At the Wine Dispensary we like to say, “taking the sophistication out of wine.” Not that we don’t enjoy and share plenty of sophisticated wines, we simply believe that learning about wine doesn’t need pretension. We approach wine education without intimidation, and maybe even a little bit of comedy. Here are some instant wine smarts to help you approach it with the same sense of ease.
1. Opening the Wine
To make for a neat foil removal, use the blade portion or even the sharp edge of the corkscrew to slice a line in the foil; a rim on the glass should guide your blade and help prevent creating confetti.
Corkscrews come with everything you need for a smooth opening, so they really do all the work; however, if you have an older bottle (20-25 years old+), the cork will be frail and more difficult to keep intact, so you’ll need a double prong opener and a bit more finesse. Start by pushing the longer prong between the cork and the wine bottle, working it down slowly, but not all the way. Bend the handle over the top of the cork and push the shorter prong into the opposite side, also gently working it down. Pushing the handle back and forth, you will eventually get the prongs all the way into the bottle with the handle touching the top of the cork. Take the handle firmly and remove the cork by twisting it up and out of the wine bottle.
A Sommelier’s biggest feat when opening wine is keeping the cork intact and ensuring that the moment the cork releases from the bottle is silent… yes, even when opening Champagne, the magnanimous “POP” is technically incorrect. An expert will slowly twist and simultaneously pull the cork out while pressing down and holding on for dear life so that the air creeps out gradually.
Despite the popular myth, once the cork is in hand, skip the sniff, as very little information about a wine can actually be gathered from the cork.
2. Pouring the Wine
First thing’s first, glassware does make a difference. Reds will typically have a rounder bowl shape in order to facilitate aerating the wine and smoothing out the tannins, The rim is typically narrow in order to concentrate the aroma and enhance the wine's complex characteristics. White wine glasses normally are a bit more narrow in the bowl and lip to even further concentrate the bouquet, as whites are characteristically more subtle than in reds. Sparkling is best in a flute, which prevents the bubbles from flattening out too quickly.
Decanting a wine is actually rarely necessary; so feel free to skip this step in most cases. Pour toward the center of the glass unless it's sparkling; you can more effectively preserve bubbles by pouring on the side. Fill glasses by about 1/3 to allow space to swirl and for the nose. Twist the bottle as you pour to avoid drips. And finally, display the label toward those drinking so they can view what they are tasting.
3. Drinking the Wine
Don’t feel like you need a lesson on drinking wine? Maybe not, but hopefully these tips will be useful! Always hold the wine by the stem. Holding the bowl of the glass will inevitably warm it from its ideal serving temperature, plus hands or fingerprints will hinder your ability to perceive color and clarity. To tell if a wine has been corked and therefore undrinkable: your nose should detect a wet cardboard or moldy smell and the taste may be astringent. You are entitled to refuse an unsatisfactory bottle in a restaurant and to be reimbursed for one by a wine store.
4. Keeping the wine
Yellowtail will never taste like Silver Oak, but the following tips can help any priced wine taste its best. All wine should be chilled before serving, even if just a bit. Don’t serve whites too cold (making the flavors hard to detect) by pulling it out of the fridge about 10 minutes before serving. Red wines should be pulled from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving.
After a bottle has been opened, feel free to store it in the refrigerator. This will add a couple of days to its drinkability. If you pull the extra air out of the bottle (with a vacuum pump or using a straw) its shelf life may even stretch to a week. In the unlikely event a wine stays in our fridge that long, it still shouldn’t be thrown it out! We save it for sauces or marinades by freezing it in an ice cube tray for up to 6 months.
Also, for tips on deciphering a wine list or deciding on a bottle at a wine shop, check out our recent blog: A Guide to Buying Wine.