Wine is expensive, relative to nearly any other beverage. Even if you aren’t drinking a high-end wine, there are much cheaper things to drink.
That premium is the result of a long and laborious growing and production process. The outcome is a drink that ideally provides a complex, food-friendly experience that justifies the price.
Given the investment, don’t you want to get everything you can out of that glass of wine?
Here are five things you can do to increase the flavours found in wine. They will work whether you paid $US7 for a bottle, or $US7,000.
1. Aerate you wine. Wine is a living, breathing thing. It evolves as it ferments, and continues to evolve as it is stored. One of the key things to keeping wine alive is to keep the juice away from oxygen. In a relatively short period of time — usually a day or so — exposure to oxygen will eliminate much of the volatiles that create the smells that influence our sense of taste with wine.
However, until it dies, oxygen helps “open up” and release the flavours of a wine, primarily because unpleasant volatiles die first and harsh tannins will soften. When you open a bottle of wine, the small opening at the top of the bottle allows minimal oxygen in. To maximise aeration, you need to allow the wine to get exposed to oxygen more rapidly. Here are some tips for decanting:
- Pour the wine into a decanter. The act of pouring the wine into the decanter agitates the wine, and the design of a decanter allows more of the wine to come in contact with the air (relative to the small opening of the bottle.) If you drink a lot of red wines, especially big, bold, wines that could use some softening up (a high-alcohol wine or a young Cabernet Sauvignon, a big Syrah ot Shiraz, a Rioja, a big Malbec, etc.)
- Don’t have a decanter? Pour your wine into a pitcher with a wide opening. I have an iced tea pitcher that would work almost as well as a real decanter. Most wines need 60 to 90 minutes of decanting, and some really big, complex wines could decant for 6+ hours, but even 30 minutes will help.
- Don’t have time to decant? An aerator will really help. I’ve done numerous tests where I’ll compare a wine run through an aerator vs. one poured directly from a newly opened bottle, and it is always extremely clear which glass has been aerated. There are many designs and products, but the Vinturi is the most popular. I use an aeration stick made by Brookstone that aerates an entire bottle at once. I’m sure many others work well, but I don’t have first hand experience with them.
- Don’t have an aerator? You can use your blender. Pour a bottle of wine into your blender and run on your lowest setting for 15 seconds, and your wine will be well-aerated. Once aerated, you need to pour the wine back into the bottle (use a funnel) or a pitcher, and it just isn’t very convenient. But it works!
- Aeration is worth the energy if you want to get the most out of your red wine. If you have a straightforward white (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, etc.) there is less benefit. Some rarer white wines are decanted, but as a rule you can avoid this step with whites.
2. Agitate your wine. Hold the stem of a properly sized glass and softly move your glass in a circular motion so that a mini-whirlpool forms in the glass. The agitation helps to release the volatiles that create the unique smells of wine, and makes them easier to capture.
3. Smell your wine. You don’t need to be obnoxious, but most people sniff their wine like they have a slight cold. Get your nose in there and take a whiff! The smells will stay with you as you take a sip.
4. Use a good wine glass. What’s most important is the size of the glass. You need to have a bowl large enough so that a typical pour (4 to 5 ounces) occupies no more than one quarter of the glass for reds, and one-third to one-half a glass for whites. This is, again, for that all-important exposure to air, and so you have room to agitate you wine.
I prefer glassware with a very thin glass wall. Sure, they are more breakable, but are much more enjoyable to drink out of and hold. There are varietal-specific wine glasses for nearly every grape varietal. I went to a tasting hosted by Riedel, a very famous glassware manufacturer, and tasted wines in the “proper” glass for each grape. It was really interesting, and I believe the various glasses did improve the smells of the wines.
Do I have specific glasses at home? Nope. I prefer to use my money to buy more wine than glassware. If you have a good red and a white wine glass, you’re in great shape. Some say you should only hold the glass by the stem because your hand warms up the wine. I think that goes a bit overboard — I use stemless glasses almost all the time and I’ve never had an issue with them.
5. “Chew” your wine. Go to a wine industry tasting, and it sounds like the entire room is using mouthwash at the same time. Professionals aggressively move the wine around in their mouths to ensure that all of their taste buds are engaged before they swallow (or spit) their sip. Try it. It is amazing how tastes start to emerge. However, when having a nice meal with your family or friends, or a client, or coworker — tone it down a bit. You don’t want to be “that” person, and a more gentle movement around your mouth does virtually the same thing.
6. Finally, a really good wine will evolve over time. At the beginning of a bottle, you might taste mostly fruit, but when you come back to the wine in an hour or so you may find more subtle flavours appearing. Everything discussed above helps coax this out of the wine. Sometimes I catch this. Sometimes I don’t. I have no idea if it was the wine or me, and I don’t worry about it. It’s cool when it happens, though.
Do you have to do these things? Nope. Does it make a difference? You bet. Try some or all of these tips with a wine you’re excited about.
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