Taste wine like a pro

How can you tell if a wine is corked? What are legs? Get answers from Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider
Diane DiPrima

Q. Do stored bottles of wine need to be turned?

A. No, it's not necessary to turn wine bottles.

Sparkling wine and Champagne are the only wines you turn before the bottles are corked. Riddling is an old French tradition that was done by hand as part of the Champagne-making process. It's turning a bottle that has been stored for a length of time and acquired a line of sediment on the bottom side. The capped bottle gets rotated about ¼ turn every few hours and is slowly tilted so it ends up completely upside down. This moves the sediment into the neck of the bottle. The sediment is then frozen into a plug and disgorged from the bottle before the cork is inserted.

Q. How do you know when wine is ready to drink?

A. Most winemakers are producing wines that are ready to drink when the wine is released. Our red Steal of the Year for 2006 was a Cabernet, which you would think is a red wine that can be aged. The winemaker's advice was to age it in your car on the way home from the supermarket.

Big structured red wine will get more interesting with age. It tastes different from what most people are used to. The fruit flavors soften and slowly fade as secondary flavors such as soy sauce and leather come to the front.

The standard aging time that I think works for West Coast wines that are age worthy is a minimum of five years. That's when the effect of aging kicks in. You won't want to go beyond 10 years for most of those wines. That's not gospel, you'll have those that will still be beautiful at 25 years. They'll have all those secondary flavors going on with very little fruit, but it will still be a really interesting wine.

Age-worthy red wine:
Wines that are going to age well will have three elements in balance: solid tannin (it's a preservative), good acidity, and solid fruit flavor.

Age-worthy white wine:
Most white wines aren't built for aging. Some exceptional Rieslings will age.

One of the best ways to determine which wines to age is by opening a bottle and trying it. If it's not a well-balanced wine now, then it's probably not going to be great 10 years down the line.

The half-case experiment:
• Drink a bottle now.
• Drink a bottle at three years as a sneak preview.
• Drink a bottle at five years.
• Drink a bottle at seven years.
• Drink a bottle at 10 years; if it still tastes good, hold the last bottle.
• Drink the final bottle at 20 years and see what you have.

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