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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section we will attempt to answer frequently asked question regarding wines and our web site. If the question does not appear please feel free to email Bear Dalton regarding wine questions and the Webmaster with any web site related questions.
Q. At what temperature should I serve this wine?
Q. How long will this bottle of wine keep after I've opened it? What can I do to help it last?
Q. Can you tell by looking if a bottle of wine is bad?
Q. What about wines that are "corked?"
Q. How long should I keep this wine before I drink it?
Q. We're having _(fill in the blank)___ for dinner tonight. Which wine should I serve with it?
Q. Why is this wine so expensive? Don't you have something that tastes like it for less money?
Q. How do you decide who gets the allocated wines?
Q. I tasted this great wine when I was in France (or Germany, or England, or Italy, or . . .). I talked to the producer and he said their wines are not imported into the US. Can you (SPEC's) get it for me?
Q. I bought this great wine when I was in France (or Germany, or England, or Italy, or . . .). They said they could ship it to me but I got a call from US customs saying a licensed importer had to come and clear it. Can you (SPEC's) get it for me?
Q. I asked for my password to be emailed to me but it never came. Why not?
Q. Can I change my customer information and email address online?

Q. At what temperature should I serve this wine?

A. White wines, sparkling wines, and rosés all taste better at temperatures somewhat warmer than the average refrigerator (38°) or ice bucket (32°). For lighter-bodied wines such as Rieslings, Loire whites, most Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, and real Chablis, 45° is close to ideal. Fuller-bodied whites taste better at slightly warmer temperatures with the richest white Burgundies, Chardonnays, and dessert-styles (Sauternes) showing best near 55°. Red wines show their best between 55° and 60° with lighter-weight reds (Beaujolais) capable of handling a chill down to as cool as 48°-50°. Fuller-bodied reds such (Bordeaux, Rhone red, California Cab, Zinfandel, and Australian Shiraz) are at their best around 60°. Nothing tastes as good at 70° as at 60° and Houstonıs typical summer room temperature (75°-80°) is way too warm. The mechanics of this are not that difficult to manage. Forty-five minutes in the refrigerator or 2-3 minutes in a bucket of ice water will cool most reds to a good serving temperature. Remove white wines from the refrigerator a bit before serving and don't keep them immersed in ice water at the table. Instead let them sit on top of a bucket of ice (as opposed to in ice water). A good solution for everyday reds is the plastic "ice cube" balls that can be kept in the freezer and used to "ice" a drink without diluting it. They look a little funny but the wine tastes the same. One or two will quickly cool a glass of red to a good serving temperature.


Q. How long will this bottle of wine keep after I've opened it? What can I do to help it last?

A. A few wines such as Tawny Ports, Sherry, and Madeira will keep almost indefinitely after the bottle is opened. This is because they become oxidized in casks (called oxidative aging) as part of the maturation process before they are bottled and sold. Because they're intentionally oxidized, exposure to a little more air won't damage them or cause any deterioration. Most wines are matured in bottles outside of contact with air (called reductive ageing) so the chemical development that takes place is reductive in nature. When these bottles are opened, the wine is exposed to air and begins to oxidize. The oxidization that initially takes place is actually helpful in that it helps the wine release its aromas and flavors. At some point, the wine begins to deteriorate. Most young red wines will hold up for a day or two after the bottle is opened, even if all you do is put the cork back in. If you want the wine to last longer, put it in the refrigerator; cold slows the oxidative process. This can add a day or two to the wineıs keeping ability. The best solution is to reduce the amount of air in the bottle. Collectors of sweet German Rieslings sometimes use marbles or river pebbles to displace the wine to raise the level back into the neck and then re-cork the wine. A better solution is to use a product called Private Preserve. Private Preserve is a can of nitrogen blended with carbon dioxide and argon. Because this mixture is heavier than air, you can spray it into an open wine bottle where it not only displaces most of the oxygen-laden air in the bottle but further forms an inert blanket over the wine that protects it from any air left in the bottle. Using Private Preserve along with the refrigerator, I've kept partial bottles for as long as three weeks with little or no deterioration.


Q. Can you tell by looking if a bottle of wine is bad?

A. Not with 100% accuracy but there are some telltale signs to check. The main culprit in damaged wine is heat. A bottle thatıs been hot may show marks on the bottle in the form of a sticky residue around the capsule, a cork that looks like itıs trying to push out of the bottle, or a streak of wine running from the capsule. Sometimes this seepage causes corrosion around the edges of the capsule. Any of these signs are a likely indication that a wine has gotten hot. A bottle that was been frozen can show some of the same effects. Itıs usually best to avoid these wines but there is one very big "however." Some very high quality producers (such as Guigal, Leroy, and J.J. Prum) believe that for their wines to age and develop to their full potential, the bottles must be filled to the cork and that bottling should take place under cold conditions so as to reduce any possibility of oxidation. The problem comes when the wines warm up a bit during shipping and subsequent storage. Great care is taken with these wines in transit to insure that they are not cooked. Unfortunately, as the wine warms from a bottling temperature in the mid 30s to a shipping temperature in the upper 50s, it expands. This can cause some seepage and the appearance of a wine that has been cooked. One thing to note on these wines is the high quality reputation the producers have and the fact that, even with some seepage, fill levels tend to remain very high. These wines are safe to purchase. If you have any question about a particular bottle, ask. You can cause these symptoms by allowing the wine to get hot after you leave the store. A bottle of wine left in a closed car in Houston in July can push its cork in as little as five minutes. At that point, the only thing to do is cool the wine down and drink it as soon as possible. It is diminished in quality for now and ruined for any further aging.


Q. What about wines that are "corked?"

A. "Corked" wines are not heat damaged wines or wines with obviously defective or leaking corks. Instead, ³corked² denotes a wine that displays a chlorine (like chlorine bleach or a stinky pool) or wet-cardboard smell and lacks fruit in the mouth. These wines are affected by a chlorine compound called 2,4,6 TCA or Trichloroanisole that is an inadvertent by-product of cork production and cleaning. In even tiny amounts, trichloroanisole is detectable by people as that distinctive "corked" smell. Some amount of "cork taint" may affect as many as 1 in every 12 bottles of cork-finished wine. Some corked wines exhibit a much stronger cork taint than others and many are so lightly affected they pass unnoticed. Some producers (St. Francis and Bonny Doon come to mind) are using mostly extruded plastic "corks" now to avoid the problem all together. These plastic stoppers are removed with a corkscrew just as a natural cork would be. If SPEC's sold you a wine that smells of chlorine, please bring it back and exchange it for another bottle.


Q. How long should I keep this wine before I drink it?

A. The amazing but true answer for ninety-nine percent of all wine sold is "at least until you get it home and have it cool enough to drink." For the other one percent, the answer is "it depends." What it depends on is whether you have a suitable place to keep wine. For long term storage, wine wants a cool (Below 50° is too cold, 55° is ideal, over 70° is just too warm), dark, vibration-free place. If you don't have such a place, think about buying and keeping only wines you intend to drink within a year or two at most. Some wines are less finicky than others. Lighter-weight wines often fade quickly in less than ideal conditions. Some robust reds and vintage Ports can shrug off a bit of abuse but even they will succumb to temperatures in excess of 80°.


Q. We're having _(fill in the blank)___ for dinner tonight. Which wine should I serve with it?

A. In any of its many forms, this may be the question our wine department hears most often. And it's among the hardest to answer correctly every time because there are so many variables. How much do you want to spend? Is that chicken grilled, pan-fried, roasted, smoked, or cooked in a casserole. Is there a sauce? What are the side dishes? Is this a simple meal or an occasion? All these factors bear consideration. At the extreme risk of over-simplification, I'll make a couple of specific recommendations here.

Pinot Noir makes as versatile a match to any food you conceivably could serve with red wine as any other grape on the planet. It works well with everything from grilled salmon to roast beef and is especially good with favorites such as takeout rotisserie chicken and those $30.00-a-piece doves and quail we Texans sometimes shoot. While Pinot Noir isn't my fist choice with Pizza, it even works with that most robust-red-friendly dish. And Pinot Noir can handle smoky, spicy, and salty flavors that give most other red wines fits. Remember two things: 1) Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir. and 2) Pinot Noir is at its best between 55 and 60°. Three very versatile Pinot Noirs I can heartily recommend are Fountain Grove Pinot Noir 1998, Alexander Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 1998, and Remoissenet Beaune-Greves 1996.

For the safest bet on white wines to go with a broad range of foods, look to Sauvignon Blanc. With its crisp, refreshing fruit and range of flavors, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with everything from shellfish or pasta with clam sauce to cold fried chicken or Chinese takeout. Sauvignon Blanc may come disguised as Bordeaux Blanc (Graves, Entre deux Mers), Sancerre, or Pouilly Fume from France, or as Fume Blanc from the US. Some sure things include Ch. Bonnet Blanc 1998 (Entre deux Mers), Rossignole Sancerre 1998 (Loire Valley), and Iron Horse ³T-bar-T² Fume Blanc 1998 (Sonoma).

As all these selections offer at least a good match to a wide variety of dishes, theyıre good choices when you're looking for a few bottles to keep around the house.


Q. Why is this wine so expensive? Don't you have something that tastes like it for less money?

A. Wine prices are driven by two main forces: production costs and market demand. Production costs are determined by land cost, farming expenses, yield levels, winemaking expense, and packaging. Super-premium quality wines cost more to produce than everyday quality wines. They tend to come from the best, most prestigious vineyard sites so the land costs more. To achieve intensity and concentration, yields are lower. To insure that high quality fruit reaches the winery, labor costs stay high and few shortcuts can be taken. In the winery, labor-intensive small-batch techniques yield the best results. Expensive new-oak barrels are necessary to season and fill out the wine.

All these factors drive up production costs but once a wine has made it and is a success with consumers, another force kicks in. That force is the "pull" through the market. Many wineries gradually raise prices to reflect the value the market places on their wines. This price creep affects the best known high-quality wines from all the best producing areas. In this day of rating system-based purchasing, wines highly-rated by the Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate see a much more accelerated version of this trend; prices continue to rise until supply comes closer to meeting demand at the new price.

The net effect of all this is that higher-quality wines cost more and the most popular, limited-production wines cost more. If you want "something that tastes like it for less money," it's best to look to new properties and emerging areas. Our wine department employees are invaluable sources of information about what's new, delicious, and cheap. Additionally, the "Twelve-Under-$12.00" and "New & Noteworthy" sections of this publication are good sources for information on high-quality value-oriented wines.


Q. How do you decide who gets the allocated wines?

A. The problem of allocated wines and the unfair practice by many wineries insisting that a large proportion of their production go to restaurants instead of retail stores has become our most visited battlefield. Hereıs how we handle it. We keep a list of customers who have requested certain wines when they become available. The request list comes to about 80 allocated wines, about 30 of which are the ones where we get far too little to satisfy demand. The 50 or so allocated wines that are not too tight come in periodically and our people call the folks on the list and let them know the wine is in. On most of those wines, there is a negative Key point value associated with the purchase so a bottle might cost $45.00 and 1,000 points. This helps keep any one person from scooping up an excessive amount of any one particular fairly-hard-to-find wine.

Those 30 or so most tightly allocated wines are managed differently. When they arrive, we run a report showing the customers who've requested the wines in descending order based on their SPEC's KEY points earned. We then call those customers with their allocation, starting at the top of the list, until all the wine has been depleted. The customers are given a time period within which their allocation must be picked up. If they miss that window, their allocation is re-allocated to other customers further down the list. The negative KEY Point value assigned to these tightly allocated wines is charged against the customer's accrued KEY points at the time of purchase. It's the only way we know to be sure that the customers who shop the most at SPEC's have access to the hardest-to-come-by wines we receive.


Q. I tasted this great wine when I was in France (or Germany, or England, or Italy, or . . .). I talked to the producer and he said their wines are not imported into the US. Can you (SPEC's) get it for me?

A. In order for us to order wines from Europe, the producer has to have a US importer and a Texas wholesaler, each individual wine has to have or get US and Texas label approvals, and the producer has to register to sell his wines in the state of Texas. We can get a Texas wholesaler to clear the wines but it's not worth (from a cost of doing business standpoint) going through all the mechanics of registration and approvals unless a substantial order can be placed. Your best bet may be to have friends bring back bottles whenever possible. If the winery is interested in doing business in the US or in Texas, we'll talk with them but we're not really looking for a bunch of new importer-suppliers as we have pretty good access to all sorts of wines through our existing supplier network. If you'll give us the chance, we can probably recpmmend something we carry that is a lot like what you tasted in Europe.


Q. I bought this great wine when I was in France (or Germany, or England, or Italy, or . . .). They said they could ship it to me but I got a call from US customs saying a licensed importer had to come and clear it. Can you (SPEC's) get it for me?

A. In a word, no. It is illegal for a foreign producer or merchant to ship alcohol directly from their country directly to any consumer's address in the US. The only places they can legally ship to are licensed importers. Those shipping arrangements must be made in advance and must comply with all state and federal import regulations (including label approvals, taxes, and customs documents). It's just not worth doing all that for a few bottles of this or that. Working after the fact, it is virtually impossible for us to clear these wines through customs. Most likely, you aborted order will soon grace some customs agent's holiday table. We hope you paid with a credit card.


Q. I asked for my password to be emailed to me but it never came. Why not?

A. Your password will be emailed to you at the email address we have in your customer information profile. If this email address is incorrect you will not receive the email and will have to call customer service (713) 526-8787 and have them correct your email address. If you are an earthlink customer they are apparently blocking these emails. Please contact earthlink and ask them to allow email from specsonline.com into your mailbox.


Q. Can I change my customer information and email address online?

A. Yes. On the lower left side of the SPEC's home page there is a selection called Mailing List. Click on this selection and enter your old email address ( the one you used when you signed up ) or your SPECS KEY and your password. If you have entered the above information correctly you will see your existing customer information and may change any or all entries. Click the register button and your information will be updated. If you have forgotten your password, Click the forgot password button and your password will be mailed to the email address we have on file for you. If this email address is no longer correct you will have to call out customer service number (713) 526-8787 and have someone correct your email address manually.

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