Q. & A.

Q. How many servings in a bottle?

A. A typical wine bottle size is 750 ml that contains 25.4 fluid ounces. The glass size determines how many servings. For example, you'll get approximately six servings per bottle using a 4-ounce wine glass compared to five servings using a 5-ounce glass.

Q. Is there a correct way to open a bottle of wine?

A. Never rip off the capsule--just cut it neatly below the lip of the bottle. Turn the point of your corkscrew clear down through the cork and use the lever to pull the cork out. Wipe the mouth of the bottle before serving.

Q. What type of glass?

A. Any good glass can be used with a fine wine, but stemmed glass is preferable. Wine glasses come in a range of sizes, but a typical wine glass is 6 to 8 ounces. The wine glass should be clear for color enjoyment, hold a generous amount to avoid frequent refills, and have a stem so your hand doesn't warm the wine. A larger size glass also makes it possible to fill it only partially--one-half to two-thirds--so you can enjoy the fragrance and bouquet.

Q. Why does wine typically cost more, sometimes a lot more, than even high-end beers or top-shelf liquors?

A. Two reasons, mainly.
The first is simply that wine costs a lot more to make than beer or distilled spirits. For example, the cost of good wine bottles, corks, and foil capsules to close the end of the bottle alone can be $1.50 or more per bottle. Smaller wineries that don’t own their own bottling line will also pay about $2 per case for that process. Putting that in beer terms, the cost of producing a six-pack of beer would be $10.50, PLUS the cost of the beer (not included) and considerable markups for the wholesaler and your local carry-out. Maybe we’re talking around $22-25 for a six-pack of suds, all in, when you go to buy it.
Growing and harvesting grapes is an enormously expensive exercise, complicated by the fact that, other than “Two-Buck Chuck”-type bulk wines, most are made and marketed using particular grapes grown in specific regions and vineyards. So, if they have a bad year, they cannot simply substitute other fruit. Contrast that with a mound of wheat and a bag of hops that is mostly “generic” and can come from just about anywhere. Winemaking is also very labor-intensive, much more so than brewing or distilling and hand-harvesting is the order of the day in vineyards whose grapes go into the best wines. And the capital cost of opening a winery and staying current with equipment and technology is astronomical. For example, oak wine barrels cost $500-$1200 each and are good for about three years, five on the high end, and must be cleaned, sterilized and re-toasted between vintages.
The second reason is that most wine is sold under what is called the three-tier system involving the winery, wholesaler, and retailer. Ironically, the winery tends to make the smallest margin among the three, and the retailer, the largest. An article in the January 2007 issue of Wines and Vines illustrates: Start with the winery’s production cost, of, say $5.00 a bottle. Add $2.00 per bottle for overhead, and only $1.00 a bottle markup (margin). The cost, then, to the distributor or wholesaler is $8.00, which is then marked up 30% TO $10.40. Off the wine goes to the retailer, where a 50% markup is added, and you have a consumer cost of $15.60, not including tax. And if the retailer is a restaurant, you can expect a markup much higher, up to 200% on top of the retail price. As Paul Harvey says, “now you know the rest…of the story".

Q. Are screw caps an indication of cheap or lousy wine? Are they as good as real cork? Will real corks disappear?

A. Well, that’s three questions, and here are three answers: no; sometimes yes, but under certain circumstances; and no way.

Screw caps, sometimes called Stelvin closures (the name of the original manufacturer) can be found today on $125 bottles of Plumpjack Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. So they are certainly not an indication of cheap or poor wine by any means. However, there is a broad difference of opinion about how they are best used, and some lower-quality wines do come to the consumer with screw caps. Many winemakers believe that screw caps work best with highly-acidic wines that are meant to be drunk soon, within perhaps a year or two at most. For these and other reasons, screw caps are very popular in New Zealand, where an estimated 75% of all wine is produced with them including virtually every bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

However, beyond screw caps, other options are increasingly in use. These include synthetic closures made from plastic; closures made from shredded and re-formed (“agglomerated”) cork that has been sterilized; and the Altec closure made from cork “flour” (cork particles with the lignin removed) and a binder that looks almost identical to a natural cork.

Natural cork is not going away, despite the evidence that 3-5% of all wines that are stoppered with it become infected with TCA. Remember that there’s a significant and historical deference to tradition in winemaking, so natural corks, actually the bark of the cork oak tree, will stay with us for a long time. And scientists are making great strides in controlling TCA while maintaining the properties that make cork such a great seal.

Q. What’s the difference between a variety and a varietal?

A. The variety is the type of grape; the varietal is the wine made from that grape. Of course, lots of wines are made as a blend of several grape varieties and so are given a proprietary, made-up name. For example, Cain Concept is a fabulous blend of four of the great Bordeaux grapes.

Q. I am allergic to sulfites and as a result, if I drink wine I get a wicked headache. Are there any wines made without them?

All wine contains sulfites, even those to which it’s not added; it’s a byproduct of the fermentation process. Your own body makes the stuff, too. Sulfur Dioxide or SO2 is an important protective element in winemaking, and a lot of wine made without it often spoils quickly, or turns prematurely brown (for white wine) or brick (for reds), and tastes bad.

As an aside, if you eat dried fruit or other foods that are preserved similarly, you are getting several to hundreds of times as much sulfite as in a glass of wine. If those apricots or raisins don’t kick in your headache, the wine won’t either.

The good news is that there are probably fewer sulfites in wine that you think, and much less than can cause an allergic reaction that’s ever been clinically verified. In other words, it’s a myth.

The one exception is that if you’re asthmatic, it could be a problem – consult your doctor. For the rest of us, all things in moderation!