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Wine Without Pretense: To drink or not to drink old bottle of wine?

POSTED: February 5, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Time to address some queries I’ve received from readers during the past few months. I do answer all questions personally and ask permission to use them in this column. If you have a question about wine, check the end of this column to see how to get it to me.

Question: I read one of your columns last year about malbec wines from Argentina and it reminded me of a gift I was given about six years ago. A friend who had just returned from a visit to Argentina gave me a bottle of wine that he said was very good and would improve with age. I put it away and forgot about it. This spring as I was cleaning out a cabinet, I came across the bottle and am wondering if I kept it too long. It’s a malbec from an area in Argentina called Mendoza, from the 2004 vintage.

Answer: Everything depends on how the wine was stored. You told me you stored it on its side to keep the cork wet, and that’s very important. But was the wine exposed to heat or cold or light? How about vibration? All those things can prematurely age a wine. Does the foil covering the cork seem dry? That’s good. If so, push on the cork with your thumb. Does it give or feel soft? That’s not good. Mendoza is the high-altitude wine-producing area of Argentina where malbec is the star. The 2004 vintage was considered outstanding and, if all things went well and the wine gods smiled upon you, you should have a wonderful bottle of full-bodied, dry red wine for your next hearty meat meal. Either decant the wine upon opening, making sure you don’t pour into the decanter any of the sediment that might have gathered in the bottle, or carefully pour the wine through an aerator and let the glasses stand for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Question: I enjoy reading your columns. But I really don’t know much about wine, except what I like. Can you recommend a book or two that will help a wannabe wine lover?

Answer: I can handle that. My fallback book for beginners has the unlovely title of “Wine For Dummies.” There is a whole slew of “Dummies” books for beginners in just about any field of endeavor such as computers, Asian cooking and sheep shearing. This paperback was written by a highly respected pair of winos — Mary Ewing-Mulligan, master of wine, and Ed McCarthy, certified wine educator.

As with all “Dummies” books, this version approaches the subject in very basic terms. You will find chapters with engaging titles, such as “These Taste Buds Are For You,” “How to Open a Bottle — and What To Do Next,” and “You Never Graduate From Wine School.” The approach is light, but informative. The authors talk to you, but not down to you.

“Wine For Dummies” does a fine job of dispelling the myths and mystique too often attached to wine. You can be old-fashioned and visit a bookstore for a copy or just go online and order one. Good luck! Oh, and by the way, there are two more detailed wine books in the same series: “White Wine For Dummies” and “Red Wine For Dummies.”

Question: I recently bought a bottle of wine at a local market. When I opened it a few days later, it smelled terrible, like rotting grass or leaves. I was not about to try to drink it. So I took it back to the store and was told they were not allowed by state law to take back alcoholic beverages for a refund — for any reason. Is that true, or was somebody just trying to avoid having to give me my money back?

Answer: Unfortunately what the folks at the store told you is true. Georgia law forbids refunds on alcoholic beverages. And not to be too delicate about this, I think it’s truly a stupid law.

I learned this lesson in my early years in Georgia. I bought a six-pack of an exotic beer from Central America. When I tried opening two of the bottles, the lips broke and glass went into the bottles. When I hauled it back to the store, I got the same story you did. I checked it out with someone in the Georgia Department of Revenue. That’s the law, I was told.

“What’s the basis for this law?” I asked.

“I dunno, but it’s on the books,” I was told.

I’ve found some retailers will exchange a bad bottle for another one. But they don’t have to. It’s time to rewrite that book.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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