The Lighter Side of Wine

Not everybody is an expert on wine.  Sometimes it seems that all these wine aficionados we see on Twitter and Facebook appear to have all the answers and know all the little tips and tricks to enjoying wine.  I will be the first to admit that I am no expert!  I actually feel inadequate when I look at all the information my counter-parts publish about the technical side of wine on their blogs.  I have learned some of the technical stuff over the last 3 years (that’s about how long I have proclaimed to live a “wine lifestyle”), but I truly try to focus on the lighter side, wine with friends, winery hopping and tasting something new.  Typically my blog posts are as much about the day, the place and the people behind the wine as they are about the wine.

There are a few things, though, that we need to know about wine that will help us more fully enjoy drinking wine and for some, it may even create an appreciation for wine.  This article will be ongoing.  Each time one of you suggest something that should be added, I will gladly add it, and each time one of you asks a question, I will gladly research it and add the answer here.

  • Wine is an acquired taste; for some it comes more naturally than it does for others.  If you don’t like the first wine you try, think about the aspects of the wine that you don’t like such as it tastes bitter (which probably means the wine is too dry for you) or it’s too sweet (it may have too much residual sugar for your taste), the wine makes the inside of your lips feel dry and almost pucker (the wine is probably young and the tannins are too pronounced).  You have to communicate these likes or dislikes to the person behind the counter at either the winery or the wine store so that they can help direct you to something more pleasing to your palate.  There are a LOT of wines out there so there is sure to be one (or many) that will please.  
  • Make it a mission to discover the wines you love.  This can be accomplished a couple of ways.  You can visit local wineries to sample their wines or you can attend wine festivals and special tasting events.  Just know that it is NOT offensive to the winemaker or the employee to spit the wine out and dump the remainder of your glass out.  Look at it this way, if you are at a wine festival with 30 different wineries set up and each winery is pouring 1oz tastings of 8 different wines, by the time you have visited 3 tents/stations and sampled each of their 8 wines, you have consumed 24oz of wine.  This is almost a full bottle of wine that typically runs anywhere from 12% alcohol up to 15% alcohol, so you are drunk and have only tasted from 3 different wineries.  Great Expectorations: The Art of Spitting Wine.  You can also invite a group of friends over and ask each to bring a bottle of wine so that the group can do their own tasting at home.  You can cover the bottles up (a simple brown paper bag will suffice) and do a blind tasting with each person making notes and voting on each wine.  This is another opportunity for you to taste something new that you might not otherwise ever have purchased.
  • The proper way to taste wine is a little more difficult to put into words but let’s start with the 3 S’s – Swirl, Sniff, Sip (or Spit).  Swirling wine has a couple of different components to it.  When you pour wine into your glass be sure to leave enough room at the top of the glass for some good swirling action.  Swirling helps aerate the wine and brings out not only the flavors but also the aromatics.  Give your wine a good swirl and then put the glass up to your nose – actually put your nose into the opening of your wine glass and sniff deeply.  This sniffing is going to tell you the initial smells and aromatics of the wine.  Repeat the swirl and sniff action a couple of times – some people may think you are a wine snob, but what you are doing is identifying the aromas in the wine and preparing your senses for the full flavor and appreciation of the wine.  The next step is sipping the wine.  Take a small sip and  hold it in your mouth as you suck in air through your mouth to aerate the wine even more – go ahead, make a big slurping sound and then swish the wine around in your mouth before swallowing (or spitting).  You won’t need to repeat this process with each sip, just for the first sip or two.  I learned a lot of what I know about wine from Andrea Immer Robinson
  • Wine is meant to be paired with food.  Most wines you can sip and still enjoy thoroughly; but pairing foods with your wine creates a whole different experience for your tasting pleasure.  So how do you know which wines go with dinner?  Well since the day of the wine snob is dead, there is no hard and fast rule for pairing wine.  You can always fall back to the adage that lighter foods should have a lighter wine and rich, heavy foods should have a bolder, more robust wine.  For example, if you are having pasta, seafood, or chicken (all considered light foods), you would probably want a lighter wine such as a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc but you could also go with a Beaujolais, which is a lighter red wine.  But if your pasta happens to be a meaty, hearty lasagna, you would most likely want a more robust wine.  The real answer is, “It depends.”  Think about the components of your meal and then choose your wine accordingly, but keep in mind that if the pairing works for you then it was the right pairing.  Ultimately, you never want your wine to over power your food.

A little side note here, some  people think that chocolate always pairs well with red wine.  It doesn’t!  But when you get it right, it is like a match made in heaven!

  • So now you have been tasting wine, finding out which style of wine you prefer and started buying wine to pair with your meals.  The next question is how to store wine after it has been opened.  Once wine has been opened and left exposed to air for very long (let’s say overnight or 24 hours), the wine becomes oxidized.  You will learn to recognize oxidation as you become a more experienced wine drinker – the wine will take on a brownish tint and the aromas could even start to smell more grapey instead of like the intense wine aromatics you would expect.  Severe oxidation could even cause the wine to smell like rubbing alcohol.  There are several different ways to store your open wine and protect it from oxidation; some better than others.  I have tried several.  Sometimes people just push the cork back inside the bottle, especially if they will be drinking the remainder of the wine the next day – which is about how long this will keep the wine and even then it will lose some of its flavor. 

I used to have Vacu-Vin, a device that allows you to pump (suck) the air out of the wine bottle and seal the bottle with a rubber   top.  This tends to keep the wine 3-4 days.   You can also use an argon gas system that forces air out of the bottle as it replaces the air with argon thus preserving the wine until you open it again.  There is also a product called, “Wine Shield,” a really simple little plastic disc that you insert into your open bottle of wine.  It falls into the bottle and floats on top of the wine to form a barrier between the wine and the air.  I typically opt to use a Haley’s Corker – it recorks the bottle with a snug fit that allows you to store the bottle on its side without leaking any wine, works better than recorking with a regular cork, and can be reused for a couple of years.

Something I haven’t tried but intend to is saving a smaller wine bottle, such as the 375 ML so that when you open your wine and you know you won’t be drinking the full bottle, pour half of the wine into this smaller bottle and recork immediately – Haley’s Corkers would be perfect for this.  Obviously the full smaller bottle doesn’t leave room for excess air to oxidize the wine, just be sure to store it at the right temperature (or below) until you are ready to drink it.  I have also heard that you can add clean glass marbles to your open wine pushing the wine to the top of the bottle and therefore, pushing the air out – sounds like it might work, but it also sounds like a lot of work.  But the choice is yours.  Play around and see what works best for you. 

Wine will keep longer if it is kept at colder temperatures.  Go ahead and put that bottle of red in the refrigerator, pull it out the next day and let it warm back up to room temperature before drinking. 

  • Now that you have started appreciating wine, you will be buying more of it and possibly joining wine clubs once you find a specific winery whose style of wines you really enjoy.  So how are you going to store all these wines as you start collecting several favorites?  The most important thing to remember here is that wine is temperamental.  You cannot store it at “room temperature.”  Years ago, people used to store wine at room temperature, but this started way before central heating systems and houses that are insulated well from the weather.  Room temperature used to be 60 degrees (give or take 5 degrees) so wine was always at perfect serving temperature.  The worst thing you can do is set your wine on the kitchen counter right beside the oven or the refrigerator.  The heat from your appliances will leave your wine too warm to serve.  Wine served at the right temperature once again brings out all those great aromatics and flavor profiles that made you fall in love with wine to begin with.  If you are going to start keeping several wines at home, I would suggest investing in a small wine cooler.  You can get one that will hold as few as 12 bottles or one to hold several hundred bottles.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. wineno
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 08:19:34

    I find your articles insightful and interesting because of your less pretentious approach. Keep up the good work.


  2. cono_sur
    Sep 20, 2012 @ 16:21:21

    Great article. Lots of tips for anyone interested in getting into wine.


  3. Jan Davidson
    Sep 22, 2012 @ 00:11:46

    This is a great post with good info and just the right tone for people wanting to learn without feeling intimidated.


  4. The Wine Wench
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 22:13:53

    We were just talking about needing something to store opened wine in the fridge on its side because not everyone has shelves tall enough for an open bottle. I’m going to check out the Haley’s Corker!


  5. Trackback: Wine Wednesday’s Terminology: Breathe | Red Wine Diva

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