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I've heard people refer to a 'dumb period' for wine - what is that? Add to ...

The question: What does “dumb period” mean in relation to wine?

The answer: I suppose it could describe the willingness of some consumers to pay $800 for a bottle of ballyhooed 2010 Bordeaux, but I digress.

The term is not an insult but rather used to describe cellar-worthy wines that have temporarily lost flavour. The science is sketchy because wine evolves in a complex way, with various components, such as phenols, oxygen and alcohol, playing off each other. At a certain stage, the reactions can conspire to rob an aging bottle of its fruitiness and complexity.

Not all cellar-worthy wines go through a dumb phase, however. The phenomenon can vary from bottle to bottle and region to region. Bordeaux and Burgundy are often cited in this context, and it usually occurs between three and 10 years of bottling. It may last six months or a couple of years, but generally not much longer. If you bought a case and have opened a bottle only to find that its flavour has gone AWOL, wait at least six months before you try another.

For what it’s worth, I suspect reports of wine dumbness are greatly exaggerated. It can be tempting to believe that a ho-hum wine is merely passing through this temporary puberty stage, especially after you’ve forked out a fortune on a case. In fact, the wine may not have been great to begin with. Small sample pours at winery tasting rooms can be deceptive if you’re trying the wine with a nibble of flattering food or on a day when your palate was simply tired and playing tricks.

Incidentally, the dumb phase is not to be mistaken for “bottle shock” or “bottle sickness.” Though the effects can be similar, bottle shock typically occurs shortly after bottling, an aggressive agitation that tends to mute flavour. Bottle shock lasts briefly (often just a few days or weeks) and normally wears off by the time the wine reaches your dining-room table. A bottle can be sick or dumb but, unlike people, it’s rarely both at the same time.

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