in America but in Europe as well. While this movement is to be applauded, an extremist group, labeled by observers as "neoprohibitionists" or "new drys," has tried to exploit the individual's interest in good health by promoting the image that the consumption of any alcoholic beverage is an inherently dangerous abuse that undermines society and family. These extremist groups do not care about moderation; they want the total elimination of wine (one of alcohol's evil spirits) from the marketplace. In the process, they have misrepresented wine and consistently ignored specific data that demonstrates that moderate wine drinking is more beneficial than harmful to individuals. Unfortunately, the law prohibits the wine industry from promoting the proven health benefits of wine.

    Wine is the most natural of all beverages, but it is true that additives can be included in a wine (the neoprohibitionists are taking aim at these as being potentially lethal). Following are those items that can be added to wine.

    Acids Most cool-climate vineyards never need to add acidity to wine, but in California and Australia, acidity is often added to give balance to the wines, as grapes from these hot climate areas often lack sufficient natural acidity. Most serious wineries add tartaric acidity, the same type of acidity found naturally in wine. Less quality-oriented wineries dump in pure citric acid, which results in the wine tasting like a lemon/lime sorbet.

    Clarification agents A list of items that are dumped into wine to cause suspended particles to coagulate includes morbid names such as dried ox blood, isinglass, casein (milk powder), kaolin (clay), bentonite (powdered clay), and the traditional egg whites. These fining agents are designed to make the wine brilliant and particle free; they are harmless, and top wineries either don't use them or use them minimally.

    Oak Many top-quality red and white wines spend most of their lives aging in oak barrels. It is expected that wine stored in wood will take on some of the toasty, smoky, vanilla flavors of wood. These aromas and flavors, if not overdone, add flavor complexity to a wine. Cheap wine can also be marginally enhanced by the addition of oak chips, which provide a more aggressive, raw flavor of wood. But remember, oak only works with certain types of wine, and its usage is analogous to a chef's use of salt, pepper, or garlic. In excessive amounts or with the wrong dish, the results are ghastly.

    Sugar In most of the viticultural regions of Europe except for southern France, Portugal, and Spain, the law permits the addition of sugar to the fermenting grape juice in order to raise alcohol levels. This practice, called chaptalization, is performed in cool years when the grapes do not attain sufficient ripeness. It is never done in the hot climate of California or in most of Australia, where low natural acidity, not low sugars, is the problem. Judicious chaptalization raises the alcohol level by 1-2%.

    Sulfites All wines must now carry a label indicating that the wine contains sulfites. Sulfite (also referred to as SO2 or sulfur dioxide) is a preservative used to kill bacteria and microorganisms. It is sprayed on virtually all fresh vegetables and fruits, but a tiny percentage of the population, especially asthmatics, are allergic to SO2. The fermentation of wine produces some sulfur dioxide naturally, but it is also added to oak barrels by burning a sulfur stick inside the barrel in order to kill any bacteria; it is added again at bottling to prevent the wine from oxidizing. Quality wines should never smell of sulfur (a burning-match smell) because serious wine-makers keep the sulfur level very low. Some wineries do not employ sulfites. When used properly, sulfites impart no smell or taste to the wine and, except for those who have a known allergy to them, are harmless to the general population. Used excessively, sulfites impart the aforementioned unpleasant smell and a prickly taste sensation. Obviously, people who are allergic to sulfites should not drink wine, just as people who are allergic to fish roe should not eat caviar.

    Tannin Tannin occurs naturally in the skins and stems of grapes, and the content from the crushing of the grape skins and subsequent maceration of the skins and juice is usually more than adequate to provide sufficient natural tannin. Tannin gives a red wine grip and backbone, while also acting as a preservative. However, on rare occasions tannin is added to a spineless wine.

    Yeasts While many wine-makers rely on the indigenous wild yeasts in the vineyard to start the fermentation, it is becoming more common to employ cultured yeasts for this procedure. There is no health hazard here, but the increasing reliance on the same type of yeast for wines from all over the world leads to wines with similar bouquets and flavors.

    ORGANIC WINES

    Organic wines, produced without fungicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers, with no additives or preservatives, continue to gain considerable consumer support. In principle, organic wines should be as excellent as nonorganic. Because most organic wine producers tend to do less manipulation and processing of their wines, the consumer receives a product that is far more natural than those wines which have been manufactured and processed to death.

    There is tremendous potential for huge quantities of organic wines, particularly from viticultural areas that enjoy copious quantities of sunshine and wind, the so-called Mediterranean climate. In France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region, Provence, and the Rhône Valley have the potential to produce organic wines if their proprietors desire. Much of California could do so as well. Parts of Australia and Italy also have weather conditions that encourage the possibility of developing organic vineyards.

    THE DARK SIDE OF WINE

    The Growing International Standardization of Wine Styles

    Although technology allows wine-makers to produce wines of better and better quality, the continuing obsession with technically perfect wines is unfortunately stripping wines of their identifiable and distinctive character. Whether it is excessive filtration of wines or insufficiently critical emulation of winemaking styles, the downside of modern winemaking is that it is now increasingly difficult to tell an Italian Chardonnay from one made in France or California or Australia. When the corporate wine-makers of the world begin to make wines all in the same way, designing them to offend the least number of people, wine will no doubt lose its fascinating appeal and individualism to become no better than most brands of whiskey, gin, Scotch, or vodka. One must not forget that the great appeal of wine is that it is a unique, distinctive, fascinating beverage and different every time one drinks it. Wine-makers and the owners of wineries, particularly in America, must learn to take more risks so as to preserve the individual character of their wines, even though some consumers may find them bizarre or unusual. It is this distinctive quality of wine that will ensure its future.

    Destroying the Joy of Wine by Excessive Acidification, Overzealous Fining, and Abrasive Filtration

    Since the beginning of my career as a professional wine critic, I have tried to present a strong case against the excessive manipulation of wine. One look at the producers of the world's greatest wines will irrefutably reveal that the following characteristics are shared by all of them -- whether they be from California, France, Italy, Spain, or Germany: 1) They are driven to preserve the integrity of the vineyard's character, the varietal's identity, and the vintage's personality. 2) They believe in low crop yields. 3) Weather permitting, they harvest only physiologically mature (versus analytically ripe) fruit. 4) They use simplistic winemaking and cellar techniques, in the sense that they are minimal interventionists, preferring to permit the wine to make itself. 5) Though they are not opposed to fining or filtration if the wine is unstable or unclear, if the wine is made from healthy, ripe grapes and is stable and clear, they will absolutely refuse to strip it by excessive fining and filtration at bottling.

    Producers who care only about making wine as fast as possible and collecting their accounts receivable quickly also have many things in common. They turn out neutral, vapid, mediocre wines, and they are believers in huge crop yields, with considerable fertilization to promote massive crops, as large as the vineyard can render (six or more tons per acre, compared to modest yields of three tons per acre). Their philosophy is that the vineyard is a manufacturing plant and cost efficiency dictates that production be maximized. They rush their wine into bottle as quickly as possible in order to get paid. They believe in processing wine, such as centrifuging it initially, then practicing multiple fining and filtration procedures, particularly a denuding sterile filtration. This guarantees that the wine is lifeless but stable, so the wine's being able to withstand temperature extremes and stand upright on a grocery store's shelf has priority over giving the consumer a beverage of pleasure. These wineries harvest earlier than anybody else because they are unwilling to take any risk, delegating all questions to their oenologists, who, they know, have as their objectives security and stability, which is in conflict with the consumer's goal of finding joy in wine.

    The effect of excessive manipulation of wine, particularly overly aggressive fining and filtration, is dramatic. It destroys a wine's bouquet as well as its ability to express its TERROIR and varietal character. It also mutes the vintage's character. Fining and filtration can be done lightly, causing only minor damage, but most wines produced in the New World (California, Australia, and South America in particular) and most bulk wines produced in Europe are sterile-filtered. This procedure requires numerous prefiltrations to get the wines clean enough to pass through a micropore membrane filter. This system of wine stability and clarification strips, eviscerates, and denudes a wine of much of its character.

    Some wines can suffer such abuse with less damage. Thick, tannic, concentrated Syrah- and Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines may even survive these wine lobotomies, diminished in aromatic and flavor dimension, but still alive. Wines such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are destroyed in the process.

    Thanks to a new generation of producers, particularly in France, aided by a number of specialist importers from America, there has been a movement against unnecessary fining and filtration. One only has to look at the extraordinary success enjoyed by such American importers as Kermit Lynch, Weygandt-Metzler, North Berkeley Imports, and Robert Kacher to realize how much consumer demand exists for a natural, unfiltered, uncompromised wine that is a faithful representation of its vineyard and vintage. Most serious wine consumers do not mind not being able to drink the last half ounce of a wine because of sediment. They know this sediment means they are getting a flavorful, authentic, unprocessed wine that is much more representative than one that has been stripped at bottling.

    Other small importers who have followed the leads of Lynch, Weygandt-Metzler, North Berkeley, and Kacher include Neal Rosenthal Select Vineyards (New York, New York); Eric Solomon of European Cellars (New York, New York); Don Quattlebaum of New Castle Imports (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina); Fran Kysela of Kysela Père et Fils (Winchester, Virginia); Martine Saunier of Martine's Wines (San Rafael, California); Jorgé Ordonnez (Dedham, Massachusetts); Leonardo Lo Cascio (Hohokus, New Jersey); Dan Philips (Oxnard, California); Ted Schrauth (West Australia); John Larchet (Australia); Jeffrey Davies (West Nyack, New York); and Alain Junguenet (Watchung, New Jersey), to name some of the best known. They often insist that their producers not filter those wines shipped to the United States, resulting in a richer, more ageworthy wine being sold in America than elsewhere in the world. Even some of our country's largest importers, most notably Kobrand, Inc., in New York City, are encouraging producers to move toward more gentle and natural bottling techniques.

    I am certain there would have been an even more powerful movement to bottle wines naturally with minimal clarification if the world's wine press were to examine the effect of excessive fining and filtration. It is difficult to criticize many American wine writers, because the vast majority of them are part-timers. Few have the time or resources to taste the same wines before and after bottling. Yet I am disappointed that many of our most influential writers and publications have remained strangely silent, particularly in view of the profound negative impact filtration can have on the quality of fine wine. The English wine-writing corps, which includes many veteran, full-time wine writers, has an appalling record on this issue, especially in view of the fact that many of them make it a practice to taste before and after bottling. For those who care about the quality of wine, and the preservation of the character of the vineyard, vintage, and varietal, the reluctance of so many writers to criticize the wine industry undermines the entire notion of wine appreciation.

    Even a wine writer of the stature of Hugh Johnson comes out strongly on the side of processed, neutral wines that can be safely shipped 12 months of the year. Readers may want to consider Johnson's, and his coauthor, James Halliday's, comments in their book The Vintner's Art -- How Great Wines Are Made. Halliday is an Australian wine writer and winery owner, and Hugh Johnson may be this century's most widely read wine author. In their book they chastise the American importer Kermit Lynch for his "romantic ideals," which they describe as "increasingly impractical." Johnson and Halliday assert, "The truth is that a good fifty percent of those artisan Burgundies and Rhônes are bacterial time bombs." Their plea for compromised and standardized wines is supported by the following observation: "The hard reality is that many restaurants and many consumers simply will not accept sediment." This may have been partially true in America 20 years ago, but today the consumer not only wants but demands a natural wine. Moreover, the wine consumer understands that sediment in a bottle of fine wine is a healthy sign. The position, which both writers take, that modern-day winemaking and commercial necessity require that wines be shipped 12 months a year and be durable enough to withstand months on retailers' shelves in both cold and hot temperature conditions is highly debatable. America now has increasing numbers of responsible merchants, importers, and restaurant sommeliers who go to great lengths to guarantee the client a healthy bottle of wine that has not been abused. Astonishingly, Johnson and Halliday conclude that consumers cannot tell the difference between a filtered and an unfiltered wine! In summarizing their position, they state, "but leave the wine for 1, 2, or 3 months (one cannot tell how long the recovery process will take), and it is usually impossible to tell the filtered from the non-filtered wine, provided the filtration at bottling was skillfully carried out." After 14 years of conducting such tastings, I find this statement not only unbelievable but insupportable! Am I to conclude that all of the wonderful wines I have tasted from cask that were subsequently damaged by vigorous fining and filtration were bottled by incompetent people who did not know how to filter? Am I to think that the results of the extensive comparative tastings (usually blind) that I have done of the same wine, filtered versus unfiltered, were bogus? Are the enormous aromatic, flavor, textural, and qualitative differences that are the result of vigorous clarification techniques figments of my imagination? Astoundingly, the wine industry's reluctance to accept responsibility for preserving all that the best vineyards and vintages can achieve is excused rather than condemned.

    If excessive fining and filtration are not bad enough, consider the overzealous additions of citric and tartaric acids employed by Australian and California oenologists to perk up their wines. You know the feeling -- you open a bottle of Australian or California Chardonnay and not only is there no bouquet (because it was sterile-filtered), but tasting the wine is like biting into a fresh lemon or lime. It is not enjoyable. What you are experiencing is the result of the misguided philosophy among New World wine-makers to add too much acidity as a cheap life insurance policy for their wines. This "life insurance" is in fact a death certificate. Because these producers are unwilling to reduce their yields and unwilling to assume any risk, and because they see winemaking as nothing more than a processing technique, they generously add acidity. It does serve as an antibacterial, antioxidant agent, thus helping to keep the wine fresh. But those who acidify the most are usually those who harvest appallingly high crop yields, so there is little flavor to protect! After 6-12 months of bottle age, what little fruit is present fades, and the consumer is left with a skeleton of sharp, shrill acid levels, alcohol, and wood (if utilized), but no fruit -- an utterly reprehensible way of making wine.

    I do not object to the use of these techniques for bulk and jug wines that the consumer is buying for value, or because of brand-name recognition. But for any producer to sell a wine as a handcrafted, artisanal product at $20 or more a bottle, these practices are shameful. Anyone who tells you that excessive acidification, fining, and filtration do not damage a wine is either a fool or a liar.

    The Inflated Wine Pricing of Restaurants

    Given the vast sums of discretionary income that Americans spend eating at restaurants, a strong argument could be made that the cornerstone of increased wine consumption and awareness would be wine drinking in restaurants. However, most restaurants treat wine as a luxury item, marking it up an exorbitant 200-500%, thereby effectively discouraging the consumption of wine. This practice of offering wines at huge markups also serves to reinforce the mistaken notion that wine is only for the elite and the superrich.

    The wine industry does little about this practice, being content merely to see its wines placed on a restaurant's list. But the consumer should revolt and avoid those restaurants that charge exorbitant wine prices, no matter how sublime the cuisine. This is nothing more than legitimized mugging of the consumer.

    Fortunately, things are slightly better today than they were a decade ago, as some restaurant owners are now regarding wine as an integral part of the meal, and not merely as a device to increase the bill.



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