Lesson 3 Objectives: This lesson teaches 3 simple tricks that can help you bring the best attributes out of a bottle of wine and have a "better tasting wine".
Three quick and easy methods to make your wine taste better
Wine is volatile and has a life of its own. It reacts to temperature, air, and light. We can make our wine tastes better in 3 simple ways:
(1) Serving it at the “optimal” temperature:
Though it is common wisdom that red wines are to be served at room temperature and white wines chilled, this will not give you the best wine tasting.
A bottle of wine opens up and releases its richest bouquet of aromas at a particular temperature. This particular temperature differs for each wine, depending on the grape variety and region. For example, a rich, intense Bordeaux could be served 2-3 degree below room temperature (~65°F); but a light, fruity red such as Beaujolais is best serve at least 10 degree (~54°F) below room temperature.
Typical temperature for storing red wine ranges from 52ºF – 65ºF, and 45ºF- 50ºF for white wines. For serving tips and specific serving temperature (and for Celsius temperature chart), please refer to our wine temperature chart.
(2) “Properly” aerating and decanting the wine:
Though commonly used as synonym of each other, aerating and decanting serve two different purposes. Aerating is to breathe a bottle of wine by exposing it to air; whereas decanting is to filter sediment.
Aeration (airing) is the best way to open up young wines. It can make younger wines more balanced and smoother by softening tannins. In addition, airing reduces the high carbon dioxide level often found in young wines and the accompanying odor that masks their true aroma. Most reds improve greatly with aeration; for example, young Cabernet Sauvignon and Barolo.
Though it is most commonly done on red wines, aeration has similar positive effects on younger white wines. It can improve their expression, harmony, and smoothness. For example, it can further open up a Chennin, Burgundy, and even Chardonnay, revealing their true fruitiness and complex personality.
The key to aeration is timing! A young, intense, tannic red might need up to 2 hours to open up. An hour is great for a mature, full bodied, complex red. As for aged wines (older than 15 years), they are highly volatile. Do not aerate them for more than minutes!
Uncorking a bottle of wine and letting it sit for an hour is surely the worst way to aerate the wine. Not only can you not drink the wine for an hour, the method is ineffective. Even after many hours, the narrow bottleneck still prevents much air from opening up the wine.
There are more effective ways to aerate a wine:
Most wine lovers use a decanter and an aerating funnel. A decanter is a glass pitcher with a wide opening. The increased surface area allows faster aeration. The use of an aerating funnel will eliminate spilling and better air the wine in the pouring process. You can find picture of an aerating funnel in the left column.
The faster way (though not the most traditional) is with the use of an electronic aerator. A battery-powered steel rod is inserted into the wine bottle, stirring and making the wine collide with air.
If you are not in a hurry to drink your bottle, there is always the no-accessory-required wine glass method. Just let the wine aerate slowly in your glass.
- Most wines would benefit from aeration.
- Wines with high tannin level require more aeration time. For example, it is best to aerate a young Cabernet Sauvignon for at least an hour.
- For very old, fragile wine, aroma can be fleeting and volatile. A special decanter is required to avoid over interaction with air.
- Aeration can remove “bottle stink” – the odor that is apparent when the bottle is opened but disappears quickly once aired.
- If you do not have any good, handy aerating accessories, try to maximize the pouring distance from the bottle to the glass (without spilling it). This will better air the wine.
A quick note on decanting and sediment:
Contrary to popular beliefs, wines with sediments are not necessarily bad wines.
Rather, mass-market brands and lower-priced wines are often filtered to reduce sediments. Higher quality wines, on the other hands, are lightly (or not at all) filtered. Degree of sediment also depends on grapes: Pinot Noir and Grenache for example will have little sediment. Dark, full-bodied grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can start shredding sediment in couple years.
The traditional way of decanting is to hold a candle in one hand and pour the wine into a decanter in a steady pouring motion. Stop pouring when sediment is observed. Depending on the vintage year and grape variety, 1-1.5 inch of the bottle may not be consumed.
Decanting nowadays can be easily done with the help of an aerating funnel with a filter. Pouring wine down the funnel not only aerates the wine but also removes undesired sediments – which is why aerating and decanting are becoming interchanging terms these days.
- Leave a bottle upright for at least 24-36 hours in advance of serving.
- For aged and fragile wine, aroma can be fleeting and volatile. A special type of decanter is required to avoid exposing the wine to too much air.
(3) Use complementary wine glasses:
The first two steps change the nature of the wine, making it better. The third step enhances the way we conduct wine tasting, thus making it better.
Wine glasses help us better taste wine. Innovators like Claus Josef Riedel had spent years perfecting the shape and size of the wine glasses so that they can direct the wine to the right sensors on the tongue and funnel the aroma up to the nose. For example, larger wine glasses are better for red wines with strong aromas and complex personality. Wine glasses with smaller rim and volume are better for white wines with more delicate aromas; they can better concentrate the aromas and reduce aerating surface area.
Many wine lovers go all out with an extensive collection of wine glasses, each wine glass designed for a specific type of wine. If you don't want to spend a fortune on wine glasses, try the multi-purpose wine glasses that are designed to serve varietals.
Wine Glass Tips:
- Hold wine glasses by the stems to avoid warming the wine.
- Use bigger wine glasses for red wines; and smaller ones for white.
- When pouring wine into red glass, stop at the widest part of the glass. This will ensure the optimal aeration (with maximum surface area). In addition, you can swirl the wine without spilling it.
Don’t underestimate the power of serving temperature, aeration, and wine glass. They allow the best wine tasting by bringing the best aromas (and taste) out of the wines. Afterall, 90% of wine tasting come from smell!