Some people believe wine is fragile.
Snooty collectors swear all wines must be stored on their sides (to keep corks moist) at precisely 54 degrees with a humidity of 77.34 percent, and that any light or vibration is death.
They claim any temperature above 60 degrees for even an hour will ruin a wine.
Ideally, they suggest, keep your wine resting in its original wooden case, still nailed shut, underneath your house, preferably covered by a mound of earth.
Bosh. For one thing, few wines come in wooden boxes any more. Moreover, wine is a lot sturdier than that.
Coddling it may make you feel better, but likely as not, most young wines aren’t going to spoil if you leave them in the garage for a few days, or even mistreat them for a day or two.
In fact, some torture might actually help a young wine.
About 20 years ago I staged a test. I put a bottle of a fine young Napa Valley cabernet in the trunk of my car and left it there for five weeks during the hottest weeks of summer.
Then I pulled the wine out of the trunk and placed it alongside another bottle of the same wine that had been resting on its side in a cool location unmoved, undisturbed from its 60-degree home.
A week later, I put both bottles in bags, removed the foil capsules and corks, and poured the wines for 16 wine professionals. I asked them all one question: Which do you prefer?
Everyone said the wines were nearly identical, but when forced to choose one, 12 of the 16 said they slightly preferred the bottle that spent its summer vacation just north of my fuel tank.
The reason? Perhaps this wine, being very young, needed a little rough treatment early in life if it was to show anything when it was young.
Obviously, I do not recommend storing red wines this way, but the exercise indicated that wine is sturdier than some people think.
Most young wine benefits from aeration, so one way to make a young wine taste better, whether red or white, is to splash it roughly into a decanter and give it the air that will help open up the aroma. Decanters can also help with other problems. Such as the case of mysterious floating junk.
Older red wines often slough off a fine sediment. Though harmless, it can be bitter. To deal with it, decant the wine, using a flashlight behind the bottle as you pour to see when the sediment in the bottle is almost ready to enter the decanter. What’s in the decanter will be better than the goop left behind.
A reader once wrote that she forgot to chill a wine for a dinner party, so hastily put it in the freezer — and then forgot about it. It had frozen nearly solid.
Later, when it thawed, stuff was floating around in the wine. “What was it?” she asked.
Likely it was tartrates, caused by the unintentional freezing. Tartrate crystals had fallen out of solution.
For decades, most wineries have cold-stabilized their wines before bottling to remove tartrates, which are harmless. When a wine is chilled in tanks, crystals can be filtered out before bottling.