Most Frequently Asked Wine Questions, Part 1

Cue the wine knowledge! Answers to the most common wine questions I receive.

I keep note of the most common wine questions I receive, and decided to compile the answers and share them out with you all. I’m including the top five questions below, and will follow up with a second post capturing others. Cue the wine knowledge!

What should I set my wine fridge to?

I’ll get right to the point on this one: if you can only pick one temperature, for long-term storage, an average that works for most bottles is a standard 55° F. Also, 55° is pretty close to where most like to drink red wines — so you can pull a bottle out and drink it about a half hour later. If you have a dual-zone fridge, which many do, then I would keep the other zone set for the serving temperature of white or sparkling wines, somewhere between 40° and 50° F, with the bubbly wines on the lower end of that range.

The full range can actually vary from about 45° to 65° as shown below, with bubbles on the lowest end of the range and full-bodied reds on the highest end of the range.

Once you have chilled wine, do you need to keep it chilled?

A gradual temperature change will not damage a wine. A chilled wine can go from the wine fridge, out, and back again without suffering any negative effects to the quality of the wine, assuming you are not doing that more times than you can count. While it is true that wine does not like heat, it’s only when those temps are excessively warm that any wine would suffer adversely — for example, a wine exposed to very extreme heat for any period of time will likely be compromised.

How do I store wine after it’s been open, and how long will it last?

The amount of time a wine will last after opening really depends on the type of wine and varietal. Country of origin can also have an impact as most New World wines go through a secondary malolactic fermentation to soften the reds and make the whites more buttery; this shortens their lifespan after opening compared to more acidic European wines that usually don’t go through this process. Generally, heavy tannic reds with high acid last longer after opening. Densely sweet wines also tend to last longer after opening. But, the bottom line is a re-closed wine will usually stay relatively fresh for up to five days after opening, at a chilled temperature. 

A common misconception — don’t be afraid of storing your opened red wine in your actual fridge. Cooler temperatures slow down chemical processes, including oxidation. 

Another tip: once opened, all wine bottles (whether screwcap or cork) should be stored in an upright position to reduce the surface area exposed to oxygen. 

Why do some wines give me a headache?

The first major cause of wine-related headaches is tannins. Tannins are naturally occurring preservative compounds found in the seeds, stems and skins of grapes. They provide flavor and texture to big red wines. To see if you are susceptible to tannin headaches, drink a cup of black tea and that has been steeped for 5+ minutes. Since black tea is very high in tannins, this will help to identify whether or not you have a tannin sensitivity. If you believe tannins are the culprit of your headaches, avoid high tannin wines.

The second cause of the dreaded wine headache is sugar. When you drink alcohol, your body will essentially convert it to sugar to digest it. This process takes lots and lots of water to achieve. If you have not had enough water throughout the day, your body will pull it from other parts of your body (like your head!), resulting in a headache. Avoid sweeter wines if you think sugar is the problem.

The third and most important contributor to wine headaches is histamines. Think of the symptoms of allergies: runny nose, dry eyes and of course headaches. Histamines are a direct product of the fermentation and ageing process used in wine making, so wine can cause a histamine release. if you’re aiming for a low histamine wine, skip the reds. Sparkling, white and rosé wines all are much, much lower in histamines. An additional remedy for histamine headaches is to take a mild histamine blocker before you drink bold red wine.

I’ve written about this before, but many people blame sulfites for their wine headache. Sulphites cause very severe allergic reactions in a small number of people, even death in extreme cases, but scientists have found no link between sulfites in wine and headaches. Wine headaches are a serious issue, so it’s good to figure out what might be causing yours, so you can hopefully avoid it and still enjoy wine!

Do all wines get better with age?

Spoiler alert: most wines aren’t designed to age. These days most wines are made to drink when they are released.—especially American wines, because we like to get into a bottle fastAs a general rule, you can assume that everyday red wines have about a five year life span, and everyday white and rosé wines have about three year life span.

There are four characteristics that most wine people agree on when tasting a wine to determine if it will last. The four traits used to determine the age-worthiness of wine are high acidity, tannin structure, low alcohol level and residual sugar. A wine that ages extraordinarily, or those that are ‘built to age’, are rare.

In terms of fine, ageable wines, there are all sorts of online sources that will give you a ballpark idea of theoretical peak readiness. I use Cellar Tracker to test the drinkability of my bottles. You just enter your bottle name — the full title including vintage — and you can see reviews from others that have recently opened that same bottle.

I believe it’s better to err on the side of early rather than late when assessing whether to drink a bottle. So, drink when you feel like it—it can be a special occasion, but it’s also sometimes more fun just to enjoy a great bottle on a random Tuesday!

Keep the wine knowledge flowing, and cheers!

1 comment on “Most Frequently Asked Wine Questions, Part 1

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