To the post at hand. I have noticed lately that an increasing percentage of bottles have an odd feature. When I remove the foil and pop the cork, there is a small pattern of purple crystals on the underside of the cork. After a few seconds of puzzlement, I realize that the strange looking crystals were the product of tartaric acid, the natural acid inherent in grapes. When the wine ages, the tartaric acid can precipitate on the cork. This will not affect the flavor of the wine, only the balance of acidity, for the crystals, again, are a product of acid in the wine.
I bring this up for two reasons. One, don't return wines with tartaric acid crystals on the cork, it will taste fine with a good 15-30 minutes in a decanter. Second, this topic brings to the forefront a practice that any wine-drinker should make a ritual. Before decanting or before drinking a full glass if you don't have a decanter (go buy one at a cheap store like Christmas Tree shop for $8.00), every bottle should be tasted. Pour a small amount of the wine, about a half an ounce, into your glass and swirl like crazy. The swirl will allow the wine to aerate and enhance the bouquet (smell) of the wine. Before letting the it into your mouth (thats what she said), smell the wine. You ought to be smelling for a musty smell, much like wet newspaper or your grandparent's basement. If you are unfortunate enough to smell this, it means your wine is corked. Corked wine=return to the store, do not drink it. (This will certainly be its own post soon) The tartaric acid crystals, however, are not such a problem. You can feel free to drink the wine as long as it taste and appears to be drinkable. When you taste, swirl the wine around your mouth, then suck some air into the wine and swirl again. You should get the notes of the wine intended by the vintner. If you think it is crazy that you can taste cherry, leather and black currant in a wine, read up on the wine you are drinking for intended flavors so you may keep them in mind when you taste. I promise you will be able to get at least one or two.
So, next time you open a bottle, pour a small amount in a glass, swirl briskly, smell for basement, and taste a bit for a clean crisp taste that is commensurate with the variety you are drinking. If all goes well, decant it, wait as long as you can (but no need for more than 30 minutes) and drink until your heart's desires are drunk. I often find it handy to open the second bottle before you start drinking the first to let it aerate a bit before decanting, but then again, I drink a lot!