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Originally published April 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 30, 2009 at 3:39 AM

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Wine Adviser

A few wine things readers want to know

The Wine Adviser this week answers readers' questions about everything from finding buttery chardonnays to the art of wine reviewing.

Special to the Seattle Times

Picks of the week

Bouchard 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir; $20

Jezebel 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir; $20

Finding good pinot noir at the $20 price point from either Burgundy or Oregon is no small task. Here's one of each. The Bouchard, from a great vintage, is a fine, ripe effort on the bottom rung of that négociant's giant ladder. The Jezebel outshines many Oregon wines costing twice as much; it's a beautiful mix of tart fruit, spice, leaf and roasted coffee.

FROM TIME to time, this column will pause to answer questions of general interest from readers.

Q: I like buttery chardonnays. I mean REALLY buttery. For some reason the taste of oak doesn't appeal to me at all. A friend of mine told me that it is oak that makes it buttery and that what I'm really tasting is oaky, not buttery. Can you straighten me out, and perhaps recommend a few very buttery chardonnays for me?

A: The buttery flavors that stand out in some chardonnays come about during a secondary, malolactic fermentation. This changes and softens the natural (malic) acids in the wine into softer, lactic acids. Generally this fermentation takes place in oak barrels, though not always. A part of this process is the formation of diacetyl, a chemical compound that accounts for much of the butter flavor. Winemakers have many tools at their command to amplify or reduce the production of diacetyl, depending upon the style of wine they want to produce. If you want buttery flavor without new oak, ask your retailer for chardonnays that have been fermented in used, rather than new barrels. Avoid unoaked or stainless-steel fermented wines; they rarely go through malolactic fermentation. Among the most buttery Washington chardonnays are the Ethos bottlings from Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Q: I put some white wines in the freezer in haste only to discover them undrunk and turned to Popsicles days later. What is the chalky, powdery, decidedly unpleasant residue released by some wines when they freeze?

A: I am not sure what you mean by "decidedly unpleasant residue." It is not uncommon for wines, frozen or not, to have tartrates crystallize and settle out. They are often referred to as wine diamonds, because they resemble little shards of glass. They are completely harmless and do not affect the flavor. You may filter them out easily enough, or decant the wine off them, but the best idea (works for me) is to set a timer every time you put a bottle in the freezer to chill it. When the timer goes off, take the bottle out.

Q: I read that Champagne or sparkling wine should be "fresh." I keep my wine on the bottom shelf of the pantry (dark, temperature between 40 and 80 degrees). How long can I keep Champagne or sparkling wine there, without compromising the quality and drinkability?

A: There are many different styles of sparkling wine, so no single timeline can apply. Freshness is good, but some people prefer to age their Champagnes, and some wines need time to soften up. As a general rule, especially for the less expensive sparkling wines, it's best to drink them within a year or so of purchase. That said, the temperature range you cite is getting your wines far too warm. Even if the pantry only hits 80 degrees on rare occasions, it's not doing them any good. I would suggest that you look for a cooler place to keep your wines, at least during the summer months.

Q: I surmise you do not make wine commercially and you have no degrees or certifications, nor have you managed a commercial winery in this state. Basically, you are one of us. Your descriptions are aptly unique — not always identical to the winemaker's or even other notable reviewers. That being the case, what are your thoughts on the unregulated or unstandardized process of reviewing wines?

A: I think of myself first and foremost as a journalist who has worked in all media and covered many topics over the years. As a wine reviewer, I am paid to express an informed opinion, much like critics of film, theater, music or cooking. It's a highly competitive field and not especially lucrative, but as a lifestyle it offers many rewards. Unregulated and unstandardized though the process may be, any reviewer's main credential, it seems to me, is the respect he or she earns from readers.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries — the Essential Guide." Contact him at paulgwine@me.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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