Storing unused wine
Recently I read an article (yes, I want those 4 minutes of my life back) written by someone that’s not in the trade, has no skin in the game, just writes/produces articles for news aggregators, to push. In the article, a master somm was asked the best way to preserve an unfinished bottle, and I agreed, in part, with his response; others (ostensibly in the business) were asked the same question. I can’t, in good conscience, post a link to that article, given the other responses.
His (master somm) response was, in my opinion, (mostly) correct, but I think it can be improved, too — it’s why I’m the Pundit, doncha know :D. He said to put the cork back in the bottle and toss it in the fridge. Yes, I do this all the time. But, before I do, I spend another 30 seconds, I buy a little more insurance; it’s my money, or if it’s a sample bottle, people worked hard to create it, so it’s worth a little more effort, and so I funnel the remaining wine into a smaller bottle.
Specifically, in order to reduce the amount of surface air the wine has (in relation to air in the bottle), I will return the unused portion of the (original) bottle to either a 375ml, or 200ml bottle (I keep a few of each on hand, and they can be re-used again, and again).
Or, I may place the remainder in one of the aforementioned bottles, and then choose to freeze the wine; I’ve kept wine this way, with no problems, for a year+, and I’ve done so for more than fifteen years.
Serving Temperature (!!!!!!)
This is my all-time number one goal – serving the wine at the right temperature. If I want to experience the broadest display of flavors and aromas, it’s temperature, more than anything else (far and away) that matters.
I could go on and on with examples of what I opened, and with whom (e.g. veteran winemakers, serious collectors), but I really don’t need to make it difficult; simpler, is in fact better. I challenge you to adopt these service temperature guidelines:
Sparkling: 40-45F (4.4C-7.2C)
White: 45-55F (7.2C-12.8C) bottle age/vintage can make a difference, as can style; that said, they all fit in this range, in my opinion
Rosé: 50-60F (10-15.6C) consider the informing grape, if gamay, go with a lower temperature, if Syrah, consider a higher (beginning) temperature.
Red: 55-65F (12.8C-18.3) Most bottles of red, I suspect, are served at (USA) room temperature (I’m guessing 70-74F). This is unfortunate, so much more, in my experience, is expressed at a lower initial temperature. I like to begin between 58-61F depending on the grape/blend and it’s general age (younger=cooler, e.g. 2010 Bordeaux blend 58F, 30yr old Bordeaux blend, 61F is fine)
Dessert/Sweet: same as rosé (and, younger wines are at the cooler end of the spectrum)
This is, in my experience, the single greatest factor to exploring/understanding/enjoying wine. Service temperature matters way, way more than what type of glass, what something’s paired with, etc. Yes, those matter, to an extent, but if you don’t get the first part right, the second part(s) don’t matter at all. You may think some of my ranges are a bit extreme, I did too, at first, but after 30,000+ servings, these ranges/specifics work best, most/all of the time.
Of course, the wine temperatures listed above are starting temperatures, though I will admit that I will keep a chiller/collar in the freezer at all times in case the bottle temp starts to rise too much – there’s a lot that happens in a 5 degree window, heck, even in a 2-3 degree window.
I used to do this. I’d spend countless hours, creating diagrams and considering past experiences, etc., and then I stopped – once I realized that the most important thing was enjoying the company I was with, and, in second place, the serving temperature. The third factor, way, way down the priority list, would probably be stemware.
There’s a lot of factors here: age, place, grape, abv%, etc., which makes it a bit difficult for the average person to remember. So, keep it simple, it works:
light bodied food = light bodied wine
medium-bodied/flavored food = medium-bodied wine
full-bodied/full-flavored food = full-bodied wine
The above, simple (-ified) guidelines should be successful 95%+ of the time. If you have a specific example/question, please comment/email me, I’d love to explore it with you.
When in doubt, pair a wine from a region with a dish from a region; might be the best ‘guarantee’ out there.
One of the questions that plagues wine aficionados (of all experience levels, and, as with anything, there are a few exceptions) is “how long (if at all) do I decant/aerate my wine, let it breathe?”
The answer, unlike the three previous topics, is, it depends. And yes, that kind of sucks, having a one-size-fits-all answer fits very well with today’s society, but it depends is as good as it gets if you want an easy-to-remember, accurate answer.
named after François Audoze, a man with many, many decades of (significant) experience; the idea that you can remove the cork, leaving everything in the bottle, several (think 6-24, depending) hours prior to service, letting the wine slow-ox, or breathe, on its own. There is no one rule that fits all, it’s dependent on one’s prior experience, if any, with the bottle, and style/varieties/vintages in general. There’s a lot of forgiveness this way, unlike a splash decant that can be pretty severe if performed on 50 yr old Grand Cru Burgundy.
Glass Decanter/Water Pitcher
You don’t need to spend any more than ($11/small, $26/large) necessary on a glass decanter. In fact, I advise not to, as they break often/easily. In addition to Audozing (look, François, you’re a verb!), I will use glass pitchers for aeration, and to help remove sediment. But, I also use a plastic water pitcher, if all that’s needed is air.
Sometimes, I will use a combination of things, such as pouring the freshly-opened wine through a Vinturi, into glass decanter, and allowing it to breathe from there (could be 1 hour, could be 10+, it depends on the wine – there is no substitute for experience here, and even then, it’s no guarantee as wine is a living thing, and will conform to its rules, not ours)
I’m guessing most people, especially beginners, look to hedge their inexperience, favoring instead some type of rule, or generality, so here goes nothing:
Young(er) wines = 30-60 minutes for light/medium-bodied wines, 90-120 minutes for med>full-bodied wines that are 2-8 years post-vintage. This is not to say that all young wines can/should be opened, some aren’t even approachable until 8-10 years after release; again, experience is your friend here, and in the absence of that, email me or go to a wine forum where others can help you out.
Teenagers/Young Adults – same as above, with the caveat that a larger proportion of these will get the Audoze method, together with some time (30-90 minutes) in decanter/pitcher.
Adults/Senior Citizens – these mature wines need to be handled more delicately than the youngsters. There is no one-size-fits-all here, as aeration times vary by wine/age (e.g. different for 19yr old Brunello than for 54yr old Barolo). That said, as close as I can get to a general rule is “allow time”, lots of time…or, no time it all, it’s tricky, damnit! If you don’t want to go the trial-by-fire route, email me, or go to the aforementioned (and there are others, too) wine forum, and ask the group for some help.
Seriously though, if pressed, a general rule, I suppose (even though I said it does not exist), or at least one I tend to practice, is to pour off 1 ounce of the wine, inspect its condition (the nose will tell you pretty much everything, and a small taste will confirm the smells), and decide how much air is needed. In this example, if a wine is super-funky, I’ll pour the remainder of the bottle in a decanter, checking on it every 60 minutes or so until there’s slightly more fruit than funk. If the wine is super fruity, despite its advanced age, I’ll let it Audoze for some hours, then double-decant prior to serving it (to remove sediment, and also to give it more air). I regularly will do this the day be serving, too; may are far better on the day #2, some can die this way, you just need to have some/lots of experience. But for most reading this post, the first two age groups/categories applies to 97%+ of what you’re going to drink (in my experience).
And finally, if you find that you obsess over food pairings, and/or wine details/smelling/tasting, stop, spend all of that energy on your guests/friends; the wine, if good>great, will show up, and it’ll do its part – if it’s at the right temperature!
Oh, and in my experience, tasting (double, preferably) blind is a great way to shorten the learning curve(s); single-blind is good, looking at/seeing the label, nah, the mind’s already drawn many/most of the conclusions.
Oh, one last thing – serving temperature!!!!
(header photo: some abandoned vineyards in Apulia/Puglia, May, 2017)