Some call these details. Anybody passionate about wine disagrees. If you ever buy and drink a bottle over $10, take note. You should read on even if you exclusively drink Two Buck Chuck.
Wine storage, wine glasses, and serving temperature–the holy trinity of wine stewardship in the home. Let us begin the obligatory post of every caring wine writer to have walked this planet.
Wine has two core enemies–heat and light. Wine should ideally be stored at 55 degrees fahrenheit, and with a consistent humidity level of around 50-80%. Ignore the humidity ideals, however, unless you live in a desert or jungle, or you plan to store wine for 10+ years. The humidity won’t affect the wine most of us store away, because most of us drink our wine relatively young and live in moderate enough climates. As for temperature, attempt to keep your wine in a stable environment. 65 degrees year-round will serve you better than 45-70 degrees depending upon the season. The obvious answer is to store wine in your basement.
Common questions or concerns about storage:
- Don’t have a basement? Store it in the corner of a dark, interior closet.
- But I like to decorate my kitchen with bottles! Me too. Decorate them with empty bottles once you have drunk the wine. Save your favorite bottles, once consumed, and display them on your hanging rack. They look great in the sunlight that would otherwise be harming your filled bottles. I enjoy reusing bottles as oil and vinegar dispensers, which I leave on my counter for ease of access (any cook will appreciate this).
Finally, don’t let your purchase go to waste by neglecting it for too long. I have witnessed many people leave a bottle unopened for 10 years when it should have been consumed 8 years prior. Most wines purchased under $20 are meant to be consumed within 1-2 years. Do your duty.
Own decent stemware. My personal recommendation is to haunt the Goodwill stores near you and scoop up the Riedel glasses as you find them. I found the Riedel pinot noir glass, pictured right, for 99 cents at Goodwill. The MSRP–$20.
Stemware matters because it allows you to swirl and smell without fear of spilling, because good stemware typically has a large bowl shape which tapers toward the rim. The swirling releases aromatic compounds through aeration. We taste wine primarily through our sense of smell, both when we smell the wine (after swirling), and when we drink the wine.
Hold your glass by the stem. Your hand is a balmy 98 degrees, and the stem keeps that heat away from the wine (read about serving temperature below). For this reason, avoid using stemless glasses unless you use them for large parties in which you will serve mass market, value wines.
Don’t let the marketers fool you. You simply do not need different glasses for different wines. I personally use the glass pictured right for both whites and reds. While a specific glass for each wine may enhance a specific wine’s characteristics minutely, a nice bowl-shaped glass will serve you very well for all wines.
Most folks serve wine too warm, both white and red. This includes a significant number of restaurants. Unfortunately, respected boutique and high-end restaurants don’t always fare better here, though they theoretically should. Why does temperature matter? Temperature affects what we smell and taste. Serve a big, high alcohol syrah too warm and it will overwhelm you with sharp alcohol aromas, which will greatly reduce your enjoyment of the other positive attributes. Serve a riesling too warm and the uplifting acidity and fresh fruit aromas will fall flat.
Whites should generally be served between 45-55 degrees, though the bigger and bolder whites (think California Chardonnay) can be served warmer. How do you achieve this? For reds, 10-20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving will do nicely, though a proper cellar (basement) will keep it at a wonderful temperature for serving. For whites, I prefer using an ice water bath to chill them for 5-15 minutes, though a refrigerator will do the job if you think ahead.
These are the details that shouldn’t be details. Take care of these three essentials in your home, and your enjoyment of this pleasure inducing elixir will most certainly benefit. Cheers!