How to Enjoy Wine
EVERYBODY has a “Wine Knowledge 101” article in their blog arsenal, so I guess BestWineGlass should have one too! We focus not so much on “Learning About Wine” but instead on “Enjoying Wine.” Get a friend and open two bottles of equally priced, equally aged and equally chilled (55 degrees) wine.
Open one Sauvignon Blanc and one Cabernet Sauvignon and we’ll help you really compare and contrast the differences.
Let’s focus only on the variables you can control in serving wine. These are:
- the size and shape of the glass,
- aeration of the wine and
- the serving temperature of the wine.
Let’s back up a bit and discuss the wines first because developing basic wine knowledge requires understanding the difference between wines. With some wine knowledge basics out of the way, we can come back to these critical choices a bit later.
Most Popular Wines
There are 8 basic wines you need to know about. Just getting to know these four reds and four whites will catapult your wine knowledge past most of your friends. You will need to know about these wines in order to be a good host.
Four white wines…
- Pinot Gris
- Sauvignon Blanc
…and four red wines:
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
A typical smaller white wine glass of 9 or 10 ounces is a good standard tasting glass and a 2-3 oz. pour should be sufficient for a couple generous sips of each wine.
Time to pour the wine
Try to serve both wines at 55 degrees at the same time to each participant. Leave the wine in the bottles and let them stand open.
Start with the Sauvignon Blanc. Swirl and smell, discuss the same wine at the same time with your partner(s). Pay close attention to the first sensation of the smell and the second impression as you swirl the wine around your mouth and especially note any lingering aftertaste (the finish). Take notes. Then rinse your mouth with water and allow a moment to re-coat with saliva then repeat with the Cabernet Sauvignon before reading any further.
Getting to know the basics
The easiest variable to perceive immediately is the dryness of the wine. “Dryness” is typically discussed in terms of “dry” vs. “sweet.” Next to dryness, it is very easy to perceive the differences made by aeration, serving temperature and the size and shape of the glass used. Of these, perhaps the easiest to control for is the size and shape of the glass. We’ll come back to choosing the correct glass later.
Most people perceive white wines to be drier than red wines and red wines to be bolder, more complex and fruitier than white wines. Comparing the typical Sauvignon Blanc to an equally typical Cabernet Sauvignon in the same price range, of the same age and served at the same temperature side by side in the same tasting glass should give you very different impressions of each wine. Most people find that whites are drier than reds because of the reds and whites most likely to be chosen based on market share and availability. Your Sauvignon Blanc is very likely to be drier than your Cabernet Sauvignon just because most are. The only thing you can generalize about wines is that you really cannot generalize.
Critical Variables You Can Control
Dryness is important because it is extremely easy to perceive. However, aside from buying or not buying the wine, you have no control over the basic taste profile of different varietals. The variables you can readily control are;
- aeration (letting the wine breathe)
- serving temperature
- the glass size and shape
Which of these variables has the greatest impact depends very much on the wine.
Why Aerate Wine?
Taste your wines again after 15 or 20 minutes. Look at your notes. Has the temperature of your wine risen a degree or two? Check your notes and see if you notice anything different in the aroma or the taste.
Many people wonder when to aerate wine. If you made an effort to perceive as much about the wines as possible, you should notice at least some subtle differences after the aeration of wine or changes in wine temperatures. Don’t expect too much change in moderately aerated wine after only a short period, especially having left the wine in the bottle with very little surface area exposed.
If you’ve ever noticed a bottle of wine tastes differently the next day and especially two or three days later, then you know how aeration of wine “changes” a wine. All wines (reds and whites) change over time. It stands to reason that decanting wine(or aerating wine using a variety of methods) gives you an added opportunity to control how you experience that wine. It’s difficult to know whether decanting will improve your wine, but it is safe to say that it will change somewhere between the first glass and the last. We assume we should decant all wines in some way shortly before drinking them and we’ll leave it at that for now.
If you have an aerator, you can speed up the aeration of wine considerably. If not, then you can use just about anything to stir your wine. Even splashing wine into your glass violently when pouring can aerate the wine significantly and make a noticeable difference. Spinning an egg whisk between your palms in a big bowl works too, but nothing beats the sheer elegance of a “venturi” style aerator used to serve into a single glass or the elegance of a crystal decanter on your table.
Serving Temperature is Important
Store your wines in a cool dark place. Most of us don’t have wine cellars or even special wine coolers. Nor do most of us tend to save wines for any great length of time once we purchase them, so let’s keep our introductory discussion here to “serving temperatures” because that’s what we can and do readily have control over.
Try your wines at different temperatures. Pick one of your wines and serve it into both of your glasses. Put one in the freezer for 2-3 minutes while you cup the other in your hands for the same length of time and see if they taste different. Try the same for the other wine. Notice the difference? Gaining control of how your wines taste is the first step to becoming a wine god or goddess!
Most white wine temperature should be served between 45-50°F, depending on the varietal. Serving white wines too cold, can mask flavor and aroma and serving them too warm can mute their structure and make them seem flat. Most red wine temperature should be served between 50-55°F. Serving red wines too warm will accentuate their alcohol content making them seem “hot” while serving them too cool will mute their non-fruit aroma and flavor, leaving them lifeless, like a mildly spiked grape juice. Of course this is another gross over-simplification, but this is Enjoying Wine “for beginners.”
The Correct Glass Makes all the Difference
Of all the variables that affect the taste of our wine that we can control, one of the easiest to control that also makes the most dramatic and immediate impact is our use of proper wine glasses. We sell glassware and, honestly, the more we sell the better, but even we don’t believe that you need every possible glass there is to fully enjoy your wine. In fact, we recommend starting with just 3 different glasses. As your knowledge grows, your interests expand and your palate matures you will see that different types of wine glasses help you fine-tune your enjoyment of wine. On a day to day basis we have no trouble getting by with just three different wine glass types.
Three most important wine glasses you must have
A good quality glass for white wine should be somewhere between 9-14 oz. while a glass for red wine should be between 16-21 oz. Enjoying very bold or very aromatic reds can be enhanced by different types of red wine glasses that are larger. We include two of these special glasses in the basic set of three glasses you must have because of the popularity of the wines they present best and how well they do it. Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are among the most popular red wines consumed in North America. Each has a special glass named for regions in France that historically produce those wines. A “Burgundy” glass is widely renown to present Pinot Noir best and a “Bordeaux” glass is widely regarded to present Cabernet Sauvignon (also Merlot and Syrah/Shiraz) best. Each of these glasses is widely claimed to be the best red wine glass shape, but each has its own place. This naming tradition used throughout the industry is so consistent that it’s just one of those things you need to memorize.
Pour yourself some more Cabernet Sauvignon, but pour it into the Bordeaux glass this time. Give yourself a full proper pour (at or just below the widest part of the glass) because you’re going to want to savor this. By now your wine should be nicely aerated and have risen a few degrees. Check your notes, then swirl and smell and see if you note anything different. Taste it and see if you would change your notes. Did the glass make a difference for you as it does for most?
Expanded set of five wine glasses to have
Where space is available, we enjoy a larger assortment of five glasses. To our three glass set we add a larger white wine glass (often considered a generic red wine glass) and a champagne flute. There are a lot of choices for expanding your collection depending on your preferences. To enhance our enjoyment of more white wines, we add larger glasses for white wine to the base set. We use the larger white wine glass size for Sauvignon Blanc and most other less sweet white wines. The smaller white wine glass size is typically used for Rieslings and other sweeter dinner wines, dessert wines and especially for white wines we drink colder, like late harvest (sweeter) Rieslings.
Our fifth glass is a champagne flute, but you may instead add specialty glasses like port or sherry glasses. For expanding your collection to a fifth glass, which of the three remaining glasses you will find most useful depends on your preferences. For holidays and special occasions, or just because you like sparkling wines, perhaps a champagne flute will be your next choice. We certainly use our flutes more than our port and sherry glasses.
Port & Sherry Glasses
Port and Sherry are less common specialty wines, but bear mentioning here because they are dramatically different than most other wines. We hope you learn to enjoy the full range of wines commonly available because putting conscious effort into selecting, preparing and enjoying a wider range of wines is a great way to push back the pressures of your work-a-day life. We’ll cover these at greater length in other posts, but it’s enough for the beginner to note that these typically stronger wines are served in smaller glasses and intended to be consumed in smaller amounts.
You Taste What You Smell
The common thread that runs through every aspect of your enjoyment of wine is that you taste what you smell. Developing your familiarity with wines is equally as much about learning to smell as it is about learning to taste the components of wine because they go together. Want proof? Does everything taste bland when you are stuffed up with a cold?
Compare your favorite wines in their most appropriate glasses as we’ve presented here to learn how they taste to you in the other glasses in your collection. You may find your own preferences to be exceptional. There are worse things to be than exceptional, so go with what you like. The more wine you enjoy the more exceptional you may prove to be! Drink responsibly.