Wine Talk

Snooth User: Craig Bilodeau

Interesting Post from WS

Posted by Craig Bilodeau, Dec 4, 2012.

Read this and thought I would share:

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Reply by outthere, Dec 4, 2012.

So what do you think about what Matt had to say Craig?

Reply by EMark, Dec 4, 2012.

That is a pretty good article, Craig.  Thank you.

Of the three topics I felt he argued the humidity myth best.  I thought he made a pretty good case.  The first two arguments about structure and money were good but not as compelling.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 4, 2012.

OT, that kind of reminds me of D...wonder if he ever makes it back.

Really like the humidity myth, especially. Makes storing easier, and I think that's what GregT's been saying, or no?

Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Dec 4, 2012.

I agree about the humidity myth.  Make complete sense... with the caveat that you STILL need to store the wines in an environment that prevents your corks from drying out.  If you live in the desert, cork rot could still be a problem.  No?

Reply by outthere, Dec 4, 2012.

I was channeling my inner David. 

No humidity in my closet. I think the real key to aging wine is temperature or a lack of temp swings.

Reply by shsim, Dec 4, 2012.

Fun read. Thanks for sharing Craig! 

Reply by shsim, Dec 4, 2012.

Im not too convinced about the first just from the lack of experience with aged wines... but then the second and third myth I can see why. Sometimes I believe in the money 'myth' just because I have had enough opportunities to have good wines amongst others not knowing the prices and they tend to be the pricier ones. But then I havent had that many... and i always wondered about the 100 pointers... 

Reply by napagirl68, Dec 5, 2012.

Agree about temp being the bigger lever, pretty much overall, considering that you are aging a wine of known quality.   I think I disagree most with the money "myth".  Yes, there are some good, lower priced wines to be found- I have had a few.   But in general, after consuming many wines over my years, I would absolutely use price as a consideration when going to purchase a wine I was unfamiliar with.  This would NOT apply if I were dealing with a shop owner with talent, who sources great deals.  In that case, I trust his judgement, and pay less. 

SO I guess, YES, there are great, inexpensive wines out there, but not usually widely distributed, and somewhat hard to source, IMO.  And... if purchasing wines at low prices to find a gem, you really have to kiss a lot of frogs :-)

PS- I miss D!!!

Reply by GregT, Dec 5, 2012.

Generally my least favorite writer at WS but this time I think he's right on, except that I didn't think a few of those were even in question. The biggest one that is however, is the humidity issue - I've been trying to explain that the idea of keeping a cork moist by putting wine on its side is completely wrong because of the structure of cork and the mechanics of "evaporation". 

As far as cost/price - NG I don't think he was saying there's no correlation, but he was coming up with a point at which the correlation starts to fade. He said $30 - I'd go a bit higher but I think he's quite right. There can be a big difference between $12 and $30, but there's sometimes very little difference between $50 and $100 and $200 in terms of quality. Take a wine like Alion for example. It was supposed to be a $25 wine. It got 95 points a few times. Now it's an $80 wine. Is it really better than a $25 wine? That price difference is 100 percent due to the fact that they can charge for the points. And here's the best part - it's not as good as it was because the original winemaker isn't making it any more.

There are many wines like that - Brunello is way overpriced relative to Chianti. At one point they were relatively similar. It's not better now that it's more expensive. Ditto CdP or many Napa Cabs. I completely agree with him about the disconnection at some point.

But once again, in an article that actually makes sense, his writing gets in his way. Here's an example of using a lot of words and saying very little:

" thanks to a confluence of forces involving acidity, phenolic ripeness, pH and that mysterious thing, the wine version of dark matter, called "balance.""

What is pH?  The measure of acidity? So forces involving acidity and acidity? And what is phenolic ripeness?  A term you use because you think it makes you sound cool.  But what is it exactly?  I guess it's the ripeness of the phenols. But phenols are just compounds so what does it mean for them to be "ripe"? Reservatrol for example, is a phenol. Makes you live a million years. Does it get ripe? Ripeness is a matter of taste as much as science. We can come up with a definition and say ripeness is when the fruit can germinate or something along those lines, but that's not what he's talking about.

Moreover, that term only came into vogue recently - producers of those old tannic wines he mentioned didn't use the term. Some people pick on sugar ripeness, which isn't the same thing at all. Basically he says wines age because of acid and the fact that the grapes were picked when the winemaker thought they were ripe, which will vary from winemaker to winemaker. And lastly they age because of what? He can't resist his fanciful nonsense.

Overall a pretty good article by him. Too bad he couldn't lay off the BS.  

Reply by Mike Madaio, Dec 5, 2012.

I am generally a fan of Kramer’s work, but I found his logic in this piece to be a bit off.

Firstly, structure. His argument seems to equate tannin to structure. I always considered balance, acidity, etc. as part of the “structure” equation. Perhaps the myth here should be that structure is all about tannin?

Secondly, while his thoughts on humidity seem to make sense, a guy from Wine Spectator should not be making statements about what affects wine storage without at least some data to back it up. “And no scientific study, to my knowledge, has demonstrated otherwise.” Have any studies been performed Matt? If so, what were the results? If you’re going to tell all of your readers that humidity doesn’t matter, you better damn well be sure of it. (Caveat: Personally I have no idea on this topic, but I wouldn’t post my thoughts about it online unless I had some data to back up my assertions.)

Reply by EMark, Dec 5, 2012.

Mike, are there studies that support the idea that stored bottled wines require a certain humidity?  I'm guessing there isn't.  Having no support to attack another unsupported position is, certainly, not the tightest argument.  However, I think it is not unreasonable to do so.  It may point to the need for a definitive study.

Speaking from my very limited observation, I live in a pretty arid region.  My homemade wine storage unit has no humidity controls.  I know that water is thrown into the environment, because I have to empty it out of a capture reservoir.  (OK, it's a plastic jug.)  For what it's worth I usually have to empty it twice a week in the peak of summer and about once every three weeks in the winter.  I really do not think that the lack of humidity control has affected my stored bottles.  I am in the camp that feels that consistent temperature control is the critical factor. 

Now if there is an objective study that demonstrates that bottled wine is damaged if stored in an environment where the relative humidity is less than X%, I guess I'll just have to change my view.

Reply by edwilley3, Dec 5, 2012.

I agree with the person who opined that temperate (fluctuations) probably has the largest impact.  I recently drank 2 vintage Champagnes (1989 and 1992 vintages) that were stored since initial retail delivery in the very low temperature cellar in the back of my friend's store. There are no humidity controls. Most items are stored horizontally. Both bottles retained a significant portion of their carbonation and had plenty of life remaining despite being 2 decades old or more.  The two bottles had a different wine composition which made the taste significantly different. However both were still in prime drinking territory. Again, there was no humidity control and both bottles were white Champagnes, i.e. there was no Bordeaux-esque tannin boost.

Yet I wonder if there is a slight of hand in this article.  Are we talking about absolute preservation or drinkability? (We could use the term "lifecycle".) If a high acid wine like the 1992 Taittinger artist series (it was still relatively crisp and would have been delightful with something creamy) happened to have so much acid that the pH profile outlasted all fruit flavors, then its absolute condition would be useless to me. If a very ripe California cabernet blend had such amazing fruit that I didn't care whether the acid had faded, I might drink the crap out of that bottle even if it had lost its "structure".  

I love drinking vintage wines. I say bring 'em on!  I may just go back for another bottle of 1989 La Grande Dame in flawless cellar-aged condition. :) 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 5, 2012.

Lots of great comments on here.  I just want to add a couple things. 

GregT makes the point that Kramer uses the term "phenolic ripeness."  I agree that the term has come into vogue without people really thinking about what it means.  But it does have a meaning: It's not the phenols that ripen, it's the things containing the phenolic compounds, mostly the seeds, that can impart green peppery, unduly vegetal, stemmy flavors and other off tastes if the grapes reach "sugar ripeness" too quickly.  (Um, sugar is just a class of compounds, too, so how do they get ripe?) That is, they have not enough of their chemicals converted to the proper types of phenols relative to the amount of other chemicals (pyrazines, for one) in the seeds and, if pressed with them, the stems.  But the comment about acidity and pH in balance... total howler.  Bet he wishes he had that back.

I also agree that "structure" is balance, not just tannin.  Overly tannic wines don't age well, and I cannot imagine anyone ever thought they did.  Since fruit fades over time much more quickly than tannins do (which can integrate during aging, making them smoother, but that's another story), overly tannic wines of some age often just taste kind of woody, in my experience. If you are lucky the secondary and tertiary characteristics are still apparent, but too much tannin will overwhelm everything. If anyone thought tannin was the whole story of aging, then they were nuts.  Some tannin probably helps as a rule but did anyone think that was the whole story?

We all like the point about humidity, except there's no warrant for either point that has been cited.  So, someone find a link.  But here's my observation:  I buy older wines direct from the wineries sometimes.  I've never had a cork in a young wine crumble and be dry and inelastic.  So, what causes that?  Is the cork drying out or not?  I doubt that it is enough to affect the wine and, oddly, the tops of the corks are usually less dry and crumbly--you get halfway into an old cork before it gives out usually.  Frankly, I'd like to know more about the structure of cork itself before I make those arguments.  Or, we can just go back to the better point:  Move to Stelvins and humidity and storing your wine on its side is over.  Only reason to store wines on their side would be that they are less likely to tip over in an earthquake. 

GregT is definitely wrong about Brunello. ;-) It is better than Chianti because they grow a better variety of Sangiovese on soil more suited to it.  Is it that much better?  Well, there are plenty of good Brunelli to be had (anyone catch that Italian plural?) for $30 to $40.  In my opinion, worth the modestly higher price.

Reply by GregT, Dec 5, 2012.

Yeah, "sugar ripeness" was sloppy but I don't publish in a glossy mag! I meant pick at ripeness levels determined by sugar content. Was my shorthand. And perhaps he meant what you clarified re: phenolic ripeness. But it's a term that's often thrown around w/out thought.

Completely agree with you guys, and with Matt, about the fact that tannins are not the prime criterion for aging but I think Mike is on to something - the article seems to equate tannin to structure.

Regarding cork, there is a lot of research. It is permeable to some gases and that includes water vapor. But t that's where the consensus ends.  In your wine bottle, you have a compressed cork. Moreover, you have an opening about the size of a dime and the cork is anywhere from an inch and a half to three inches long. Permeability studies are usually done on discs of cork, although there have been some done on full wine corks. But then what? Some bottling machines create a vacuum in the headspace so that when they put the cork in, there's not a pressure increase in the bottle. Remember, your gasoline engine compresses the gas before the spark plug lights it - the cork acts like a piston going into the bottle and where does that air go? Into the wine.

So that's one source of oxygen in the wine - it didn't come thru the cork though.

And then how is it permeable?  Well, cork is made of many cells that basically are like balloons with wax walls. That's why it's waterproof incidentally, and because its waterproof it's a little illogical to imagine that it has to be kept wet by the wine. But it's not a manufactured product, it's a harvested product.  So each cork differs from all others. Within the cork you can have holes that were made by fungus, insects, worms, or just nature. Better quality corks are selected for not having many of those holes, or large holes, but you can still have them. If you fill those with wine, which is what happens at the few millimeters on the end, the air exchange is diminished. So in a sense, you put wine on the side because cork is a crappy stopper and you're plugging the leaks with wine!

But in a perfect cork, you don't have transmission of liquid out or air in.

One purpose of bark, which cork is, is to protect the tree from drying out. Indians used it for canoes. It's pretty impermeable stuff. And wood is more porous than the bark. But wood is used for barrels. When you touch the outside of a barrel, which is not as thick as the cork stopper, it usually doesn't feel wet.

The science has been funded by a lot of people  but most recently by the cork producers, and if you read it carefully, it's selective.  Right now Getty and Gavin Neusom are doing a test at their Cade winery - they've set up a series of corks and they're doing daily monitoring of gas permeability vs screwcaps. Not being "traditionalists" in the wine world, they were wondering why they would accept ANY failure in their closures. Chateau Margaux just did a test a couple years ago because they too were unwilling to continue accepting failures. Their results were inconclusive. Interestingly, rather than rely on scientific measures, they relied on tasters preferences.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 6, 2012.

Gavin Newsom.  In addition to being the current Lt. Gov of California, a job he said was useless, he is the former mayor of SF and partner in PlumpJack winery, which put their reserve wine under screw cap.  About the best thing he ever did, besides sign marriage certificates for same sex couples before nyone else.  Some call it pandering, but I don't want to inject politics here.

Good points about cork, GT.  But another observation, along with the dried out, crumbly corks I have noticed: Virtually every wine (red, b/c you can't see the evidence with white) that comes under cork, there's some staining of the cork from the wine.  The older the wine, the deeper the stain goes, but it goes not very far at all in the oldest wines.  (Never mind those premium, extra long corks, same as the thick bottles, totally useless.) So the cork isn't totally waterproof, or alcohol-proof, anyway.  Keep in mind that the waxy stuff is soluble in some solvent or another, and alcohol is a pretty potent solvent, as GregT's and my dad used to say.  (i am still totally convinced that we had the same father--search the forum for "pushaway" and you'll see why.) So we put wines on their sides because nature is imperfect--I doubt I have ever had a perfect cork, and NG has never had a decent cork.

Good point about the wood in the barrels, although wood can be pretty impervious if it is thick enough and tight-grained enough.  Like canvas, the initial incursion of liquid leads to swelling of the fibers, which seals the gaps.  Wooden ships are usually sealed, but aged wood properly carved can make a pretty tight seal once it is damp on one side.  Actually, bark is generally less dense than wood, but that's a different discussion. 

This is an interesting version of thread drift that actually enhances the discussion.

Reply by GregT, Dec 6, 2012.

The premium extra long corks aren't really totally useless if in fact there's an exchange thru the cork. Gotta run right now but the solubility of the suberin is something I need to address later when I have more time.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 6, 2012.

For anyone who wants to know what suberin is, here's the wiki. I can probably call my mom and get a bunch of information about what it is soluble in, or maybe we can get NG to weigh in--she is a chemical wunderkind for those of you who haven't read her older posts.  Of course, my father used to say that alcohol is the second closest thing to a universal solvent.  GregT, if your dad ever uttered those words, it's game over--he's the same guy.

I wanted to comment briefly about the "air forced into the bottle" idea.  Air is highly compressible, liquids are not.  So I seriously doubt that the small quantity of extra air will have much effect on the wine, although people insist that magnums, with a lower ratio of air to liquid volume, age more slowly.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 6, 2012.

By the way, here's something about the solubility of suberin from "The Physiology of Woody Plants," by Stephen G. Pallardy (had to use Snipping tool to get this):

Cool coincidence:  Pallardy is on the faculty of U. of Missouri and works in the Anheuser-Busch Natural Resources Building.

None of this mentions alcohol as a solvent, but it is an organic solvent. 

Reply by GregT, Dec 6, 2012.

Well, the quantity of air forced into the bottle has an effect on the relationship between cork, wine and headspace. That's why people try to get rid of it someway.  It is compressible but nature likes equilibrium and if there's higher pressure in the headspace than equilibrium with the liquid would warrant, some of the gas gets dissolved in the liquid. It's a small amount of pressure that we're talking about but at the molecular level, those things can matter.

Regarding the solubility of suberin in alcohol, I can't find it at the moment but I do recall at some point reading that it's not a problem with the wine, which makes sense because otherwise our corks would be dissolving!!  And the cork isn't only suberin - it's cellulose and any number of other things as well. But the soaking of the cork is usually due to a faulty cork. I opened a 20 year old bottle a few nights ago and it had the merest hint of color only at the end of the cork. If all corks were like that, I wouldn't mind, but they aren't and it's such a crapshoot any more that I really hate them.

Anyhow, here's a repost of something I put elsewhere.

As you know, cork is bark, but it's different than most wood and most bark in that it's largely something called suberin, which is a kind of waxy substance. In fact, the name of the cork tree is Quercus Suber. That suberin makes up roughly 50% of the cork bark. Consequently, the cork stopper is quite impermeable to gas and liquid. If you or your grandma ever stored jelly by sealing with paraffin, it's similar.

Moreover, the structure of the cork itself is important. On the cellular level, it's like a honeycomb - the cell walls are made of a kind of wax and there's no communication between them. They're like little bubbles of wax. So there is no capillary action and no transfer of gas or liquid.


"And, isn’t there some gas exchange between the environment and the wine? The cork does not - should not - completely seal the wine (otherwise ullage would always be correct), it must allow just the right amount of gas exchange."

That's long since been disproved. If there is communication between the interior and exterior of the bottle, you get oxidized wine. In an ideal environment, you get NO gas exchange.

You absolutely do not want any moisture from the wine soaking thru your cork, because that means you have a faulty cork.

Let's think about it.

The purpose of bark is to protect the woody part of the plant from insects, fungal infections, and air. You don't want water to evaporate before it gets to the leaves or wherever it's going. So all woody plants produce bark. The cork tree is just particularly exuberant about it.

Then think about barrels. They're made out of wood. That's a substrate of the bark. Wine can be left in wood barrels for many years and I've seen plenty of huge wood containers in Spain that have been in use for over a century. They don't leak thru the wood. If they leak, they leak thru the seams where the wood planks are joined.

The cork bark is even less permeable to air and moisture than the substrate wood. The difference between the bark and the wood is that the wood has radial passageways thru which there is a very small and slow oxygen exchange - hence the disappearing "angel's share". With cork, you don't have that exchange.

Or rather, you shouldn't. Since cork is variable, you may have some exchange. But you don't want it. The cells of cork are like balloons. Cork is mostly air by volume. That's why it's a bad heat  conductor and hence a good insulator. It's also why it's compressible. But neither the wax nor the air conduct water from one end of the cork to the other.

The main reason for putting bottles on the side is because you can stack them really high. That's also why they came out with the Bordeaux shape, which IMHO, is the ideal shape for all wine bottles. The Rhone shape is more elegant from an aesthetic point of view, but I'd permanently ban it from the wine world in favor of the Bordeaux shape.

But that's just me. Cheers!

Reply by Ivesreeves, Dec 6, 2012.

Mr Kramer has my sincerest gratitude for his deconstruction of two of the peskiest myths in contemporary wine culture. First, he is spot on regarding the collective "structure" misconception so prevalent in todays's tasting circles.  I regularly find my self stifling a guffaw when tasting partners coo about a wine's "firm structure". I once walked out of a nearby wine boutique when the owner revealed her own ignorance by commenting on the "unique structure"of a two-year old Zinfandel.  Yes, a barely born ZIN with unique structure.  Goodness, spare your expertise, Madam, and sell more cheese. I will travel hither and yon before setting foot in her establishment again.

As for his demystification of the impact of humidity on wine, I have a good friend who has studied this and can corroborate Mr Kramer's contention.  In fact, my friend's study reveals that in a conventional cellar, about TWELVE PERCENT of the contents of a barrel is lost through evaporation every year.  



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