The sommelier answers to your Top 10 Questions on How to Drink Wine Like a Pro
February 18th is Drink Wine Day.
Clearly this is a message we highly support. Not that we necessarily need a specific day to drink wine, but heck, if there was ever a day to do it, this is the one. It’s nearly a patriotic duty.
When my good friends at Arterra Wines Canada reached out asking me to share a few fantastic glasses and offer some thoughts on how to drink wine like a pro, of course I jumped at the chance. Arterra, as many of you well know, are the wonderful people behind some of Canada’s most iconic wineries including pioneers Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, plus boutique, Prince Edward County winery, Sandbanks.
And it just so happens that Drink Wine Day falls smack in the middle of our first run at virtual Wine School. Each Tuesday night, about 50 wine lovers grab a ticket to join me over the internet and taste our way through some of the world’s most intriguing wines. Lively conversation ensues – and so do the questions.
A lot of these questions are asked so often, I thought, why keep the answers bottled up? As a sommelier, it’s literally my job to show people how to enjoy wine with grace and style – and that’s pretty tough to do if you’re at all self-conscious about the way you sniff, swirl and sip.
In honour of Drink Wine Day and all that I know to be holy and true, let’s clear up the wine confusion and get to enjoying what’s in the glass.
Well, despite what You Tube suggests, not with your teeth, a drill, or a stiletto heel. You may find this hard to believe, but that is frowned upon at sommelier school. Party tricks aside, if you are hoping to open a bottle of wine like a boss you need to get comfortable with the Waiter’s Friend – a one handled, (preferably) two-levered, hinged corkscrew that is the industry standard. As you’ll see in the video, remove the foil with the blade by cutting under the bottle’s bottom lip (this will help prevent drips). Placing the pointy end of the corkscrew just slightly off centre, twist in until the last curl. With the top lever against the lip of the bottle, pull the corkscrew halfway out, then bend the lever to place the bottom half against the lip and gently pull all the way out. Wipe away any dust or debris from the opening and pour!
Absolutely! In fact, screw cap closures offer a lot of benefits including:
I like where you might be going with this, but alas, “to the brim” is not the answer. Proper service is to pour the wine a third of the way, or to just to widest part, of the glass. The reason for this, is that you need all that extra room in the glass to allow air into your wine to help open it up and let it breath. More on that next.
I’m a huge fan of decanting anything. It certainly can’t hurt the wine, unless it’s a very old and delicate bottle, but it’s unlikely most of us will find ourselves in that situation. Decanting – which is just pouring your wine from the bottle into another vessel – allows for some oxygen integration to the wine. Oxygen allows the wine to relax and show its best flavours and aromas – like the dark fruit and rich chocolate notes of Sandbanks Reserve Baco Noir. Other reasons for decanting? To separate sediment, temperature control, and good, old fashioned showmanship.
In my experience a confident sabre always gets the party started! No takers? I’m not surprised, in my experience this is what freaks out wine lovers the most. But really, there’s nothing to be afraid of as long as you use a bit of precautionary measures. Disclaimers first: there is more pressure in a bottle of bubbly than there is in a big-rig tire, so you really don’t want to aim the bottle at someone or point it towards your beautiful face. I promise I’m fun at parties, but I have seen the power that can turn these innocent corks into menacing bullets, so you have been warned. Now, that being said, while a cork getting away from you isn’t uncommon, it doesn’t happen on the regular either, so as long as you follow these guidelines you should be golden (or rosé if that’s your fizz preference.)
Check out the video to see how I open a bottle of Jackson-Triggs Reserve Sparkling. Better yet, grab a bottle yourself and open yours along with me!
We get this question so often I probably write a blog on it at least once a year. My rule of thumb for gifting wine is to bring something in the $20-$50 range – about the same amount you would spend on an entrée at a restaurant (like the giving-cash-at-a-wedding theory). Bring a wine you know your host likes, or a unique gift like the Inniskillin Vidal Icewine.
Let’s clear up this “room temperature” philosophy once and for all. That term was floated about when people lived in stone chateaux without central heating. Nowadays, our room temp is way too warm for serving wine. But on the flip side, let’s not get too precious about it. In my 12 years of being a somm, both working in restaurants and running my own company, I have never once seen someone whip out a thermometer and test the temperature of their wine. For me, I think red wines taste best somewhere around 10-12°C, and whites about 6-8°C. Or, to keep it even more simple: stick your red wines in the fridge 15 minutes before serving and remove your whites 10 minutes before serving.
In a word? No.
Listen, there is no shortage of beautiful glassware out there, and if you’re somebody with a very refined palate, concentrating on tasting the wine without distraction, sure, these specific wine glasses will definitely have an impact. But let’s talk about real life here. IMHO, very few of us have the budget, storage space, or, quite frankly, polishing energy for a vast collection of fine glassware. We’re busy and time is precious. So open a bottle you love, pour a glass (whatever shape and size that may be) for your favourite people and let the conversation flow. You know. The way wine was meant to be shared in the first place.
First of all, why do you have left over wine? JK! Sort of. For both reds and whites re-seal the bottle with screw cap or cork and put the bottle in the fridge. The cold will slow the oxidization and negative evolution of the wine. Not indefinitely, mind you, but with luck, you should get 2-3 days more for reds and 3-5 for whites. And don’t worry whatever you don’t drink you can always keep for cooking!
Heat, humidity and light are the three enemies of wine. If you don’t have a proper cellar or wine fridge, fret not, you can still keep your bottles happy and healthy for the long term. An unfinished basement in a quiet corner away from windows is the best option. The natural humidity and temperature are perfect, and the darkness of an unused corner is perfect. If you’re a high in the sky condo dweller like me, the next option is to sequester a closet and turn that into your make-shift cellar. And if that’s not an option either, keeping wines secure in cases lined along the bottom of a closet or in a window-less area is what you’ll have to do. What you really don’t want, is to store your bottles on bar carts in sunlit rooms (great on for the ‘gram, not for the wine), or in the high-traffic kitchen where temperature and light fluctuates all day.