ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Many wine critics throw the term "racy" around when describing wine. In many cases it is in different contexts. Is there an authoritative, consistent wine-oriented definition for this word?

—Al Seicshnaydre, Metairie, La.

Dear Al,

I get it: This is one of those "How do I know what I perceive as the color red is the same color you perceive as being red, and what if we both call it green?" questions. I remember them from Philosophy 101. If you're looking for authoritative, consistent definitions, let me pour you a glass of wine because you need to relax a little. Everyone uses words in different ways to express different things, especially wine. In general, racy refers to lively acidity. A racy wine is not likely to be a lumbering, thick, heavy beast. It's going to be light, bouncy and lively. Racy is not really a comment on quality, but on style. Now that we've got that out of the way, can you help me figure out the one about the tree falling in the forest?

—Dr. Vinny

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have some Bordeaux with very saturated corks. What's the best way to remove these corks without crumbling portions into the bottle?

—Peter Adamski, Lyndhurst, Ohio

Dear Peter,

First, forget your normal corkscrew: screwing a drill bit into a crumbly cork is asking for disaster. If you have the dexterity of a jeweler, try the two-pronged "Ah-so" opener, which slips between the cork and the bottle. If you're a technophile, try the new-fangled wine openers in which you jam something about the size of a hypodermic needle into the cork and then a compressed gas cylinder ejects the cork for you with a satisfying pop. I always keep a strainer and some cheesecloth on hand, just in case.

—Dr. Vinny

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Having swooned over a bottle of '98 Carruades de Lafite, I picked up a couple of cases 3 years ago and have been enjoyng a bottle now and then. A week ago I shared a bottle with a close freind along with a spot of gorgonzola. We both decided the wine had become flat and lifeless. Should I sue Lafite or the cheese maker?

—Kostas Kontos, Silver Springs, Md.

Dear Kostas,

I say, "There are no great wines, only great bottles." Many factors make a bottle great—or not. For example:

a) Bottle variation
b) Wine going through a "dumb" phase
c) Severe case of context differential (i.e., your friend was bumming you out and nothing was tasting very good)
d) Bad food and wine pairing (some blue cheeses make red wines taste metallic)

Don't give up. Give the wine a try in a different context. I'd be surprised if it didn't improve.

—Dr. Vinny

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