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The Daley Question

Bottle blues: Why does the wine taste worse at home?

Bill Daley

The Daley Question

April 16, 2013

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Q: When I've purchased wine lately at either a grocery store, or even a wine shop for that matter, it seems as though some of the wines have a sour taste to them. We can have wine in a restaurant and then purchase the same wine in a store and it doesn't taste the same. I know I'm purchasing the same wine because I'll write down the one we liked and look for it in the store. It's happened not only with moderately priced wines, but more expensive bottles as well. Is this because the wine is not shipped or stored correctly? It's so frustrating, especially if I've spent a good amount on the bottle.

--Marilyn Kolodziej, Park Ridge, Ill.

A: Thanks to a quick exchange of emails, I learned: The wine you drink at home comes from the same vintage as the wine you drink dining out; the restaurants didn't decant the wine and you usually don't either; you don't have a wine cellar or wine refrigerator but you keep your wines in a dark, cool spot; and sometimes you drink the wine on the day you bought it and that "sour taste" is still there.

So, what's going on?

Two Chicago wine pros offered some possibilities.

"I love this question,'' exclaimed Tracy Kellner, owner of Provenance Food and Wine stores in Lincoln and Logan squares. "There is definitely something called bottle variation. You may drink something and taste it weeks later and it might taste slightly different, especially if it's an older vintage."

Wine is a "living thing," as Kellner reminds us, and each bottle ages in its own way.

Another factor could be what you're eating with the wine, if you are eating anything at all. Kellner notes the flavors in wine interact with food. She's so right. A glass of wine will taste different if paired with a rich, creamy meat dish or steamed vegetables or savored on its own. Sometimes food enhances a wine, like a piece of fried chicken with a rose Champagne. And sometimes food sinks a wine -- just imagine a California cab with an artichoke.

Consider the context as well, Kellner said. The setting in which you are drinking wine and your mood plays an important role in how you assess the wine, she said. That's why so many people think the wine they drink on vacation tastes so fabulous -- they're having fun, there's no worries, they're relaxed.

"I would be suspicious of storage and transport," said Brian Duncan, co-owner of Bin 36 restaurant in the Near North neighborhood and winemaker of Bin 36 wines. "The only thing that would make any sense to me is a huge shift in temperature. That's the biggest destructor of wine."

So, don't leave wine in a hot parked car, or out in the sun, etc.

Duncan also wondered if your glassware could be the culprit. Or, more exactly, the stuff you use to wash them. Soaps and detergents can leave films that affect taste. Duncan suggested you "season" the glass before drinking by pouring in a little bit of wine into the bowl, then swirling the glass to coat the sides.

Temperature also makes a difference. Duncan said you should chill red wines for 20 minutes before serving. Today's "room temperature" is often too hot; red wines should be served at a temperature between 60 and 65 degrees.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: wdaley@tribune.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.