Mail bag: Readers’ favorite questions

I enjoy receiving questions from readers. Aside from the comfort I take in knowing this column is read by more than one devotee (no offense, Mother), I use reader inquiries as a way to track trends in the wine market.

I am always surprised by the variety of questions that find my inbox. Or, more precisely, I am always surprised by the variety of questions that find my inbox that aren’t “What is the best easy-to-find $12 bottle out there?” (Lest I disappoint any of you, I’ll answer that question below.)

Some questions are broad, like, “What are the basic differences between American and French wines?” That is best answered with 1,000 words, but the short answer is that American wines tend to be more fruit-forward and sweeter than their French counterparts. 

Some are specific, like, “What wine goes best with popcorn?” Champagne/sparkling wine or a buttery Chardonnay. 

Some are baffling. “Can I freeze white wine and then thaw it out and drink it?” I guess … but don’t. 

And others are, shall I say, pointed. “How many bottles deep were you before calling that wine ‘transcendent’?” I don’t recall.

One topic I’ve recently received a lot of questions on is the efficacy of aeration devices. Even if you’re the most casual wine consumer, you’ve probably noticed these gadgets on wine shelves or in restaurants. Setting all the hyperbolic marketing-speak aside, these devices are simply acrylic funnels that mix air with wine as it is poured. There are myriad designs; some are simple pourers that attach to a bottle while others are more substantial in size and are freestanding. 

Aerators promise to be the reverse fountain of youth, imparting subtle, complex characteristics inherent in more mature wines to any wines that pass through their chambers. Some ads claim that, by mixing just the right amount of wine, at the precise moments, their product will make any bottle taste “50 percent more expensive.” 

It may shock you to hear me say I support their claim, at least in spirit.

All wines benefit from limited exposure to oxygen. Wine is made up of hundreds of compounds. With aeration, the undesirable volatile compounds will evaporate more rapidly than the desirable aromatic ones.

There are a few compounds that are reduced with aeration, such as sulfites, which are added to prevent oxidation and can smell like burnt matchsticks, and sulfides, which are naturally occurring and can reek of rotten eggs. Ethanol, the compound responsible for a wine that smells too much like rubbing alcohol when you first open it, might dissipate with some aeration, allowing more pleasant scents to express themselves.

That said, you don’t need to spend upwards of $40 on a trendy new contraption to give your wine a virtual slap to the face. Using a decanter will achieve the same, and often better, results. 

What you use for a decanter is really not important, either. (When I say decanter, I mean any receptacle that is clean and odor-neutral.) That old vase? Sure. Giant Tupperware container? Dump away.

It’s about the journey, not the destination. Unless you are drinking a wine that is delicate and mature, rough it up a bit. Whites as well as reds. Splash it, shake it. Pour it back and forth a few times. Let it get frothy. Bring it to life. You’ll be amazed at the results. Skip the gimmicks — air and gravity are free.

Now, as promised, here’s your go-to $12 bottle: Columbia Crest Amitage Grand Estates Columbia Valley 2008. This is a complex blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, offering a breadth and depth of flavors not commonly found at this price point. Rich plum and blackberry fruit and notes of sage and wood are perfectly balanced on a silky frame. 

Derek M. LaVallee, director of public relations and public affairs at Kemp Goldberg partners, and certified wine buff, welcomes your questions and comments at dereklavallee@hotmail.com.