Storing, Serving and Tasting Your Wine
Wine kept for more than a few weeks requires proper storage conditions. It needs to be kept still, dark and at a constant ambient temperature. It may seem hard to find these basic storage conditions in some homes, even the most uncompromising apartment can be made wine-friendly. Good wine storage requires the following:
The ideal temperature is a constant, ambient temperature around 50-60F, but wine will endure up to 80F, as long as temperature fluctuation is kept to a minimum. Radical temperature change, not the temperature itself, is often the primary cause of damage. Wines in storage should also be kept away from any heat sources like furnaces or wood stoves. If you don’t have a cellar, find a dark cupboard or closet with ventilation and a constant temperature. There are also temperature controlled wine cabinets commercially available.
Wine is spoiled (usually by oxidization) by long-term exposure to direct sunlight, daylight or artificial light. Though it’s tempting to display bottles in your dining room or kitchen, keep them in the dark and they will last longer.
Constant agitation or vibration can cause wine to age prematurely. Keep wine away from the vibrations of motors (machinery, street traffic etc.) and avoid driving across country. Even small vibration, like your refrigerator, can compromise wine quality in the long-term.
Wine should be stored on its side to keep the cork moist and tight against the bottle neck. If a bottle is stored upright, the cork will eventually dry out and shrink, allowing oxygen to get into the bottle and damage the wine. Wines bottles closed with screw tops need not be stored on their sides.
Opening a bottle of wine can be a spontaneous event, but there are several things to bear in mind even at the most informal of gatherings. For example, wine tastes much better served at the right temperature. Consider the following to make your wine taste even better:
Allow your wine to sit for a moment before serving. A bottle that is rushed to the table straight from the grocery store or your cellar might not be at its best. Wines, especially older wines, are affected by movement and only regain their balance and character after a period of rest. Let the bottle sit for 20 minutes after opening before serving.
Allow time for wine to chill (or warm up) before serving. In general, white and sparkling wines should be served chilled to around 42-52F. Red wines are usually best between 55-65F. Useful tip: An ice or water bucket is the quickest way to cool wine. Cubes of ice surrounded by water will chill a bottle in fewer than 15 minutes. Aa refrigerator will take over an hour to do the same job.
Do not keep wines in an ordinary refrigerator for more than a few days. They grow tired and flat and they can even pick up taints from other foods stored nearby.
Let the wine "breathe" after opening. If possible, open the bottle of wine at least one hour before serving, especially red wines. Uncorking a bottle and exposing it to oxygen for a period of time before pouring gives the wine a chance to aerate, enhancing subtle flavors and aromas, and making an enormous difference to the character of the wine.
Believe it or not, a wine tastes different in different glasses. This has been proven in carefully-conducted comparative tastings. An all-purpose white wine glass has a tulip-shaped bowl and a tall, thin stem. Most red wines show at their best in a larger version of the same shaped glass. Flutes are ideal for champagne and other sparkling wines. But most important is cleanliness. A dirty glass - which may not look dirty but which carries a taint - will make a wine taste flat and soapy.
- Tasting and Enjoying
Tasting wine means taking care to study its qualities. Learning how to taste is simple. The skills are easy to learn and anybody can become a good taster if they over time. The best part is that becoming a good taster means tasting lots of wine.
Although less important than tasting and smelling, looking at the wine in the glass can tell you quite a lot. Tilting the glass away from you until it is almost horizontal reveals the width and hue at the edge of the wine. The wine's clarity, brightness and depth of color are best seen by looking at it from above, with the glass on a table.
Smell is the most important of our senses for appreciating and enjoying wine. A high proportion of what we "taste" is in fact smelled. Just recall how difficult it is to taste food or drink when you have a cold. The smell of a wine is often called its “nose”. "Aroma" and "bouquet" are also used. The nose of a wine varies in intensity according to its age, grape variety, origin and quality, but it should always be clean-that is, free of unpleasant odors.
No magazine, book or picture can tell you better than your palate how a wine tastes. Tasting for yourself is the only way to build real knowledge of wine.
Three senses unite when tasting wine: sight, smell and taste. Watch an experienced wine taster at work and you'll see a relatively casual process: a glance, a sniff and a sip. This same expertise can be acquired with practice. Following simple tasting procedures can add immeasurably to your appreciation of wine.
- Lift your glass up against a blank white background to get a general impression of the color. Check that the wine is clear and bright. Look at the degree of color and notice if it is: bright purple (typical of young red wines), ruby or brick-red (aged red wines), or brown and dull in appearance (often indicates a wine that is oxidized and over-the-hill).
- Swirl the glass gently, holding the glass by the stem, in order to release the aroma (smells that come from the grape) and bouquet (subtle scents that develop as a result maturing and oak aging).
- Sniff the wine, concentrating on the smell. There are many words to describe smells, but most of us have no training, or little practice, in using them, so we have to relate a wine's smells to something in our own memory. For example, you may hear wines described as floral (rose, jasmine, violet), spicy (pepper, licorice), fruity (lemon, cherry, melon) or woody (oak, cedar, vanilla).
- Take a sip. Instead of swallowing immediately, work the wine around in your mouth for several seconds, almost like you’re chewing the wine. Notice how much more of its flavor you can discern. With the next sip of wine, in addition to chewing it, purse your lips and suck a little air through the wine a few times before swallowing. Notice how you can taste/smell even more of the wine this way because you have deliberately released its aromas. "Chewing" and "aerating" the wine for several seconds helps to get the most out of any wine you taste.
Now you just need to repeat the process regularly with different wines, then organize your memory bank to be able to access and compare wine types, varieties, and vintages. You’ll start to appreciate the subtle differences in wines like oak barrels, long macerations, de-stemming at harvest, aeration of the must, yeast types, grape maturity and age, fermentation temperature, and blends. Finally, you’ll be ready to talk about wine for hours with similarly excited friends!