DennisBeaverNovember 10, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver     

Today’s story will be of special interest to anyone who enjoys wine, or who, like San Luis Obispo reader, Jamie, wants to surprise a friend.

“Katie loves Cabernet Sauvignon and in mid-August, the afternoon of her birthday dinner, we learned there was a particular vintage that would make a great present and required visiting a number of Central Valley high-end liquor stores.

In the shop that had the wine I got this feeling, like a voice telling me ‘Do not buy that wine here,’ but I ignored it, paying over $150 per bottle.

“Walking to our car, I recalled being told that good wine and heat do not go well together. I must tell you that the store was uncomfortably warm, feeling well above 80 degrees.

“When poured, instead of something with a lovely appearance and tasting great, it was rusty brown and had a terrible odor. The birthday girl knew what we had spent and gently scolded us, explaining, “This is what happens when a merchant does not care about customers or the wines.”

Our reader asked, “How can you better protect yourself from this kind of expensive and disappointing experience?”

For an answer, we turned to New York-based wine journalist and bestselling author, Peter Hellman. He has written on wine for the Wine Spectator, Food and Wine, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and New York Times. “Along the way,” Hellman observes, “I’ve tasted thousands of different wines, sadly, also having my share of wines which, due to bad storage, ranged from lifeless to just plain ‘cooked.’”

Hellman’s most recent book, “In Vino Duplicitas, The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire,” is a “wine thriller,” describing the amazing story of a brilliant, Indonesian con-man who took billionaires for millions of dollars, selling them fake wines which he concocted in his Los Angeles home.

Have you ever thought, “Why does it appear that so many writers have no idea just how beautiful English really is, cranking out stuff that is just plain boring?” If so, Hellman will have you savoring each word, taking your time as I did, a kid in the candy store of beautiful language. In Vino Duplicitas should be required reading in university English classes.

Upon walking into a wine store, what should I be aware of?

Storing wine at an improper temperature, even for short spans, Hellman says, “is a slap in the face of both the winemaker and customer. If you go into a wine shop at any time of the year and do not feel a little chill, that should be a cautionary moment. Find another store that has good air-conditioning. The 80-degree temperature your reader described is simply unacceptable.”

How does heat damage wine?

Hellman explained that heat accelerates the normally slow aging of fine wine, causing oxidation which results in, “a dull, bitter, flat taste, the color of white wine going from clean and clear to a scary shade of amber or brown, while red wine looks rusty-brown.”

Why do some wines cost far more than others?

“To put a well-made wine on your table you should not have to pay more than $20 a bottle, maybe even $15. So what is the difference between a bottle that is sold for $20 and one that sells for $100? There are differences in how carefully the grapes are treated in the vineyard and winery. The costs of that greater care will be reflected in the price of the wine. Hopefully, you will taste the difference.

“But the reason some wines cost dramatically more than others is, by far, reputation and there are customers who want only the most expensive wine. A lot of wine is priced way beyond the cost of the wine in the bottle. Expensive or cheap wine – the empty bottle costs the same. There is minimal difference in the cost of the packaging of the wine.

“The sweet spot for buying wine is in the $15 to $25 dollar range. You are getting a wine which is made with care. However, with Two Buck Chuck you are paying for the bottle, the cap, the cardboard case it is in, shipping and so on. The cost of the wine is effectively zero. For any wine that costs under ten dollars a bottle, you are paying for all the packaging, shipping, promotion, everything but the wine.”

“Once that $10 bottle goes up to $20 dollars, you should be getting an extra $10 of quality wine in the bottle. Any wine that sells for under $10 a bottle might be a decent commercial beverage, but not something that wine lovers will appreciate,” Hellman concluded.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.