There are certain rules to follow in order to get the best from your bottle of wine. RESPECT is probably the most appropriate. If you don’t repect your wine, then you won’t get the maximum enjoyment.
Wine is like a human being…it is a living organsim that has a life-cycle (like humans) and reacts to atmospheric conditions (like humans).
Ageing and cellar conditions:
Wine is like a human being – it has a lifespan – which can be exploited to the full if kept in perfect conditions, or age prematurely if left in the wrong place. Wine needs to be kept in a humid and cool environment. It doesn’t like dry conditions, exposure to sunlight or extreme heat conditions. Avoid keeping a case of wine under the stairs or in the kitchen or even worse, in your garage!!!*
These are the basic rules:
1/ Keep the bottles lying down. The cork (providing it has one), needs to be kept moist, so contact with the wine is necessary.
2/ Make sure that the storage area is fairly humid – 60% to 70% as the outside of the cork needs to be kept humid too.
3/ A dry cork will shrink so air gets in and wine seeps out, ageing the bottle prematurely.
Opening the bottle and serving:
Wine needs to breathe and a certain amount of oxygen will open up the wine and make it more agreeable to drink. Too much oxygen and the wine will “oxidize” and taste like wet cardboard!
These are the basic rules:
1/Uncork the bottle 30 minutes before serving…avoid carafing or decanting (see late explanation).
Why? Because the wine needs to breathe. When a bottle is uncorked you may get a slightly musty, cheesy, sulphury smell. This usually come from the Wine/SO2/Cork contact. If you let the wine breathe or oxygenate, this will dissappear and the wines true aromas will prevail.
Wine is made of many odorous molecules with different volatility. As the wine breathes, the most volatile molecules evaporate giving the first aromas…the longer the wine breathes or the more you swirl, the more the aromas change as the denser molecules start to evaporate, which you can then smell. That is why when you go to a restaurant and order a bottle of wine, it is only really near the end of the meal that you start to appreciate it…once it has had time to wake up…!
“What if guests turn up by surprise and I have to open a bottle and serve straight away?”
2/ Then pour into a carafe to “oxygenate” the wine before serving.
Tricks of the trade: Go into the kitchen and pour the wine into a carafe (bowl shaped bottle with swan neck – if you don’t have one, use a water jug). If it is an older vintage (+5 years), then pour slowly into the carafe and leave for 5 minutes before serving. If it is -5 years then you can agitate (swirl) the carafe vigorously for a couple of minutes. Take a funnel and pour back into the original bottle. Why? Well, if it is quite an expensive bottle, it’s nice to serve from that original bottle and not the carafe as guests make take the wine for being Bag In Box!
3/FAQ: Are “wine aerators” efficient?
Yes, although they still remain a “stylish” wine gadget. If you don’t have time to open a bottle 30 minutes before, or you don’t want to swirl the wine in a carafe “à la wine waiter”, then they do work…and it’s always better than drinking unready wine!
Swirling & sipping:
Without wanting to look like a wine snob, there are certain simple stages that should be followed if you want to get the best from your wine.
1/ Look at the wine in your glass. No, this is not to check if your glass has been filled correctly, but just to check the transparence. If the wine looks cloudy or murky, then there will be a problem. It should also tell you a little about the age of the wine. Normally the darker and more intesnse the colour, the younger the wine. If you have a more brick-red colour, the wine is normally older. This does vary according to the grape varietal – but this is not the most important aspect.
2/ Smell before swirl!!! People have the bad habit of swirling as soon as they pick up the glass. Wrong. If you are looking to detect a fault in the wine, or more importantly to see how the wine evolves, you need a benchmark. Smelling the wine before you swirl will give you an idea of how it is from the start and will make it easier to track its evolution or find the fault!
3/ Sip and enjoy!! Yes, the main aim is to drink the wine and to enjoy it. However your mouth is an elaborate and sensitive tasting machine with taste buds that will always relate the true story…whether good or bad. So read on…
What sensations should I be getting?
Wine is all about personal enjoyment – YOUR personal enjoyment – which will be related to your brain by your sensory organs – primarily SMELL and TASTE.
What you smell, you may like, but you may be dissappointed by the taste or vice versa.
Each person is biologically different and what YOU may detect in the wine, your neighbor may not. You might be sensitive to sweet or sour things. What you have eaten before tasting the wine (or lack of food) could also alter the taste. Did you have coffee, fruit juice or toothpaste???
My advice: when tasting wine, let the first sip line your pallet, but DON’T judge the wine at this stage. Your pallet needs to adapt to the acidity and/or tannins of the wine. Swollow or spit. Then judge the wine on the second taste. This also applies when changing from a red to a white or vice-versa.
Balance is for me the most important part, not trying to find adjectives to describe the wine like “it tastes of white flowers, mushrooms, blackcurrant, cheese crusts etc..”
Balance for white wines is “Alcohol, Acidity & Fruit”
Balance for red wines is “Alcohol, Acidity, Fruit & Tannins”
Wine will always have alcohol form day 1 to the end of its life.
Fruit is obviously an important part in the smell and taste of wine, whether black fruits, red fruits, stone fruits, summer fruits, green fruits etc. You can also get floral notes in wine.
Acidity adds sharpness to the wines and helps them to age too. Warmer climate wines have lower acidity than cooler climates. Acidity is the backbone of white wines and is felt on the sides of your tongue and will make you salivate slightly. Too much acidity tastes excessively sour and sharp, a wine with too little acidity will taste flabby and flat. It also counterbalances the sweetness in wines and the bitterness found in the tannins.
Tannins are the backbone of red wines. Found on grape skins, seeds and from the wine barrel they have a certain bitterness and give the red wines a character. When young, a red wine will have very dry and bitter tannins. This will be felt in your mouth, in particular at the back, on the roof of your pallet and on your gums. Tannins are looking for proteins in your mouth and the only way to avoid that extra dryness is to accompany the red wine with protein-based foods such as meats, cheeses or chick peas, lentilles (for vegetarians). The tannins will leave the natural proteins in your mouth alone and hook on to the food substances, making the drinking of the red wine more enjoyable!!
So basically, a good wine means a perfect harmonius balance of the above and will result in you saying “wow, now that IS good”.
But you musn’t forget what wine is all about…
“the right wine, with the right food and the right people at the right time…”
*If you don’t have a wine cellar (which is the case for most people), or space is limited, invest in a small wine fridge…