Tapping into the pleasure of wine would seem to be a simple matter of popping a cork and pouring the wine into a decent glass, and for the most part it is. Yet there are easy things anyone can do that might enhance the experience.
Half the battle for most people is finding out what they like. Do you prefer your white wines crisp and dry, rich and full-bodied, or perhaps slightly sweet? Do you enjoy light, fruity reds or deeper reds that possess power and heft?
No wine publication, no matter how keen its advice, can tell you what you like. That’s up to you. The only way to find your palate, and know with certainly what styles and brands you will enjoy, is to taste. Once you’ve figured out your personal preferences, then wine reviews and recommendations will become more useful and help you find wines that you will most likely enjoy.
The route to discovery is now easier than ever, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of so-called wine bars throughout the nation. Virtually every city of any size has several. I try to seek out wine bars that offer a range of tasting options, from the small 2-ounce tasting pour to half-glass or full glass portions. Some wine bars also offer what they call “flights” of similar wines – usually three wines to a flight, about 2 ounces per wine – that deliver the same experience.
This allows me to sample a greater variety of wines in one sitting, thus exposing me to wines and wine styles I might otherwise not know about. If I can do it, anybody can do it.
The other thing I recommend is having something to eat when you taste wine. It doesn’t have to be a full-on sit-down meal; a simple snack will often do.
One of the complaints I hear most often from new wine consumers is that some wines are too astringent, or tart. This is usually caused by relatively high levels of tannin or acidity. This is particularly true of many red wines from Italy, especially Chianti.
I’ve traveled extensively in Italy through the years and I’ve noticed that almost every restaurant or café will provide some kind of snack when you sit down and order a glass of wine. It could be something as simple as a bowl of olives. The snack inevitably neutralizes the wine’s acidity and makes for more enjoyable sipping. This is a brilliant strategy and often leads to a second glass of wine.
You can try this at home the next time you’re serving a pasta dish and you have a bottle of Chianti handy. Open the Chianti early and have a glass before dinner. Then pour a glass with your meal. The change in the wine, from tart to smooth and supple, will seem nothing short of miraculous.
Finally, there is the simple matter of letting your wine breathe. Sounds easy and it is. Many wines, particularly firmly structured wines that are prized for their aging potential, will often get better the longer they are open, within reason.
That’s because exposure to air softens many a “hard” wine, smoothing the rough edges and allowing aroma and flavor complexity to emerge. You could purchase an expensive aerator, or spend money on crystal decanters, but even those helpful tools are not necessary of you exercise a bit of ingenuity.
If I know I will be serving a special wine that might need time to breathe before serving at dinner, I usually pull the cork two to three hours prior to serving. Of course, this isn’t possible if you take a special wine into a restaurant, so by all means request that your wine be decanted, the sooner the better.
It is even useful to decant some white wines, for in many cases that will hasten and improve aromatic development. Eisch, which produces a wide range of crystal stemware, also makes a two-piece white-wine decanter. The larger piece, which holds the decanted wine, has a deep punt. The smaller piece, shaped like a cup, holds cubes of ice and is placed underneath the larger piece, inside the punt. This will keep your decanted white wine reasonably cool for up to an hour.
These are easy steps anyone can take to enhance the wine tasting experience, and the pleasure will be all yours.
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