Buyer Beware

Newer winemaking styles may be the culprit for a form of oxidation called premox that’s appearing in a number of new red wines


It’s easy to get too technical when it comes to discussing wine. But there is a new flaw appearing in a fair number of new red wines that could use a little clarity and attention.

It’s a new kind of oxidation, what my parents used to call “dead” wine or “vinegary.”

If your experience is similar to mine when it comes to the middle- and upper-priced red wines that are fairly young — three, six, eight years old — a surprising number have this fatal problem.

You might expect it of a 15- or 20-year-old wine, but not in younger reds. You might also expect it in a wine improperly stored where there was a lot of heat and light. 

I remember walking into someone’s house and seeing a wine rack full of wine bottles sitting on top of the refrigerator. Ouch! Not good at all. That’s just asking for oxidation when the wine is so close to heat from the refrigerator motor below and the recessed ceiling lights above. I wouldn’t even bother opening any of those wines.

But this new kind of oxidation that has been appearing recently is in recently purchased bottles of wine. It is called premox, a new term to add to your wine lexicon coined by the British wine magazine, Decanter. It’s an amalgam of the words premature and oxidation. 

For the proponents of the popular drink-it-now theory of red wine, promoted by a few high-profile critics and followed slavishly by some wineries and winemakers, premox is a case of the chickens coming home to roost.

In Decanter’s remarkably succinct article — almost an investigative piece by Jane Anson — the writer makes the case for recognizing premox as a new form of oxidation, different from traditional madeira-zing we expect in older wines, and says it should not be happening. 

Instead of remaining fresh, hard, muscular, and youthful, these red premox wines begin to show in just a few years the signs of oxidative destruction not expected at such an early stage in the life cycle. Instead of vibrant, rich, round red fruit and the acid and tannic structure that allows the wine to grow slowly, the wines just can’t perform. They give up, and premox sets in.

Anson, using science to back up her conclusions, says modern winemaking style may be at fault, and adds “ ... the findings throw into doubt not only the leading viticultural practices of the past decade, but also the work of several leading critics who have amply rewarded low acidity and premox super-ripe fruit, two of the leading offenders for rapid aging.” Familiar?

Moreover, very cold wine storage conditions can only do so much to slow the aging process of a wine that’s unbalanced. The higher a wine’s pH level, the shorter it will age. Period.

So, if you buy a young red wine that clearly suffers from this problem, there is unfortunately not much you can do about it, as far as getting your money back here in Michigan. State law doesn’t allow consumers to return flawed wine. You buy it. You own it. 

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