Looking to improve your wine game? From chilling, to decanting, to navigating a restaurant wine list, here are five tips that save time, money, or simply elevate your wine drinking experience.
5. Chill Your Whites Rapidly.
You’ve got guests coming who will be eager for an aperitif, but your white wines are still in the grocery bag. The solution is not the freezer or ice cubes in your glass, but a salt water bath. If you’ve got an ice bucket, fill it with water and a few tablespoons of salt. Add ice cubes. Then, the wines. If you don’t have a bucket, plug your kitchen sink. The ice creates a freezing cold bath, and liquid draws heat from the wine better than solid cubes. The salt lowers the freezing point of the ice water, allowing it to become even colder, resulting in faster chilling. Finally, gently spin the bottle in the water every few minutes which helps expose all sides of the glass to the cooling bath. The result: wine chilled in 10-15 minutes instead of an hour.
4. Decant, Decant, Decant.
Few consumers use a decanter. Granted, many weeknight commercial wines won’t improve dramatically from it, but decanting isn’t only about the wine inside. It looks nice and classes up a casual dinner. That being said, the category of wines that benefit from the practice are broader than most think. Young tannic reds soften from the rapid oxygen exposure, while aeration improves the flavor of dry whites to vintage port. Cellared wines should be poured more carefully into the decanter, letting the wine slide down gently while avoiding sediment in the bottom of the carafe.
3. Clean a Decanter.
If you’re a fan of decanting wine (and if not, hopefully you’ll take a crack at it now), you’ll know that getting red stains from the bottom are practically impossible. The narrow neck doesn’t allow for direct cleaning and slender cleaning pipe is inadequate. Stealing a page from the coffee industry, try using the same cleaning powder employed by baristas at your local café. Urnex Cafiza Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder ($23) will descale and restore your glass to like-new. Add a teaspoon, swirl with water and let it sit a few hours or overnight. You can use it on all sorts of stubborn glass, too, like a coffee decanter such as Chemex or even a grimy flower vase.
2. Squeeze Value from a Wine List.
Whether handed a War and Peace like-tome or a one-page card, wine lists are daunting. They rarely provide information about the bottles, rather categorizing them by region or grape and sometimes price. Consequently, most patrons resort to ordering what they know – and wine directors know that. That’s why luxury brands like Silver Oak and Opus One are routinely overpriced. Same goes for that Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, or in general, Bordeaux and Burgundy. But if you’re willing to be adventurous, you’ll find value in lesser-known grapes and regions. Because they are less popular, beverage directors often place a lower mark-up on these wines to encourage people to try them. For regions, consider Sicily, Campania, Sardinia, or Marche in Italy. Look to Jura, Corsica, Languedoc and Roussillon in France. In Spain, try Ribeira Sacra, Bierzo or the Canary Islands. And if you tell the sommelier you’re open to new regions, you’ll not only get great value, you’ll get more enthusiastic service since they’re excited to help customers explore.
1. Improve Your Palate Through Comparative Tasting.
Novice wine drinkers frequently remain novice because they don’t take the time to sharpen their palate. A great way to understand wine is to understand the differences between grapes, styles and regions. And the best way to do that is through comparative tasting. How do you know Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied wine if you’ve never tasted it next to a more delicate Pinot Noir? How do you know Riesling has high acidity until you’ve tasted it next to a softer, rounder wine like Viognier? You’ll even start to understand terms like “soft and round” after tasting a sharp angular wine like Sauvignon Blanc next to one. Professionals and students don’t taste wine in isolation, they taste in flights to bring context. Fortunately, it’s a technique that’s easy to replicate at home.