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Murray: If you’ve got time, invest in a bottle

POSTED: July 9, 2008 5:01 a.m.

One of the nice aspects of writing a column for a daily newspaper is the interplay that results with readers.

Since I began writing this monthly wine feature, I have received letters, e-mails and phone calls from folks wanting to know a little bit more about wine, wine and food, etc.

Today I'm going to answer some of these inquiries in print - although I do personally respond to all such questions as they trickle in.

If you have a wine question, check the end of this column for how to contact me.

Question: I really enjoyed your February column on pink wines and wondered if you could answer a question for me that may interest a lot of other folks - especially parents.

We have a 10-year old daughter and would like to invest in a case each of white, red and sparkling wines for her eventual wedding - possibly in 20 years or so. Do you have any suggestions for what would age well, looking at up to $20 per bottle for the wine and slightly more per bottle for the bubbly?

Answer: Uh, in a word, no. My suggestion would be to forget this admittedly cheerful plan and think of an alternative.

One of the saddest chores I've faced as a wine writer is having to tell someone who bought a bottle of Champagne 21 years earlier on the birth of a child, that, 21 years later, this wine is kaput, dead, fini.

The problem here is twofold: The period of time anticipated for the aging, and the budget. The likelihood of a $20 wine lasting 20 years is slim to none - especially a white. You might pack away a case of fine white Burgundy and it might last 20 years - but it might not, and most likely would have passed the prime of its life. But that wine also will set you back $75-$150 per bottle at today's prices.

As for the Champagne, or other sparkling wines, they just are not made to be aged to that extent. When fine Champagne, such as Dom Perignon, Roederer Kristal or any of the Krugs, come out of the makers' cellars, they have already been sufficiently aged. The $175 bottle of bubbly may last 10 years, but it will not be much better than the day it was purchased - and likely diminished in quality.

How about this? Buy one bottle each of a fine - read "expensive" - bottle of red, white and sparkling and put them away. Instead of, say, $240 a case, as you suggested, spend $150-$200 or so per bottle, store them very carefully and hope for the best. My suggestions: A red Bordeaux from the stellar 2003 vintage, a white Burgundy from the equally exceptional 2002 vintage and the non-vintage Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne.

Good luck. And, yes, I will attend the wedding.

Q: Your April column was about white wine grapes. I did not see mention of one of my favorite white wine grapes, the symphony. What can you tell me about this grape?

A: Good question. I addressed only the major - meaning most popular - grape types. And although the symphony grape does produce some tasty wines, it is in very limited production - only about 600 acres in California, as opposed to 300 bazillion acres of merlot.

The grape was created in 1948 by one of America's wine pioneers, Dr. Harold Olmo, at the University of California-Davis. It sprang from a crossing of two other grapes - grenache gris and Muscat of Alexandria. The resulting wine is generally soft and fruity; a lovely, light sipping wine. The most common bottling is the Obsession label from Ironstone Vineyards in northern California.

Q: I was surprised to find out from your column that the zinfandel grape is red, and that it actually produces red wine. I thought zinfandel was all white zinfandel; the pink stuff.

A: Au contraire, red zinfandel is a superb, full-bodied, dry table wine that is a fine substitute for merlot, cabernet sauvignon or even Chianti. To make white zinfandel, the winemaker presses the juice from this almost-purple grape and allows the juice to ferment in contact with those dark skins for 10-20 hours. That's all. In that time some of the color leaches from the skin into the juice. That's where wine gets its color - from the skin of the grape. Virtually all grape juice is clear, whether the grapes are red or white.

To make that yummy, spicy red zin, however, the winemaker allows the juice to ferment for 10-15 days with the skins. That way more color and more flavor compounds are extracted from the skins, giving that red zinfandel a heartiness that stands up to big red meat dishes. Pass the burgers!

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? E-mail him. His column runs on the first Wednesday of the month.


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