Common Wine Questions

A Top 10 of Commonly Asked Questions


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Common Wine Questions

Originally published in September 2010, it's time to revisit these timeless answer to our most commonly asked questions.

There's no doubt that wine can be confusing, with so many wines, with so much to learn about each one. But the most common questions I get tend to be about wine in general, and the answers to some of these questions are surprisingly simple. Should you worry about the crystals in your white wine or the sulfites on the label? Of course not, because wine is good for you, right? So, which one is the best for me then, and which is simply the best?

So confusing and so many questions! Take a look at the answers to 10 of the most common wine questions!

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: e0nepyj
    577819 4

    Why do I get headaches from American wines but never wines when traveling abroad. i.e. Tuscany, Italy, Central America and France..some examples. And this is after having several glasses!

    Sep 30, 2010 at 3:08 PM

  • Snooth User: RUS
    119003 277

    Excellent article. Learned a lot.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 3:55 PM

  • Snooth User: sourgrape
    596094 5

    American wines are regarded now days as some of the best wines in the world and most wineries use proven state of the art technology to produce them, so unless you are consuming a specific type of wine with a specific characteristic it would be very hard to determine why you get this headaches. A seasoned traveler and wine aficionado such as yourself should consider other factors that might cause this reaction when you drink wine at home, such as stress, the wonderfully relaxing mood you are in while traveling through Italy or France might make a difference, and in Central America although definitively not a wine producing region, good European and South American wines are mostly imported and consumed. You might also consider the food you pair when drinking and the temperature of the area. But somehow I lean toward my first opinion, that it might be a specific type of wine that is causing the problem.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: Honeybells
    214185 94

    Wonderful article Gregory! That screwcap question is one I've been curious a lot about lately, (as I see more wines using them). Cheers for an excellent read!
    Aloha~ Danielle

    Sep 30, 2010 at 4:51 PM

  • Interesting, but your screwcap versus cork comment is missing some really key points:

    *Strong data in the winemaking community is showing that wines under cork age better over the long term (more than 3 years in the cellar)
    *Screwcaps are not nearly as environmentally friendly as corks (

    Sep 30, 2010 at 5:08 PM

  • Snooth User: jenluxy
    591310 60

    Isn't it true though, that cork is becoming scarce and expensive? (That was a recent reason I heard as to why screw caps are becoming popular)

    Sep 30, 2010 at 5:27 PM

  • Snooth User: VinoSwagga
    546166 29

    Screwcaps are the "wave" of the future?! Ha! I never buy wine with a screwcap, that's an instant disqualifier. If I want something with a screwcap I'll reach for a 40oz beer. Sounds to me like this person knows very little in trendy wine. Modern corks are centuries beyond where they originated, typically composed of foam with a rubber outer layer. Don't buy into that screwcap bologna.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 5:49 PM

  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    I take issue with many of your suggestions- how long will wine last- depends on how well made tre wine is - we have red wines that last us over a week and only get better and I have had whites in the refridgerator for up to 4 months and still good- and don't tell me I do not know when a wine is off- I have been a wine agent for over 40 years- and headaches/Hangovers- while it is true some wines do have tannic aftereffect the most often found culprit is the company making the wines- Branding of products (mass production) requires the product to taste the same every time- nature does not let wine do that, so many producers, especially the big advertisers add chemicals to stabilize the flavours and this is the headache maker- the solution- ask your wine store to sell you products from a small estate- and I will guarantee the difference

    Sep 30, 2010 at 5:49 PM

  • Snooth User: hugh27
    Hand of Snooth
    253137 65

    Screw caps- I agree corks do last longer and on wines that have to travel a distance in containers- the wave motion often loosens the screw cape from vibration and much wine is lost from this source- this is a personal choice but requires a good evaluation of the product under the closure to make a smart decision
    Hugh 27

    Sep 30, 2010 at 5:53 PM

  • Snooth User: VaderSS
    587245 16

    """Ha! I never buy wine with a screwcap, that's an instant disqualifier

    I recently purchased a couple of bottles of wine with corks, and couple of bottles of the same wine with screw-caps. They all tasted exactly the same, except that one of the cork-closure bottles was "corked" and undrinkable.

    I've had one other bottle in the past year that has been corked. If I have a choice, I'll pick screw-cap mostly, but I don't let the closure guide my purchases, but the taste of the wine.

    An excellent coverage of this topic is the book, To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle by George M. Taber (Same guy that wrote Judgement of Paris)

    All closures have benefits and drawbacks. I don't feel that enough is known about the difference in aging wine with screw-caps and with cork, so if I am buying a bottle to lay up for years, I would still go with cork, but otherwise, I'd pick screw-cap.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 6:34 PM

  • Snooth User: kauri
    135090 6

    About the storage of bottles. I understand the reason for lying a bottle with a cork is to keep the cork moist and hence expanded which helps to maintain the seal. There presumably is no good reason to keep a stelvin (screw cap) bottle lying down because the seal is "perfect".
    The stelvin cap has a plastic liner and I would think it was a much better idea to store your screw capped wine standing up and so avoid having wine (alcohol) in constant contact with plastic. Any thoughts from other readers/editor especially given the concerns about the effects plastics are having in other areas of human health??

    Sep 30, 2010 at 6:40 PM

  • The cork forests are actually very well managed and provide a really diverse and healthy eco-system. Cork is renewable as the trees are harvested rather than cut-down. However, it is true that quality cork is expensive. The growth in screwcaps actually has done a wonderful job of knocking the cork suppliers into shape. They finally had some pressure to increase quality and address the issues of cork taint. Overall cork taint has been reduced dramatically across the industry as cork suppliers have realized they could no longer settle for the status quo. Many suppliers are now using steam + ethanol extraction treatments to remove any possible TCA in combination with much more careful grading, selection and quality control.

    As far as availability, I'm a winemaker and have never had a problem sourcing corks. Price is a bit of an issue....we spend over $1 for each cork.

    We evaluated cork vs. screwcap for a considerable amount of time and I would have been thrilled if I could have used screwcaps because there is nothing that I hate more than a bottle of my wine being destroyed by cork taint. However, when we weighed up the concerns regarding long-term cellaring, environmental impact/sustainability, and customer perception...cork was clearly our best choice overall. That being said, it all depends on the wines price, destination, and longevity. For white wines that are being consumed within 12 months of production, screwcaps are an excellent closure (although they are still less friendly to the environment). They are also much cheaper per/unit for large production 'everyday' wines.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 6:43 PM

  • I've heard the "American" issue before regarding headaches. It might be dollar for dollar he's drinking better wines from other regions. Better reds from those regions might be free-run juice derived even if less expensive than his California purchases. These free-run wines probably have lower histamines than the same price point in the US. It's a theory. Quality California wines can be expensive compared to many other New World or Old World regions and quality wine, I believe gives less headaches. It's not that different than with liquors as well although for sightly different reasons.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 6:56 PM

  • I work in the wine supply industry. Almost everyone is moving to Stelvin bottles because of the ease of use. Not to mention the price.
    It does not dictate the quality of the wine. It shows you who is trying to make money.
    What people don't know is that most cork isn't really cork. This i find hilarious.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 8:20 PM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    Do we really need to store wine on it's side if it has a screw cap? I think not.

    This also allows the use of rectangular shelving and reduces the risk of Shiraz Burgundy style bottles slipping out of shelves and allows more and even different wines to be stored in the same bin.

    What do you think?

    Sep 30, 2010 at 8:29 PM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    Sorry kauri, I didn't read your post before I sent mine above. I think we might be on the same or a similar page.
    Wine being in contact with the plastic seal doesn't worry me however.

    In the period 1997-2000 many Australian producers lost up to 30% of their wine to cork taint. We used European cork.

    Even the best Aussie wines are now either available or optionally available under screw cap. One of the criteria I use for selecting wine to cellar is if it is available under screw cap. We should move on unless there are real disadvantages and I see very few.

    As an aside, I have changed my Avatar to show bottles upright and on their sides in my cellar.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 8:54 PM

  • Far and away the best information I have ever seen on the subject of sulfites and wine. Thank you to Jason Haas and Robert Haas, not only for bringing a new appreciation of French varietals to the U.S. but for the wealth of information on them. No, I don't work for Tablas Creek; I joined via the website quite a few years ago and finally visited over Labor Day weekend. I now hope to move to Paso Robles in the future.
    ( I have to give a quick shout out to Nicole Getty too, their wine club manager. Great Service!)

    Sep 30, 2010 at 9:05 PM

  • Snooth User: mspinot
    596383 4

    U.S. wineries are seeing more premium wines selling with cork stoppers...don't know whether wine is perceived to be a higher quality, but cork is back: and as per another comment, cork is sustainable and, while it seems counterintuitive, wine screw cap puts forests in jeopardy:

    Sep 30, 2010 at 9:23 PM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    Hi mspinot,
    Have you counted the energy waste of throwing away up to 30% of your wine production?
    Now that is a real waste.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 9:30 PM

  • Snooth User: neverask
    155693 11

    Is $49.00 a good price for a bottle of 1970 Coq du Rod Laver?

    Sep 30, 2010 at 9:59 PM

  • Snooth User: e0nepyj
    577819 4

    Thank you Hugh! You definitely have been in the wine business a long time! My friends and I have always wondered as we all have experienced the same outcome. I will give the smaller estate wines a try. :-)

    Sep 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM

  • Snooth User: mspinot
    596383 4

    @rwor Apropos of what?

    Sep 30, 2010 at 10:25 PM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    You quoted "cork is sustainable and, while it seems counterintuitive, wine screw cap puts forests in jeopardy"

    If you take spoilage into account I think the balance might change.
    Of course, if you eliminate spoilage then cork probably will win.

    I do not drink wine with cork taint.

    Sep 30, 2010 at 11:07 PM

  • Snooth User: zinnnguy
    596565 1

    30% "cork taint" from a wine production? You have to be joking! I will admit my personal experience is singular, but here it is: in 40+ years of consuming wines in restaurants, hotels, etc., world wide....I've only sent a bottle back twice for being "corked". For more than twenty years, I've been buying quality red "table wine" by the barrel from local wineries, hauling it home for personal consumption, and bottling it...yes!, with corks ($100 per thousand, by the way) the back yard under "primitive" conditions....and NEVER have I had a corked bottle from even this humble endeavor. In my not so humble opinion, "screw caps" are an economical...and not "practical"...decision by wine makers/sellers to shave a few cents off the cost of doing business.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 2:07 AM

  • Snooth User: Dreamdoc
    567544 1

    I have to say, one good thing about screwcaps is its ease of opening.
    It is great to take a bottle of wine on picnics and not have to "remember" the cork screw opener! Woe betide the person who forgot and everyone have to settle for juice!
    I have certainly tasted a few bottles of cork tainted premium French wines over the last few weeks. It is not a great feeling having spent a fortune on a bottle and finding it tasting like wet cardboard!
    Screwcaps (or Stelvins) certainly has a place.
    I am looking forward to the no-doubt heated debate on PET bottles!

    Oct 01, 2010 at 2:58 AM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    I understand that many people don't taste cork taint especially in it's milder forms.
    The quote I gave you was from The Australian Young Winemaker of the Year in the early naughties from a major vineyard.
    He said "up to 30% in any batch of corks".

    Oct 01, 2010 at 4:31 AM

  • Ive just had to return nine bottles of a lovely Ribera Del Duero, Pesquera Gran Reserva 1999 after the first three all had evidence of wine penetrating the far end of the cork and the the latest had mould under the foil.
    If the remaining bottles had had screw caps I am sure it would been a happier experience. The type of cork matters, as does its length, and I note a favourite brurgundy literally paints a metal paint over the cork and neck to further prevent aeration. Meanwhile, Aussie rieslings, sold to last twenty years, are almost always now sporting screwcaps. It might be time to embrace new technology and avoid cellaring disasters

    Oct 01, 2010 at 5:59 AM

  • Snooth User: crdowns
    523747 30

    When we were in New Zealand a few years back, we were told that they are moving away from corks to screwtops and that with the screwtops they could be assured of consistency. I've had some bad experiences with corked wines due to corking, but never with the screwtops. The New Zealand winemakers said the idea that corks are better is a myth, and I tend to believe that. It would be very interesting to bottle the same wine using corks and screwtops, store the bottles under the same conditions, and a few years later have a blind tasting. Has anyone ever done this? If so, I would be very interested in the results.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 8:27 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I've heard anecdotally of these tasting but this picture used to illustrate this article really does speak 1000 words.

    10 years of ageing under various closures. Which wine would you want to drink, assuming none of them were corked.

    And yes, New Zealand has been ahead of the curve on this. Almost all of the wines I've tried from New Zealand this year, and that includes mine fairly expensive bottles, have been under screw cap.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 8:48 AM

  • Snooth User: mspinot
    596383 4

    @rwor Understood and I wouldn't expect anyone to drink wine with cork taint. But in the interest of 'research', we must keep on drinking wine!

    Oct 01, 2010 at 11:28 AM

  • Snooth User: jeosorioo
    374059 64

    On the screw caps: I do not believe that there is as much issue whit that. I don`t think either that it is the present wave, neither tought disqualify a wine for use it. I believe that always will be wines for cork and wines for screwcaps. A good young wine , made to drink young without guard potential, does not need a natural cork. Is a better thing to leave these for the wines that improve with the age. I am not certainly If I would prefer a syntetic cork o screwcaps for the wines that do not have guard potential.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 1:50 PM

  • Snooth User: rwor
    426656 17

    I agree.
    I have the objective, as a livelong ambition, to open as many good wines as possible and to drink them if they are good or to dispose of them if they are bad. It's a public service you understand. 8:)

    @Gregory. I drank a 1999 Margan Hunter Valley Verdellho last night which I expected to be well over the hill. It had a cork closure. It was the colour of sunshine (gold) and was still fruity but on the sweeter side but with a slight refreshing acidic finish. It was wonderful. One of those gems you dream about. It has been stored in my cellar since about 2000 and just forgotten.
    My view is that if it had been stored under Stelvin it would have been lighter in colour and maybe more acidic but still as good.
    So the answer to your question is "both" - if they were not corked.

    Oct 01, 2010 at 11:00 PM

  • I actually have met with many wineries. Screw caps serve a purpose for wine which you will drink quickly, not to say you can't cellar with screw caps. There is no shortage of cork coming out of Portugal, however quality suffered, polymer corks or synthetic corks appeared, as did screw caps. Corks are all about the atmosphere & experience. We all enjoy wine, & people form perceptions based upon experiences. Some get into it more than others.

    Oct 02, 2010 at 7:12 PM

  • Snooth User: John268
    613085 1

    I have a bottle of Cuvee Dom Perignon which I've stored on its side for a few years. Having just read that they should be stored upright have I made a mistake in storage? If it's OK to store on its side should it be turned occasionally? I've heard that too...

    Oct 16, 2010 at 4:48 PM

  • Snooth User: losers
    640648 1

    too, much time on your hands people!

    Nov 15, 2010 at 9:33 AM

  • So wouldn't the "perfect" solution (except for the eco-paranoids) be to use the polymer synthetic corks--cheap, great seal, no corking, and similar old-school experience??

    Dec 06, 2010 at 1:10 PM

  • I'm trying to locate a natural sweet red. By that I mean no additives and not fortified. How do I identify them and how can I find it?

    Dec 25, 2010 at 9:53 PM

  • Re: headaches from wine... usually due to added in sulfites. Or, cheap wine.

    Dec 31, 2010 at 2:06 PM

  • So, so much credibility lost with this single article. Wow.

    "Many high-end wines now use screwcaps, and they are the wave of the future."

    Maybe for white wines -- but definitely not for reds.

    Jan 05, 2011 at 4:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    85% of New Zealand's production is under screwcap, and that includes high end wines. I guess you are not a fan of New Zealand's wines.

    Michael Brajkovich MW has been quoted as believing that screwcaps will be the ideal closure for both red and white wines. I tend to be in agreement with this MW.

    There have been many studies that have shown that screwcaps are a perfectly suitable alternative for red wine closures. Perhaps not as many studies as there are to indicate the failure rate of corks as well as the rate of TCA contamination of corks, but it's getting there.

    Jan 05, 2011 at 4:34 PM

  • I love NZ Sauvignon Blancs -- but I've never had a great NZ red, although I have tried several. And now that the market has gone screwtop, I guess I never will. ;-)

    Seriously -- I have had many discussions with several different wine makers who have tested screwcaps; none had anything positive to say about the screwcaps if the wine was kept more than 18 months (other than TCA).

    Of course, I'm only concerned with cellaring -- I don't care about the buy-and-chug stuff, which should probably all be screwtop.

    Jan 05, 2011 at 4:54 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I hear you, and was in your shoes,but the studies keep on coming out - and I had a great NZ red!

    The key to any good screwcap is not the screwcap, but rather the liner. The manufacturers of screwcaps have been working out the gas permiability of these liners for 2 decades. Today's screwcaps will keep wines intact for as long if not longer than a cork and the ageing curve can be controlled with the improving liners.

    I would suggest checking this out:

    I understand why there is a resitance to this change, and in all honesty I am a bigger fan of the vino-lok than the screwcap, but if you really examine the evidence objectively you can't help but come to the conclusion that wines should be bottled under screwcap. My cellar is full too by the way. An envious position to be in.

    Jan 05, 2011 at 5:19 PM


    Corks help to protect flora and fauna.

    Jan 05, 2011 at 6:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Earthgirl
    615349 25

    Before my rant - I really enjoy the articles and this site........

    As a wine and food lover, AND someone with a sulfa/sulfites sensitivities I am very concerned with your comments. I am married to a 'Wine Snob' that would use the same lines with me - until he experienced my reactions with his own eyes - testing me by 'bating' me to drink that wine that made my mouth numb, or gave me a 'glimpse' of a headache from the first take on the 'nose'.

    To someone with these sensitivities (either/and/or) it's very real, very different to each person, is cumulative (ie) greek salad, with wine vinegar, feta cheese, coconut shrimp and potatos - all candidates for additives) and a glass of wine can manifest into a wicked head ache, dry mouth and difficulty breathing..... not in their imagination at all!

    As someone who obviously has no problems with these naturally occurring and added chemicals , shame on you for sitting in your glass house. Sorry if this is blunt, but I am tired of the arrogance of 'wine snobs' or anyone for that matter who believes that their 'wine experience' is not only the right one, but the only one.

    Jan 06, 2011 at 2:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Uh, right as the sulfite slide said

    "Truth is, very few people are allergic to sulfites"

    Sorry to hear you are one of those few but I made no mention of any imaginary allergic reaction. If the information contained in this slide does not pertain to you, and clearly you know this, you should not begrudge the advice given to the remaining 99% of the population.

    Jan 06, 2011 at 2:43 PM

  • Snooth User: Earthgirl
    615349 25

    Sorry I was being silly and brash, as well as honest. As my allergist explained to me, very few are 'allergic' to those compounds but as high as 50% of the population displays various forms and types of sensitivities to them - this is due to the massive exposure levels in our health and food systems during the past few decades. Having said all that I still enjoy a lot of wine! A small case or so a week, enjoyed with my partner......and simply don't drink the ones that I know affect me. cheers

    Jan 06, 2011 at 5:07 PM

  • Snooth User: donna0915
    912426 9

    No screwcaps. I don;t like those plastic corks either. Cork is scarce but ages the bottle better.

    Aug 11, 2011 at 10:32 PM

  • Snooth User: tauckhapi
    1145719 17

    i agree with earthgirl...the allergic reaction some people experience are unknown to other wine lovers. i experience the same reaction described to some wines, not all. but i believe the combination of foods taken with the good wine can aggravate the issue. my skin flares up like a 3D map, and the pruritus that comes with it is immense. sulfites? food intake? quality of wine? storage? the effect takes me weeks and sometimes steroids and antihistamines is resorted to eventually. but i love my wine so now, i do take an antihistamine tablet to enjoy my drinking experience to the fullest.

    Oct 04, 2012 at 2:49 AM

  • Snooth User: Jani Tanko
    445932 30

    I prefer the way wines age with cork regardless of the imperfections.

    Nov 08, 2012 at 7:58 AM

  • No matter how many times you say it, Stelvin is NOT the future of closures for wine. PERIOD

    Feb 20, 2013 at 2:48 PM

  • Snooth User: gerrad
    79282 57

    many of you dont know what youre talking about. if you dont buy wines under stelvin, how do you know they arent 'better' closures than cork. americans like to think they do everything better than everyone else..clearly, with respect to screwcaps they have their collective heads in the sand. next youll be trying to tell me the world is actually flat! STELVINS ARE NOT THE FUTURE-THEY ARE THE PRESENT-AND YOU ARE LIVING IN THE PAST. get over your scotoma and join the round-earth crew. as for headaches- that is almost solely due to S02 (sulphur dioxide- or sulfur, in your language). hanging onto outdated ideas is holding you back from enjoying wine as the maker intended it. see and join the 21st century please, before you make bigger idiots of yourself. zinnguy- u are so full of crap. 2 bottles in 40years??? i binned 3 last week- as a sommelier at the 2star restaurant in which i work. our cellar is temp controlled and the wines were from 1999-2010. but its nothing to do with the cork right- how about you stop talking rubbish.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 12:52 AM

  • Snooth User: gerrad
    79282 57

    'strong data that corks are better than screwcaps' says vitis vinifera..yeah right. what utter rubbish. what data, amorims? thats what i thought.

    Feb 28, 2013 at 1:02 AM

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