No wine after its time, either |

No wine after its time, either

Q: I’ve been cellaring different bottles of white wine for some years now. A few are nearing five years. When should they be enjoyed?

A: Now! That’s what I would do. I’ve found that most white wines peak out at five years, but without more information about the variety, vintage, producer, and storage history – probably the right decision is to enjoy them at the earliest opportunity; especially if your wines are from California where white wines are to be enjoyed at an early age.

Q: How’d they get those crystals in with the wine?

A: No ma’am, the crystals on the cork aren’t diamonds – wine couldn’t sell at the price of diamonds if they were. Neither are they glass, chemicals, or anything dangerous at all.

They are pure natural “cream of tarter” crystals; the same cream of tartar that you use in cooking. They sometimes appear inside a bottle of wine after storage, especially cool storage, but only in fine white wines. They have a slightly sour taste, but – because they don’t dissolve very fast in your mouth – they’re really more “gritty” than any thing else.

Since the cream of tartar is even less soluble when cold than warm, chilling the wine increases crystal formation. (You sometimes find that a bottle of wine looks okay in the store, but in your refrigerator crystalline sediment of cream of tartar may form in the bottle.

Cream of tartar is certainly not harmful, but the American consumer has been conditioned to suspect any product with sediment, especially wine, and is inclined to discriminate against such products.

Wineries, often chill new white wines to just above the freezing point (around 23 F.) At which time the crystals form and settle to the bottom of the tank. The wine is then filtered while still cold, to ensure that the cream of tartar crystals are removed.

Only the finest wines can at times form crystals, while lesser wines always have lower natural acidity; too low for any excess to crystallize. They can’t produce crystals.

Q: “Contains Sulfites.” This warning label appears on the back of all bottled wine. Does it mean that wine is less enjoyable because of the label? Please help!

A: I’m often reminded that certain individuals upon seeing the words “contains sulfites” are turned off to enjoying wine. If concerned about the meaning of “Contains Sulfites” that is on all wine bottles, consider this.

Basically, nothing has changed in the winemaking procedure because of the two added words. Sulfites have been a part of wine’s development for centuries, as an antibacterial and antioxidant to prevent wine from spoiling. In fact, there are no wines completely sulfite-free, because they are naturally occurring fermentation byproducts.

A few people are allergic to sulfites, with more incidents traceable to salad bars when used to keep fruit and lettuce fresh. In 1986, this practice was banned. But, sulfites are still used in fruit drinks, prescription drugs, baked goods and hundreds of other items.

Most wines surpass the level of ten parts per million set by the government, and always have. So, your answer should be that knowing there are sulfites in wine has no effect on the enjoyment of wine. The only thing the label states is that wine contains sulfites … no big deal.

A good point to remember: Warning labels don’t cost much, and for those of us who enjoy the good life … they don’t have much effect, either.

Norman E. Gates is a Lake of the Pines wine connoisseur. He can be reached at

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