Excerpt from Wine For Dummies
How to Open a Bottle and What to Do Next
Have you ever broken a cork while trying to extract it from the bottle, or taken an unusually long time to remove a stubborn cork, while your guests smiled at you uneasily? This has certainly happened to us from time to time and probably to just about everyone else who has ever pulled a cork out of a bottle of wine.
In wine shops, we've noticed some people opting for either screw-top bottles of wine or for bag-in-a-box wines (large boxes that hold the equivalent of four or five bottles of wine in a collapsible plastic sack; you pour the wine through a nozzle near the bottom of the box). Wines packaged like this are inexpensive, and that's one good reason to buy them. But we strongly suspect that many people buy screw-top bottles or bag-in-a-box wines not just for value, but because, lurking in their minds, there is an actual fear of opening a bottle of wine that has a cork in it.
Maybe an unsuccessful encounter with an unyielding cork during their formative wine-drinking years has traumatized the screw-top and bag-in-a-box drinkers, causing them to develop corkophobia. If so, they have our sympathy. Besides the emotional trauma they've experienced, corkophobics have deprived themselves of most of the world's best wines because just about all of those wines come with a cork in the bottle. The solution? Be armed with the right tools.
The First Step: Uncovering the Cork
The bigger the winery, the more time and money it spends creating attractive bottles that grab your eye as you walk down the aisle of the wine shop or supermarket. Part of the fetching package is the capsule, a colorful covering over the cork end of the bottle. The good news is that it's pretty; the bad news is that some coverings are difficult to remove.
These days, most wineries use colored foil or plastic capsules rather than the traditional lead capsules because of the potential risk of lead poisoning. In keeping with the sheerness trend in fashion, some wineries use a transparent cellophane covering that lets the cork show through; usually, the sheer look is found on special flange-top bottles, a fancy wine bottle with a protruding, flat lip at the top.
Whatever the material, we usually remove the entire capsule, for sanitary reasons, so that no wine can possibly come into contact with the covering. (That's one moment when we actually appreciate the old lead capsules they're easier to remove than the plastic ones!)
After removing the capsule (usually we use a small knife, which is part of many corkscrews), we wipe clean the top of the bottle with a damp cloth because sometimes the cork is dark with mold that developed under the capsule. (That's actually a good sign; it means that the wine has been stored in humid conditions. See Chapter 21 for information on humidity and other aspects of wine storage.)
Why is my cork blue?
Have you ever opened a bottle of wine and discovered that the "cork" is not cork at all, but plastic and brightly colored, to boot?
While we appreciate the touch of whimsy that an orange or blue cork contributes, we must admit that we are not fans of plastic corks. We can understand winemakers' disillusion with real cork, due to its potential to taint a wine with off-aromas. But if you're going to invent an alternative to cork, why invent yet another closure that sits in the bottle's neck as a rude barrier between wine drinkers and their wine; demands the same, complicated tool as a cork does; and can be even more difficult to remove? This is progress?
Instead of imitation cork, we'd prefer to see real screw caps on most wine bottles. For wines that are consumed young, as the majority of wines are, screw caps are perfectly sound closures, technically speaking.
Sometimes wine lovers just can't bring themselves to remove the whole capsule out of respect for the bottle of wine that they are about to drink. (In fact, traditional wine etiquette dictates that you do not remove the entire capsule.) Some wine drinkers use a handy gizmo called a foil cutter that sells for about $6 or $7 in wine shops, kitchen stores, or specialty catalogs. The problem is that the foil cutter does not cut the foil (or the lead capsule) low enough, in our opinion, to prevent wine from dripping over the edge of the foil into your glass. If you want to leave the capsule on, cut the foil with a knife under the second lip of the bottle, which is approximately three-fourths of an inch below the top of the bottle.
Getting the Cork Out
Corkophobia or not, anyone can conquer most corks with a good corkscrew.
We suspect it's probably wise not to mention that we actually use three different corkscrews, each for certain situations, or that there are some corkscrews we would use only in desperation, as a last resort before drinking screw-top or bag-in-a-box wine. We don't want to sound like snobs or fanatics. After all, who cares what kind of corkscrew you use as long as you can extract the cork and drink the wine?
We agree that getting to the wine is the important thing. But the voyage to the wine is much smoother sailing with a good corkscrew. And struggling over a puny piece of cork with a second-rate corkscrew surely will put you in a miserable mood before you even get to the wine.
The corkscrew not to use
The one corkscrew we absolutely avoid happens to be the most common type of corkscrew around. We don't like it for one very simple reason: It mangles the cork, almost guaranteeing that brown flakes will be floating in your glass of wine. (We also don't like it because it offends our sense of righteousness that an inferior product should be so popular.)
That corkscrew is the infamous Wing Type Corkscrew, a bright silver-colored, metal device that looks something like a pair of pliers; when you insert this corkscrew into a cork, two "wings" spread out from the side of the corkscrew. The major shortcoming of this device is its very short worm, or auger (the curly prong that bores into the cork), which is too short for many corks and overly aggressive on all of them. Unfortunately, the Wing Type is the most commonly found corkscrew in most stores. No wonder people have trouble with corks!
Rather than finding out the hard way that this corkscrew just doesn't cut it (or, literally, cuts it too much!), as we did, invest a few dollars in a decent corkscrew right off the bat. The time and hassle you'll save will be more than worth the investment. Of the many types of wine openers available, we recommend the three described in the following sections.
The corkscrew to buy
The one indispensable corkscrew for every household is the Screwpull. It was invented in the early 1980s by a renowned Houston scientist, Dr. Herbert Allen, who was apparently tired of having a ten-cent piece of cork get the better of him.
The Screwpull is about six inches long. It consists of an arched piece of plastic (which looks like a clothespin on steroids) straddling an inordinately long, five-inch worm that's coated with Teflon (see Figure 8-1). To use this corkscrew, you simply place the plastic over the bottle top (having removed the capsule), until a lip on the plastic is resting on the top of the bottle. Hold on to the plastic firmly while turning the lever atop the worm clockwise. The worm descends into the cork. Then you simply keep turning the lever in the same clockwise direction, and the cork magically emerges from the bottle. To remove the cork from the Screwpull, simply turn the lever counterclockwise while holding on to the cork.
Figure 8-1: The Screwpull corkscrew.
The Screwpull comes in many colors burgundy, black, and China red being the most common and costs in the $15 to $20 range in wine shops, kitchen stores, and specialty catalogs. It's very simple to use, does not require a lot of muscle, and is our corkscrew of choice for over 95 percent of the corks that we encounter. Other corkscrews worth owning
Did we say 95 percent? Well, you see, that's why we have two other corkscrews for the remaining 5 percent of the corks that the Screwpull can't remove (or threatens to break itself on; after all, it is mostly plastic, and $20 is $20). Flange-top bottles, for example, really challenge the Screwpull because of their unusual width at the top of the bottle.
Our two alternative corkscrews are smaller devices that besides working better now and then can conveniently fit into your pocket or apron. Their size is one reason that they are favored by servers in restaurants. The two-pronged type that they use in California
One is called, unofficially, the Ah-So because (according to legend, anyway) when people finally figure out how it works, they say, "Ah, so that's how it works!" (Some people also refer to it as the Butler's Friend, but who has a butler these days?)
It's a simple device made up of two thin, flat metal prongs, one slightly longer than the other (see Figure 8-2). To use it, you slide the prongs down into the tight space between the cork and the bottle (inserting the longer prong first), using a back-and-forth seesaw motion until the top of the Ah-So is resting on the top of the cork. Then you twist the cork while you gently pull it up.
Figure 8-2: The Ah-So corkscrew.
One advantage of the Ah-So is that it delivers an intact cork, without a hole in it, that can be reused to close bottles of homemade vinegar, to maintain the integrity of the cork for collectors, or to make cutesy bulletin boards.
Although more difficult to operate than the Screwpull, the Ah-So really comes into its own with very tight-fitting corks when no other corkscrews, including the Screwpull, seem to be able to budge the cork. Also, the Ah-So can be effective with old, crumbly corks in which other corkscrews cannot get a proper grip.
The Ah-So is useless with loose corks that move around in the bottle neck when you try to remove them. The Ah-So just pushes those corks down into the wine. At that point, you'll need another tool called a cork retriever (which we describe in the "Waiter, there's cork in my wine!" section, later in this chapter).
The Ah-So sells for around $6 to $8. It seems to be especially favored in California for no particular reason that we have ever been able to figure out. The most professional corkscrew of them all
Our final recommended corkscrew, probably the most commonly used corkscrew in restaurants all over the world, is simply called the Waiter's Corkscrew. A straight metal base holds three other pieces of metal that fold into it, like a Swiss Army Knife: a lever; a small, two-inch worm; and a little knife (see Figure 8-3). The latter is especially handy for removing the capsule from the bottle.
Figure 8-3: The Waiter's Corkscrew.
Using the Waiter's Corkscrew requires some practice. (Could that be another reason for corkophobia?) First, wrap a fist around the top of the bottle. The trick then is to guide the worm down through the center of the cork through an opening in your fist so that the worm goes right through the middle of the cork. After the worm is fully descended into the cork, place the lever on the lip of the bottle and push against the lever while lifting the cork up. Give a firm pull at the very end or wiggle the bottom of the cork out with your hand.
If your cork ever breaks and part of it gets stuck in the neck of the bottle, the Waiter's Corkscrew is indispensable for removing the remaining piece. Use the method we just described, but insert the worm at a 45-degree angle instead. In most cases, you will successfully remove the broken cork.
The Waiter's Corkscrew sells for about $7. Waiter, there's cork in my wine!
Every now and then, even if you've used the right corkscrew and used it properly, you can still have pieces of cork floating in your wine. They can be tiny dry flakes that crumbled into the bottle, actual chunks of cork, or even the entire cork.
Before you start berating yourself for being a klutz, you should know that Floating Cork Syndrome has happened to all of us at one time or another, no matter how experienced we are. Cork won't harm the wine. And besides, there's a wonderful instrument called a cork retriever (no, it's not a small dog from the south of Ireland!) available in specialty stores and in catalogs, although it's considerably more difficult to find than a corkscrew.
The cork retriever consists of three ten-inch pieces of stiff metal wire with hooks on the ends. This device is remarkably effective in removing floating pieces of cork from the bottle. We have even removed a whole cork from the neck with a cork retriever (fearing the whole time that the bottle neck would explode when we tried to force the cork and the retriever back up through that tiny neck).
What genius thought of using corks in the first place?
We confess to not knowing the name of the genius who first closed a bottle of wine with a piece of cork, but we believe that the French monk, Dom Pérignon, was the genius who popularized the cork as a closure for Champagne.
It was a stroke of genius that endures to this day. The bark of the cork tree has enviable properties such as compressibility (which enables the cork to be squeezed into the tiny neck of a bottle) and elasticity (which enables it to expand again and hug that tiny neck from the inside) that make it nearly ideal for keeping the air out of wine bottles and keeping the wine in for long periods of time.
But corks aren't perfect for two reasons: They can sometimes develop a moldiness that spoils the wine, and they are a frustrating barrier between us and the wine. For wines that are intended to be consumed young like most white wines a screw cap would be less risky, simpler to remove, and just as effective in keeping out the air. But traditions die hard, and the cork will probably be the closure of choice even on young wines for some time to come.
Alternatively, you can just pick out the offending piece(s) of cork with a spoon after you pour the wine into your glass. (That's one occasion when it's rude to serve your guest first, because the first glass has more cork pieces in it.) Or you can pour the wine through a paper coffee filter (preferably rinsed with hot water, to remove the chemicals) into a decanter or pitcher to catch the remaining pieces of cork. A Special Case: Opening Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Opening a bottle of sparkling wine is often an exciting occasion. Who doesn't enjoy the ceremony of a cold glass of bubbly? Is there a more festive beverage in the world? If there is, we haven't found it. Forget how the victors do it in locker rooms
Part of the fun of sparkling wine for us is in the opening. If the bottle has just traveled, though, let it rest for a while, preferably a day. Controlling the cork is difficult when the carbonation has been stirred up. (Hey, you wouldn't open a large bottle of soda that's warm and shaken up, either, would you? Sparkling wine has much more carbonated pressure than soda, and so it needs more time to settle down.)
If you're in the midst of a sparkling wine emergency and need to open the bottle anyway, one quick solution is to calm down the carbonation by submerging the bottle in an ice bucket for 20 to 30 minutes. (Fill the bucket with one-half ice cubes and one-half ice-cold water.)
In any case, be careful when you remove the wire cage, which is twisted around the top of the bottle, helping to hold the cork in place. (We have a hole in our kitchen ceiling from one encounter with a flying cork.) As a precaution, keep one hand on top of the cork while removing the wire and be sure to point the bottle away from people and other fragile objects.
Never, ever use a corkscrew on a bottle of sparkling wine. The pressure of the trapped carbonation, when suddenly released, could send the cork and corkscrew flying right into your eye. A sigh is better than a pop
If you like to hear the sparkling wine pop, just yank the cork out. When you do that, however, you'll lose some of the precious wine, which will froth out of the bottle top as foam. Also, the noise could interfere with your guests' conversation. Besides, it ain't too classy!
Removing the cork from sparkling wine with just a gentle sigh rather than a loud pop is fairly easy. Simply hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle with a towel wrapped around it if it's wet. (Try positioning the base of the bottle on your hipbone.) Twist the bottle while holding on to the cork so that you can control the cork as it emerges. When you feel the cork starting to come out of the bottle, push down against the cork with some pressure as if you don't want to let it out of the bottle. In this way, the cork will emerge slowly with a hissing or sighing sound rather than a pop.
Every once in a while, you'll come across a really tight cork that doesn't want to budge. Try running the top of the bottle under warm water for a minute or two, or wrapping a towel around it to create friction. Either one of these actions usually loosens the cork enough for you to remove it.
Or you could purchase some fancy gadget resembling a pair of pliers (there are actually three gadgets: Champagne Pliers, a Champagne Star, and a Champagne Key) that you place around the part of the cork that's outside the bottle. (Sparkling wine corks have a mushroom-shaped head that protrudes from the bottle.) Or you could probably try using regular pliers, although lugging in the toolbox will surely change the mood of the occasion.
The good doctor makes a bubbly bumble
We'll never forget a party that a doctor friend of ours threw to celebrate his baby girl's birth. At an appropriate moment with all the guests watching, he clamped the Champagne bottle between his legs to remove the cork. The cork popped out with more gusto than he anticipated, propelling the bottle backward through his legs and across the floor in a zig-zag motion, spilling Champagne everywhere. We were all on the verge of laughter until his disapproving stepmother proclaimed chillingly, "You don't know how to do anything right, do you?" Our friend stood there with a frozen grin on his face. Does Wine Really Breathe?
Most wine is alive in the sense that it changes chemically as it slowly grows older. Wine absorbs oxygen and, like our own cells, it oxidizes. When the grapes turn into wine in the first place, they give off carbon dioxide, just like us. So we suppose you could say that wine breathes, in a sense.
But that's not what the server means when he asks, "Shall I pull the cork and let the wine breathe, sir (or madam)?" The term breathing usually refers to the process of aerating the wine, exposing it to air. Sometimes a wine that is very young will display an enhanced aroma or flavor if it is aerated. But just pulling the cork out of the bottle and letting the bottle sit there is a truly ineffective way to aerate the wine. The little space at the neck of the bottle is way too small to allow your wine to breathe very much. How to aerate your wine
If you really want to aerate your wine, do one or both of the following:
Pour the wine into a decanter (a fancy word for a container usually glass that is big enough to hold the contents of an entire bottle of wine).
Pour the wine into large glasses at least ten minutes before you plan to drink it.
Practically speaking, it doesn't matter what your decanter looks like or how much it costs. In fact, the very inexpensive, wide-mouthed carafes are fine. For example, low-priced Paul Masson-brand wines come in such decanters. Which wines need aerating?
Many red wines but only a few white wines and some dessert wines can benefit from aeration. Most white wines can be consumed upon pouring, unless they're too cold, but that's a discussion for later. Young, tannic red wines
Young red wines, especially those that are high in tannin (see Chapter 2 for more on tannin) such as Cabernet Sauvignons, many red Zinfandels, Bordeaux, many wines from the Rhône Valley, and many Italian wines actually taste better with aeration because their tannins soften and the wine becomes less harsh.
The younger and more tannic the wine is, the more time it needs to breathe. As a general rule, most tannic, young red wines soften up with one hour of aeration. A glaring exception to the one-hour rule would be many young Barolos or Barbarescos (red wines from Piedmont, Italy, which you can read about in Chapter 11); these wines are frequently so tannic that they can practically stand up by themselves without a decanter. They often can benefit from three or four hours of aeration. Older red wines with sediment
Many red wines develop sediment (tannin and other particles in the wine that solidify over time and drop to the bottom of the bottle), usually after about eight years of age. The sediment can taste a bit bitter (remember, it's tannin). Also, the dark particles floating in your wine, usually near the bottom of your glass, don't look very appetizing.
To remove sediment, keep the bottle of wine standing upright at least a day or two before you plan to open it so that the sediment settles at the bottom of the bottle. Then decant the wine into a decanter: Pour the wine out of the bottle slowly while watching the wine inside the bottle as it approaches the neck. You watch the wine so that you can stop pouring when you see cloudy wine from the bottom of the bottle making its way to the neck.
To actually see the wine inside the bottle as you pour, you need to have a bright light shining up through the bottle's neck. Candles are commonly used for this purpose, and they are romantic, but a flashlight standing on end works even better. (It's brighter, and it doesn't flicker.) Stop pouring the wine into the decanter when you reach the sediment, which should be toward the bottom of the bottle.
The older the wine, the more delicate it can be. Don't give old, fragile-looking wines excessive aeration. (Look at the color of the wine through the bottle before you decant; if it looks pale, the wine could be pretty far along its maturity curve.) The flavors of really old wines will start fading rapidly after 10 or 15 minutes of being exposed to air. Remember what happened to the people who left the Hidden Valley of Shangri-La in Lost Horizon? They withered into wizened ancients in a matter of minutes!
If the wine needs more aeration after decanting (that is, it still tastes a bit harsh), let it breathe in the open decanter. If the wine has a dark color, chances are that it is still quite youthful and will need to breathe more. Conversely, if the wine has a brick red or garnet color, it probably has matured and might not need much more aeration.
A few white wines
Some very good, dry white wines such as full-bodied white Burgundies and white Bordeaux wines, as well as the best Alsace whites also get better with aeration. For example, if you open up a young Corton-Charlemagne (a great white Burgundy) and it doesn't seem to be showing much aroma or flavor, chances are that it needs aeration. Decant it and try it again in a half hour. (If the room is relatively cool, no need to put the decanter in the refrigerator.) In most cases, your wine will improve dramatically.
One of the most famous fortified wines is vintage Port (properly called "Porto"). We discuss this wine and others like it in more detail in Chapter 16.
For now, we'll just say that, yes, vintage Port needs breathing lessons, very much so indeed! Young vintage Ports are so brutally tannic that they demand many hours of aeration (eight would not be too much). Even older Ports will improve with four hours or more of aeration. Older vintage Ports require decanting, also, because they are chock-full of sediment (often, filling the bottom 10 percent of the bottle). Keep vintage Ports standing for several days before you open them.
Exceptions to the "decant your red wines and Ports" rule
The exceptions prove the rule. The majority of red wines you drink do not require decanting, aeration, or any other special preparation other than pulling the cork out and having a glass handy.
The following red wines do not need decanting:
Lighter-bodied, less tannic red wines, such as Pinot Noirs, Burgundies, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhônes; lighter red Zinfandels; and lighter-bodied Italian reds, such as Dolcettos, Barberas, and lighter Chiantis. These wines don't have much tannin and, therefore, don't need much aeration.
Inexpensive (less than $8) red wines. Same reason as preceding.
Tawny ports in fact, any other Ports except vintage Ports. These wines should be free from sediment (which stayed behind in the barrels where the wine aged) and are ready to drink when you pour them.
Does the Glass Really Matter?
If you are just drinking wine as refreshment with your meal and you are not thinking about the wine much as it goes down, the glass you use probably doesn't matter in the least. A jelly glass? Why not? Plastic glasses? We've used them dozens of times on picnics, not to mention in airplanes (where the wine's quality doesn't demand great glasses, anyway).
But if you have a good wine, a special occasion, friends who want to talk about the wine with you, or the boss for dinner, stemware (glasses with stems) is called for. And it's not just a question of etiquette and status: Good wine will taste better out of good glasses. Really.
Compare wine glasses to stereo speakers. Any old speaker brings the music to your ears, just like any old glass brings the wine to your lips. But (assuming that you can tell the difference and that you care to notice it) can't you appreciate the sound so much more, aesthetically and emotionally, from good speakers? The same principle holds true with wine and wine glasses. You can appreciate wine's aroma and flavor complexities so much more out of a fine wine glass. The medium is the message. First, the right color
Unless you're playing some kind of perverse game on your wine expert friends, your wine glasses should be clear. (It's okay for jelly glasses to have pictures of the Flintstones on them, as long as the background is clear.) Those pretty pink or green glasses may look nice in Aunt Betty's china cabinet, but they mess up your ability to distinguish the true colors of the wine. Those opaque black glasses that were popular a while ago may be appropriate for a devil-worshipping ceremony, but certainly not for wine appreciation. Now the size, thickness, and shape
Believe it or not (we didn't always), the taste of a wine changes when you drink the wine out of different types of glasses. A riot almost broke out at one wine event we organized because the tasters thought we served them different wines in each glass and that we had just pretended that it was the same wine, to fool them so different did the wine taste in different glasses. We learned that three aspects of a glass are important: its size, its shape, and the thickness of the glass.
For dry red and white wine, small glasses are anathema besides that, they're a pain in the neck. You just can't swirl the wine around in those little glasses without spilling it, which makes appreciating the aroma of the wine almost impossible. And furthermore, who wants to bother continually refilling them? Small glasses can work adequately only for sherries or dessert wines, which have strong aromas to begin with and are generally consumed in smaller quantities than table wines. But in most cases, larger is usually better.
For red wines, your glass should hold a minimum of 12 ounces; many of the best glasses have capacities ranging from 16 to 24 ounces, or more.
For white wines, 10 to 12 ounces should be the minimum capacity.
For sparkling wines, a capacity ranging from 8 to 12 ounces is fine.
Thickness and shape
Very thin, fine crystal costs a lot more than normal, thick glass. That's one reason why many people don't use it (and one reason why some people do).
The better reason for using fine crystal is that the wine tastes better out of it. We're not sure whether the elegant crystal simply heightens the aesthetic experience of the wine drinking or whether there's some more scientific reason.
Tulips, flutes, balloons, and other picturesque wine-glass names
You thought that a tulip was a flower and a flute was a musical instrument? Well, the tulip also happens to be the name of the ideally shaped glass for sparkling wine (see Figure 8-4). It is tall, elongated, and more narrow at the rim than in the middle of the bowl. This shape helps hold the bubbles in the wine longer, not allowing them to escape freely (the way the wide-mouthed, sherbet-cuplike, so-called champagne glasses do).
The flute is also a good sparkling wine glass because of its narrow, elongated shape (see Figure 8-5); but it is less ideal than the tulip because it does not narrow at the mouth. The trumpet actually widens at the mouth, making it less suitable for sparkling wine but very elegant looking.
The balloon glass is ideal for aerating many red wines, such as Burgundies, Barolos, and so on, because of its ample shape.
An oval-shaped bowl that is narrow at its mouth is ideal for many red wines, such as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Chiantis, and Zinfandels. On the other hand, some red wines, such as Burgundies, Pinot Noirs, and Barolos, are best appreciated in wider-bowled, apple-shaped glasses.
Half empty or half full?
"Fill 'er up" might be fine for your service station attendant, but not for the person pouring the wine. It always annoys us when servers fill our glasses to the top. We guess they don't want to bother repouring the wine too often. Or maybe they want to give us our money's worth. But how can we stick our noses into full glasses without looking like idiots? Once a kid at a nearby table blurted out, "Look, Mom, that man is drinking with his nose!"
To leave some margin of safety for swirling and smelling the wine, fill the glass only partially. One-third capacity, at the most, is the best fill-level for serious red wines. (This goes back to that idea of aerating the wine.) White wine glasses can be filled halfway, while sparkling wines can be three-quarters full. On the other hand, if you're using paper cups or jelly glasses, you might as well "fill 'er up."
How many glasses do I need, anyway?
So what's a wine lover to do: Buy different glasses for each kind of wine? Fortunately, some all-purpose red and white wine glasses combine the best features of all glasses. And you don't have to pay a fortune for decent wine glasses. A company called St. George Crystal makes crystal glasses in all sizes and shapes that sell for $3 to $4 a glass. They are available in most wine stores.
If you want something finer, try Riedel Crystal. Riedel is an Austrian glass manufacturer that specializes in making the right wine glass for each kind of wine. Riedel has done a good deal of research to discover which glass shapes are best suited for major types of wine, for example, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chardonnay, Champagne, and so on.
Riedel produces three lines of wine glasses: the relatively inexpensive ($8 or $9 per glass) Overture series, the medium-priced ($17 to $24 per glass) Vinum series, and its state-of-the-art, hand-blown Sommelier glasses for serious connoisseurs (at $35 to $60 a glass, you'd better be serious!). Riedel is widely available in catalogs and in wine stores.
The more you care to pay attention to the flavor of the wine, the more you really and truly appreciate and enjoy wine from a good wine glass. If you just don't have an ear for music, that's okay, too.
Washing your crystal glasses
Detergents often leave a filmy residue in glasses, which can affect the aroma and flavor of your wine. We strongly advise that you clean your good crystal glasses by hand, using washing soda or baking soda (washing soda is the better of the two; it doesn't cake up, like baking soda). Neither product leaves any soapy, filmy residue in your glass. Washing soda can be found in the soap/detergent section of supermarkets. Buy the least expensive store brand. It won't have any added, perfumey aromas.
Serving Wine Not Too Warm, Not Too Cold
Just as the right glass will enhance your wine experience, serving wine at the ideal temperature is a vital factor in your enjoyment of wine. Frequently, we have tasted the same wine at different temperatures (and, believe it or not, at different barometric pressures) and have loved the wine on one occasion but disliked it the other time!
Most red wines are at their best at cool room temperature, 62° to 65°F (16° to 18°C). Once upon a time, in drafty old English and Scottish castles, that was simply room temperature (actually it was probably warm, high noon room temperature!). Today when you hear room temperature, you think of a room that's about 70°F (21°C), don't you? Red wine served at this temperature can taste flat, flabby, lifeless, and often too hot a burning sensation from the alcohol.
Fifteen or 20 minutes in the fridge will do wonders to revive red wines that have been suffering from heat prostration. But don't let the wine get too cold. Red wines served too cold taste overly tannic and acidic, decidedly unpleasant. Light, fruity red wines, such as Beaujolais, are most delightful when served slightly chilled at about 58° to 60°F (14° to 15.5°C).
Are you wondering how to know when your bottle is 58° to 60°F? You could buy a nifty digital thermometer that wraps around the outside of the bottle and gives you a color-coded reading. Or you could buy something that looks like a real thermometer that you place into the opened bottle (in the wine's mouth, you might say). We have both of those, and we never use them. Just feel the bottle with your hand and take a guess. Practice makes perfect.
Just as many red wines are served too warm, most white wines are definitely served too cold, judging by the service that we have received in many restaurants. The higher the quality of a white wine, the less cold it should be so that you can properly appreciate its flavor.
Fine white wines are best between 58° and 62°F (14° and 16.5°C).
Simpler, inexpensive, quaffing-type white wines are best served colder, between 50° and 55°F (10° and 12.8°C).
Rosés and blush wines can be served at the same temperature as inexpensive white wines.
Inexpensive sweet wines should be served cold, similar to inexpensive dry white wines.
Finer dessert wines, such as a good Sauternes or Port, taste their best at the same temperature as better white wines (for Sauternes, 58° to 62°F, 14° to 16.5°C) and better red wines (for Port, 62° to 65°F, 16° to 18°C).
Champagnes and sparkling wines are at their best when cold, about 45°F (7°C).
To avoid the problem of warm bubbly, keep an ice bucket handy. Or put the bottle back in the refrigerator between pourings.
Storing Leftover Wine
A sparkling-wine stopper, a device that fits over the opened bottle and keeps it closed, is really effective in keeping any remaining Champagne or sparkling wine fresh (often for several days) in the refrigerator. But what do you do when you have red or white wine left in the bottle?
You can put the cork back in the bottle if it still fits, and put the bottle into the refrigerator. (Even red wines will stay fresher there; just take the bottle out to warm up an hour or so before serving it.) But three other methods are more reliable in keeping your remaining wine from oxidizing:
If you have about half a bottle of wine left, you can simply pour the wine into a clean, empty half-sized wine bottle and recork the smaller bottle. We sometimes buy wines in half-bottles, just to make sure that we have the empty half-bottles around.
There is a handy, inexpensive, miniature pump that you can buy in any wine store, called a Vac-U-Vin. This pump removes the oxygen from the bottle, and the rubber stoppers that come with it keep additional oxygen from entering the bottle. It's supposed to keep your wine fresh for up to a week, but it doesn't work with all wines.
You can buy small cans of inert gas in some wine stores. Just squirt a few shots of the gas into the bottle through a skinny straw, which comes with the can, and put the cork back in the bottle. The gas acts as a layer between the wine and the oxygen in the bottle, thus protecting the wine from oxidizing. Simple and effective. Private Preserve is one of the better brands; it is highly recommended.
An aside about atmospheric pressure
File this under FYI ("For Your Information") or maybe under "Believe It or Not."
A few years ago, we were enjoying one of our favorite red wines, an Italian Barbera, in the Alps. It was a perfect summer day in the mountains crisp, clear, and cool. The wine was also perfect absolutely delicious with our salami, bread, and cheese. A couple of days later, we had the very same wine at the seashore, on a cloudy, humid, heavy-pressure day. The wine was heavy, flat, and lifeless. What had happened to our wonderful mountain wine? We made inquiries among some of our wine-drinking friends and discovered that they had had similar experiences. For red wines, at least, atmospheric pressure apparently influences the taste of the wine: thin, light pressure, for the better; heavy pressure, heavy humidity, for the worse. So the next time one of your favorite red wines doesn't seem quite right, check the air pressure! Believe it or not.
To avoid all this bother, just drink the wine! Or, if you're not too fussy, just place the leftover wine in the refrigerator and drink it in the next day or two before it goes into a coma.
From Wine For Dummies, by Ed McCarthy, et al. ©September 1998, Hungry Minds, Inc used by permission.