How to Drink Wine Like a Pro

Man and woman clinking red wine glasses

by Erin

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 answer some of your most asked wine questions, of course I jumped at the chance. Arterra, as many of you well know, are the wonderful company behind some of Canada’s most iconic wineries including pioneers Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, plus boutique, Prince Edward County winery, Sandbanks.

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.

 

1. How do you properly open a bottle of wine?.

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!

2. Is screw cap just as good as cork?

Absolutely! In fact, screw cap closures offer a lot of benefits including:

  1. Minimizing TCA or cork taint (this is a complicated subject and corks aren’t always to blame for the foul smell that gets into wine, but nonetheless this happens more often with cork-sealed bottles).
  2. Increased lifespan of the wine thanks to the oxygen-free environment a screw cap closure provides. Admittedly, this is a bit of a touchy subject amongst wine pros, as some argue screwcap wines will not age at all, including developing nuanced complexity. Others insist screw cap closure do, in fact, age beautifully just at a much slower rate than cork.
  3. Price, baby! Screw caps are generally cheaper than cork and that means the savings (in theory) get passed on to you!
  4. Easy to open. Refer to Question 1. Also, true story: I broke my arm a few years ago, screw caps were my best friend whilst in cast.

3. How full should you pour your glass?

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.

4. How and why do you decant wine?

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. 

5. How do you open a bottle of sparkling wine?

Opening a bottle of bubbly can be very stressful for wine lovers – and for good reason. There's more pressure in a bottle of sparkling wine than there is in a big-rig tire, so you really want to stay on top of that cork. But not literally – do not point it at anyone (no matter what the sports celebrities do after a big win), and definitely keep it away from 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.)

  1. Remove the foil and untwist the cage (6 turns!)
  2. Keeping the bottle upright, place a bar cloth or tea-towel over the cork and place your thumb over the towel.
  3. With your other hand, twist the bottle (as opposed to pulling out the cork). It may be tight initially, but with a bit of elbow grease you will start to feel the cork loosen and pull away from the bottle.
  4. With your thumb still over the towel, gently press against the cork as if you would rather not have it come out of the bottle. This is to ensure the cork doesn’t go flying wildly out of the bottle, minimizes spills (better in your mouth than on the floor!), and reduces that Happy New Year bang of a cork blasting off.

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!

6. What’s the best wine to bring as a hostess gift?

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.

7. What’s the best temperature for serving wine?

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. Watch this video for more.

8. Does the size and shape of the glass really matter?

In a word? No.

Listen, there is no shortage of beautiful glassware out there, and if you’re somebody with a very refined palate, and want to focus on tasting the wine without distraction, sure, these specifically designed 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.

9. What’s the best way to store open wine?

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!

10. Where should I store my wine collection?

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. But do not 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. 

Hear From Real People!

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