Saturday, January 19, 2013

Should You Let the Wine "Breathe"?

The idea behind letting a wine “breathe” is that giving the wine some exposure to air before drinking may improve it.  The fancy name for this is “aeration.”  If you’ve ever noticed that a wine seems to change in the glass as you drink it, you’ve noticed the effect of aeration.  Here’s a guide to when and how to aerate your wine.

When and why should a wine be aerated? 

Aeration is not beneficial for every wine.  Exposing tannic wines (like a young Cabernet or Syrah) to oxygen softens the tannins and allows the wine to become more aromatic.  If you are drinking a young red wine with strong tannins, consider aerating or decanting.  Older reds don’t benefit as much from aeration, and can actually be harmed by it.  This is because older wines have already experienced a slow, gradual oxidation process, as the cork allows a small amount of air to circulate in and out of the bottle as the wine ages.  White wines do not usually benefit from aeration because the objective is primarily to soften the tannins, which white wines do not normally have.     

How do I aerate my wine? 

Some aeration happens naturally when wine is poured into a glass and swirled before tasting.  To further aerate a wine, you can decant it, which just means to pour it into a decanter, which is a pitcher specifically designed for wine.  The act of pouring introduces oxygen, and most decanters have a wide base that increases the amount of the wine’s surface area which is exposed to air.  To get the full benefit of decanting, let the wine sit in the decanter for at least 15 minutes.  Some young cabernets could even benefit from being left in a decanter for 30 minutes or an hour or more.

Just opening the bottle – “letting the bottle breathe” – does little to aerate the wine.  The tiny bottle opening and the small surface area of wine that’s exposed simply don’t create enough contact with the air to have any effect. 

There are also gadgets – aerators – designed to increase air exposure while the wine is being poured into glasses.   They provide a simpler and quicker alternative to decanting.  Sometimes these fit into the bottle neck, and sometimes you have to hold the aerator while pouring the wine through it and into the glass.  I strongly prefer models which fit into the neck of the bottle, as opposed to those you have to hold with your other hand while pouring – that’s just awkward.

The video I’ve linked below provides a few more tips on aeration from America’s Test Kitchen.  I own the Nuance WineFiner aerator she demonstrates in the video, and I love it.  If you don’t own an aerator or a decanter, fear not!  They have a few highly unorthodox suggestions that just might work for you…

So the next time you drink a bottle of red wine, aerate a glass or two (by decanting, by using an aerator, or by one of the methods recommended in the video) and leave the rest in the bottle.  Then taste and compare the results.  I think you’ll be impressed with the difference you taste!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Intro to French Wine at The Texas Wine School

I'll be teaching an Introduction to French Wine class on February 5 at The Texas Wine School!  Come join us and get a solid foundation in possibly the most important wine country in the world.

Class Overview and Details

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wine and Food Pairing Infographic

Wine and food pairing can be very complicated or very easy.  It can be complicated because there are lots of "rules" for what goes with what, and because the food you're trying to match may have multiple characteristics that point you in different wine directions.  (I'll talk more about the specific rules in another post.)  On the other hand, it's also easy, because if you like a pairing, do it, and don't worry what the rules say.

I've devised a chart to help with the complicated part.  (Click on it for a larger image.)  It takes the basic wine elements of alcohol, sugar, acid, and tannin, and matches them up with food characteristics:  fat, salt, acid, spice, bitterness, and sweetness.  Start with either the food or the wine, and read across or down the chart to see how well the characteristics will match up, from awful, to pretty good, to really amazing.  I've added notes in some of the boxes to explain the theory behind the rating of that pairing, or to suggest examples of great food and wine matches.  Specific wines that fit the description of that row are listed on the right.

As the chart suggests, the most versatile wine to pair with food is one with medium-to-high acidity, low-to-medium tannin, and moderate alcohol.

You may notice that most of the boxes are blue, indicating a fair-to-good match.  There are fantastic pairings and terrible pairings, but most are somewhere in between.  So don't be afraid to experiment with your wine and food pairings and drink what tastes good to you!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Great Infographic on the Types of Wine

Wine Folly has a great infographic on the different types of wine.  It addresses 2 of the most important reasons to learn about wine:

  • to describe what wine characteristics you like using terms that will be recognizable to others
  • to find more new wines you'll like

Just follow the path of the flavors you like, and you get instant recommendations, including many of the more obscure wine and grape varieties.  And if you're not sure yet what flavors you like, the chart is full of good descriptors to start thinking about the next time you drink a glass.  Or you could always find a wine you like and then work backwards.  

Here's a link:

And here's a preview:

Isn't it pretty?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

America's Test Kitchen Reviews Wine Bottle Openers

I like to use a waiter's corkscrew at home, but if you're not used to the way it operates or if you don't open lots of bottles of wine, you may find it difficult to use.  Here's an excellent video equipment review from America's Test Kitchen, explaining and rating some of the many options available for getting those corks out.

(Some of the content on the ATK site is free and some requires a registration and/or subscription.  This content is currently free, but that could change in the future.)

Click here for their video demo and review.

Update:  You may also be interested in this review of an electric opener.  I have a friend who owns this model, and it is super easy to use.

Wine Glasses: What Kind, Why, and Where to Get Them

Does it matter what kind of wine glass you use?  In a word, yes.  The experience of tasting and drinking wine is all about observing the colors, aromas, and flavors of what you’re drinking.  Your wine glass is either enhancing or detracting from your wine experience!

Shape?  Tulip.  For both red and white wines, the best overall wine glass is tulip-shaped:  wider at the bottom, with the sides sloping inward toward the top.  The width at the bottom exposes more of the wine’s surface to air, releasing more aromas for us to smell.  As a general rule, aim for pouring the wine up to or slightly above the widest part of the glass.  If this doesn’t look like much, just think it means you get to have another glass!  The smaller opening at the top directs those aromas toward the nose, rather than letting them escape the glass.  Thinner glass is also preferred.

Size?  Big.  The size of the glass should be big enough to accommodate a 6 oz pour, yet also leave room to swirl without spilling.  I recommend a 16 oz glass, but you could go as low as 12 oz.  You could also go bigger, but anything larger than 16 oz becomes inconvenient to hold, clean, and store.

Stem?  Yes.  You need a stemmed glass.  A stem prevents the warmth of your hand from warming up the wine (more about service temperatures here), and also prevents any smells on your hands (soap, lotion, food) from interfering with the aromas of your wine.  Stem-less wine glasses are popular lately, but their advantages are all about convenience, not about what’s best for the wine experience.  Yes, they may be easier to hold, more difficult to knock over on a table, or easier to fit into the dishwasher, but they won’t do your wine any favors.  Besides, stems are just classier and more fun!

Color?  Clear.  When tasting (or judging) a wine, the first thing you look at is color.  Color can provide information about the type of grape, the style and age of the wine, or whether the wine might have a fault.  The visual aspect is part of the overall sensory experience of wine, so avoid colored or patterned glasses.

For sparkling?  A standard wine glass, like the one above, is fine for tasting and drinking sparkling wine, but the classic Champagne flute is the best choice.  The tall narrow shape allows the bubbles to be displayed to their best advantage, and the narrow opening at the top maintains the bubbles longer.

Where to buy them?  You can buy your wine glasses anywhere, but if you’re like me you want something functional, inexpensive, and easy to replace.  The best solution I’ve found in Houston is to shop at Ace Mart Restaurant Supply.  I buy the 16oz Libbey 7510 glasses by the case.  You can also buy them online here. At roughly $4 per stem they meet all the above requirements, and I don’t mind too much if one breaks.