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The question

I opened a bottle of Mateus that I had in the house for maybe (?) 10 years. Not sure why I was keeping it for that long. It had a vermouth-like smell and look. We didn't drink it as it didn't taste good, either. Does this happen occasionally or did we get a bad bottle?

The answer

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Awesome question. Good call on taking a pass. Had you downed that crackling Portuguese rosé, the next pink drink on your horizon might have been Pepto-Bismol.

As a wine writer, I am not paid to say this, but there are several sound arguments for temperance: traffic safety, liver and mental health, religious fealty, a really good night's sleep and – not least – not having to deal with well-paid government liquor-store cashiers who have the temerity to insist that you and I – their employers – return our own shopping baskets to the basket pile after paying through the nose for heavily taxed wine.

Stale Mateus would be another good argument. Few are the wines able to survive unscathed, let alone improve, after a decade. Mateus, the spritzy-sweet treat in the oval bottle, is top among those meant to be consumed fresh, ideally before it leaves Europe but certainly within a year or two of production.

Your reference to vermouth is astute. Many people harbour the mistaken belief that vermouth, an aromatized, slightly fortified wine, lasts forever. It does not. There's a big different in smell and taste between a fresh vermouth and the half-finished bottle that's been gathering inches of dust in your grandfather's wood-panelled basement since Jon Hamm was knee-high to a whippoorwill.

It should come as no surprise that your old Mateus is tarnished in colour, more rusty brown than vibrant pink. That's evidence of oxidation and/or exposure to heat. Most wine, like apples, can last a while in a cool, dark cellar. But it will give out eventually because it's fruit.

I suspect other factors contributed to your unpleasant brush with fossilized Mateus. The bottle shape, as you will have noticed, is not built for stacking in a cellar (hint, hint). Was it perhaps sitting upright on a shelf in a lukewarm room all those years? Even venerable Mouton will decline under such conditions. Also, I see you had the admirable candour to qualify your 10-year estimate with a parenthetical question mark. Perhaps it was longer? Memories get foggy on these matters, for sure. And since Mateus unhelpfully comes with no vintage date stamped on the label (another hint it's not meant to last), there's no way to tell. Could we in fact be talking, say, 20 years? If so, I'd say you certainly did not come across a defective bottle by accident; you made that vermouth all by yourself.

The Flavour Principle, by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was named best Canadian Food & Drinks Book in the 2014 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Published by HarperCollins.

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