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Allow wines to ‘rest’ while traveling

Q. When touring the Nevada County Wine Trail, I bought a case of wine. Arriving back home in Sacramento, I opened a bottle, and it seemed a poor imitation of the wine I tasted the previous weekend. What happened?

A. Interesting question. It could be answered quite simply by stating that wine is a living thing and needs rest. But the question needs to be answered by reasonable explanation … first-hand knowledge.

Years ago, while touring in Burgundy, I tasted a wonderful pinot noir, bought a couple cases, and had them shipped to California. About six weeks later when the wine arrived, I opened a bottle, and it seemed a pale imitation of what I had tasted in France. What in the world happened? First, I was infuriated. This wasn’t the same wine tasted only weeks ago. I was certain I had been taken. (The French had to have substituted the wine with an inferior pretender.) This was not my day!



Let me suggest a couple of possibilities. First, wines, like humans, aren’t the best of travelers. The experience of an up-and-down rolling movement when traveling leaves wine in a sort of shock. Its aroma and flavor can lose some of the fine character the wine confirmed at the winery or wine shop. I’ve never had one that didn’t return to its previous state within two to three months of laying down rest.

So be patient and remember the times you became tired and needed rest while traveling.




One winemaker told me he suspected the long, complex molecules in a wine that develop with bottle- and barrel aging can be disturbed by travel and needs time to reassemble itself. Remember that wineries almost never bottle wine and immediately put it for sale. There’s a reason.

When you next try the same wine, take a close look at the cork and sniff it. If the cork looks and smells fine, that should eliminate it as a possible problem. And don’t serve either a white or a red when it’s a little too chilled. Really cold whites have little aroma because the volatile elements in it don’t evaporate as readily when cold.

The same is true of reds kept at the ideal 55-degree cellaring temperature. They need time to warm a bit and begin to open up. Young red wines are likely to be “closed” for hours.

You also might want to think about the circumstances when you drink a wine that seemed so outstanding. Was it tasted with a particular food? Sometimes, a wine is unremarkable with one particular course, but stunning with another.

And though it has nothing to do with the wine, sometimes your surroundings and companions on a tasting trip will make a wine taste better than the cold light of day once you’re back home. If you have several disappointing bottles of wine waiting in the cellar because of that, there’s not much to be done, except to invite your companions over to share your misery.

With this we assume, of course, that nothing too harsh befell your wine on the trip home. Too long in a car-trunk superheated by California’s summer sun is hard on any wine. When traveling in the heat, put the wine into the same air-conditioned comfort you’re enjoying!

Norm Gates can be reached at


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