Q: Does wine, like fruit, "rot" after so long? —John, Ohio
A:This is a complicated question. Fermentation, the process by which grapes become wine, is a method of preservation: Left alone, the grapes will go bad; but turn them into wine, and they'll last much longer. There's a very thin line between the processes of fermentation and decomposition, which is a fancy word for "rot." Both of these processes involve the conversion of organic matter (sugar, in the case of winemaking) into a new substance (alcohol). The only difference really is whether human beings like the end product or not.
Fermented products—think of cheese, cured meats, pickles and bread—not only last longer than their fresh antecedents, but also their amino acids produce delicious tastes and aromas, they tend to be naturally safe to consume (hence the practice of drinking beer in areas without potable water), and they develop various healthful components. So in one sense, yes, wine is the product of a kind of rotting—and that's a good thing. But absent the presence of oxygen or acetobacter (which will turn it to vinegar), wine will not decompose. p>
The next time you raise a glass, remember that thanks to fermentation, a cluster of grapes has a relatively short shelf life, but a bottle of wine can live for decades.
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