Wine beliefs: fact and fiction

Time to explore popular wine beliefs in this installment of the Wine Whisperer. There are so many misconceptions out there concerning what is real and not real in the world of wine:

1. Putting a silver spoon in the neck of a champagne bottle keeps the carbonation intact.

There are serious wine folks who scoff at this procedure, but I am here to tell you that it works splendidly. This is a practice that's probably hundreds of years old. I worked in a champagne house (champagne makers call their facilities "houses," as do port producers), and found five or six half-full bottles of champagne with silver spoons stuck down their necks in a refrigerator. To my surprise, I found the bottles very fresh after days of being opened.

Just the other day some friends came up from the Bay Area and I showed them, much to their amazement, that it works pretty well indeed. Silver plated spoons do the best at this carbonation hold. I know, call me crazy.

2. There is no good way to save wine after it has been opened.

Not true.

As many of you know, there are plenty of devices that claim to "keep" wine after a bottle has been opened. The most popular is the little vacuum pump called Vacu Vin, which extracts some of the air from the bottle. The idea is that the beasties that live in air have no chance to "turn" the wine if not in contact with it.

The problem is that not all of the air is extracted, so the Vacu Vin might retard the action of turned wine but not eliminate it. I'm not a fan of the process, as I think other flavor components are extracted along with the air.

The other big idea is to spray a heavy gas onto the surface of the wine, thus causing a "blanket" barrier to protect it.

I conducted a side-by-side test — one with gas, one with air extracted — using the same wine and vintage, extracting 100 ml of vino and letting the bottles sit for three days in a relatively cool area. The wines both had changed noticeably for the worse. The wines were beginning to show signs of air introduction and resulting funkiness.

Then I tried the Wine Whisperer's Sure Fire Method of red wine preservation (besides drinking the whole bottle with friends): I froze the wine.

Yes, freezing partially full bottles of red wine will essentially stop microbial action in its tracks. To test my theory, I did the same experiment but froze a third bottle of the same wine and vintage and let all sit for three days. In the afternoon of the third day, I asked my lovely and trusty lab partner, Tess, to take the wine from the freezer. All three were examined quite thoroughly and the verdict was unanimous: the just-frozen wine was clearly the best structured and fresh.

I have done this experiment using older wine that I knew was very susceptible to air exposure, and I found the wine in the exact state as when I had put it in the freezer.

Wine is fermented fruit juice and freezes well enough to use with perfect safety and enjoyment. One just has to remember to take the wine out of the freezer in plenty of time for dinner; about three hours will do fine. There is no reason to have to toss out a perfectly nice bottle of wine when the freezer will do the trick. In fact, about a week ago, I took out a bottle of pinot noir from the freezer that had been frozen for six months and it turned out to be simply delicious. (Don't try this with a wine that hasn't been opened, however; the expanding wine will pop the cork.)

3. Red wine never goes well with seafood. Not true.

Cioppino comes to mind. Most seafood in red stock demands red wine. Salmon, in my opinion, is paired perfectly with pinot noir, dolcetto or valpolicella. The trick is to serve wines with very little oak, where the fruit is dominant and the grip of the wine is not heavy. Seafood treated to the grill or baked in bread crumbs, nuts or rosemary can do well with red wine, too. Grilled shrimp with lemon and garlic thrive with red wine. Garlic, red sauce and rosemary are the turning points for allowing red wine to pair with seafood.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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