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Enhancing Your Enjoyment

Wine enjoyment need not be complicated or intimidating. A quick pull of a cork or twist of a cap livens any friendly gathering, complements meals or refreshes the soul on a hot day. These experiences easily provide a lifetime of wine enjoyment, but they also serve as a pathway to even greater wine passion and appreciation.

With a little preparation and taste for adventure, you may discover wine’s impact on the senses, recognize regional nuances, taste wine like a pro and share that appreciation with others. So sit back and begin a journey to energize your wine enjoyment, from the minute you select that curious vintage through the myriad techniques and tools to explore its many dimensions.


Face it: Flavor is the goal, and a variety of factors constantly push against or cooperate with wine. Weather, handling methods and even your own storage—long before you drink the wine—can be the difference between the flavor the winemaker achieved and the one that hits your glass. A most important variable is a wine’s serving temperature, and it affects the package of flavors that open on your palate. Yes, some rely on the adage that white wines are best served cold and red wines are best at room temperature, but that’s not always the case. Lighter wines with higher levels of acidity and fruit deliver mouthwatering, juicy flavor when chilled. Fuller-bodied wines with lower acidity and a collection of secondary flavors from oak, aging and other treatments better reveal their complexity when they are closer to room temperature.

Fruity, unoaked white wines—such as Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño—are best at the coolest temperatures. Even so, they benefit from warming a few degrees after emerging from the fridge. Likewise, light red wines such as Beaujolais deserve a light chilling to best express their light, berry notes. Meanwhile, full-bodied whites, such as oak-aged Chardonnay, only need a light chill, as excessive cold may block some quite interesting and exciting secondary flavors. Complex, full-bodied reds deserve warmer treatment (around 65 degrees) and will appear “flabby” (too little acidity) if served too warm.

For example, you might chill a full-bodied Chardonnay in the refrigerator, remove it 20 minutes prior to drinking to achieve a good temperature and then discover that it “opens” as it warms a bit more or degrades as it gets too warm. A light red or rosé, on the other hand, might improve if chilled a few minutes before drinking. Experimentation will help you discover the range that works best for any given wine.

Plan accordingly so your wine is ready to drink when you are. In a pinch, however, white wines chill most quickly if placed into a bucket of ice water. Liquid is the quickest conductor, so don’t forget the water; ice alone takes longer. This process will help red wines stored at temperatures above 65 degrees as well. Warming up reds that have just emerged from the wine cellar may be more difficult, so it is probably best to warm them gradually in a decanter or even in the glass.

At a restaurant, getting a wine to the right temperature can prove challenging. Usually, white wines are sufficiently chilled and can simply warm up naturally in the glass, if necessary. However, red wines served at an unpleasantly warm temperature are difficult to chill once poured in a glass.

At the right temperature, some wines are ready to pour directly into the glass, but some demand a bit more pampering in a decanter. In addition to providing a fancy serving method, decanting has some practical applications.

First, decanting reduces the potential of a gritty—although not dangerous—sediment ending up in your glass or on your palate. Accordingly, wines that “throw a deposit” of sediment that naturally precipitates out of the wine over time should be decanted. Red wines with bottle age and red wines unfiltered before bottling are prime decanting candidates. Bigger, deeper red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, as well as older wines, are more likely to throw a deposit than young, light wines such as Beaujolais. While not all unfiltered wines contain deposits, it is a good idea to decant any red wine you know is unfiltered—information you can sometimes find on the label or winery’s Web site.

Before decanting, wines should rest in an upright position for a day or so to allow any suspended solids to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Upon opening, gently pour the wine into the decanter, keeping any sediment below the neck of the bottle and out of the decanter. Use sufficient lighting to see through the bottle and keep an eye on the sediment. You may need to leave a bit of wine in the bottle to avoid pouring sediment into the decanter.

In addition to sediment management, decanting provides the important function of allowing wines—mostly red—to breathe before serving. Particularly beneficial for big, complex red wines with high tannin levels, air exposure allows flavors to open up, soften and integrate before entering your glass. In fact, without decanting, even some excellent wines will exhibit little flavor and prove disappointing. Depending on the wine, decanting times can range from 20 minutes to several hours for really concentrated and intense red wines, such as a premium Bordeaux or an intensely tannic Shiraz from Australia. Younger wines benefit from longer decanting, and older wines—with the benefit of bottle age—require shorter decanting.

Testing wines as the decanting proceeds is important, particularly for older wines. Really old wines—those with a decade or more of bottle age—may quickly degrade and lose flavor from even few minutes of oxygen exposure. For these wines, decant to remove any deposits but carefully monitor them to ensure you consume them in their best possible condition. Over-decanting—leaving wine in a decanter overnight or for days—can ruin any wine and create vinegar-like flavors.

Decanters come in a wide range of shapes and sizes—from a basic glass pitcher to complex designs that make a lovely presentation. But most important, decanters should possess a wide base to allow a large surface area for the wine to connect with oxygen. Opening a bottle to let it breathe or decanting with a similarly closed bottle is not particularly effective, as little wine surface area contacts the air. Also consider your ability to easily clean the decanter, which makes the case for a wide opening on the top with easy access to the bottom.

So, you’ve opened, reached optimum temperature and decanted the wine. It is ready to drink, but what type of glass should you use? The dizzying number of styles on the market are enough to overwhelm even the most ambitious shopper. The good news is, while you consider a few basic principles, most wine is enjoyable in a basic glass with a stem. However, there is glassware on the market, such as Riedel, designed to improve the flavor profile of the wine. Still, expert wine tastings worldwide usually use a standard glass approved by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine for both red and white wines. Accordingly called the “INAO glass,” it is a stout, relatively small and skinny glass with an egg-shaped bowl that sits atop a short stem.

Yet it is often fun to enjoy wine in something a bit more elaborate. One critical consideration is glass color. Clear glasses ensure the wine is visible for color evaluation, which conveys information about the wine’s condition and also reveals its beauty. Second, the stem offers a place to hold the glass without warming the wine and keeps fingerprints and smudges off the bowl. However, stem-free “tumblers” are now a fashionable style that some wine lovers enjoy. Many also prefer a thin rim, which enhances sensations on the lips and tongue when sipping.Some say that the shape of a glass affects the release of wine aromas, with different shapes suited for specific wine styles. It is particularly important that the glass is large enough to allow space for swirling to introduce air to the wine when the glass is about one-third full. An egg-like shape with the bowl larger than the opening allows aromas to collect in the glass, while tulip-shaped glasses help concentrate aromas at the top.

Flute-shaped glasses are best for maintaining bubbles in sparkling wine, as they have a smaller surface area from which the carbon dioxide gas may escape. Glasses with large bowls allow a greater surface area and are perfect for wines that benefit from oxygen exposure, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot-dominated red wines from Bordeaux, premium Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand, or Syrah from the Rhône and Australia. White wines are often placed in smaller glasses to maintain a cool temperature.

Several wine glass makers—such as Riedel—have created a lineup of products to match different varietal wines and styles. These glasses are certainly beautiful and elegant, which alone is good enough reason for many consumers to use them.

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