Contributing editor, Tod Stewart’s 10 Tips for maximum wine enjoyment
- If you find a wine you like, don’t buy it again:
While this may seem counterintuitive (or just dumb), your palate will develop and mature as you taste through a broad selection of different wines. The one you thought was ambrosia the first time you tried it may seem pretty dull having tried a range. Your tastes in art, music, literature, and food probably aren’t the same as they were when you were a kid (pizza and Kraft Dinner aside). Your palate matures with variety. Find a wine you like? Make a note/take a picture of it and move on for a bit.
- Check your (or at least the wine’s) temperature:
Red wines are generally served too warm; white wines too cold. “Room temperature” typically refers to the temperature of a room in a cool European chateau as opposed to the temperature of the blast furnaces North Americans heat their abodes to in winter. Twenty degrees C is about as warm as any red should be served. Feel free to chill further. Whites are often served so teeth-shatteringly cold no smell or even taste can be detected (sometimes a good thing, but not usually). Luckily, chilled whites will warm up in the glass, but don’t be afraid to pull them out of the fridge in advance of serving.
- Be careful:
In spite of the above advice, make sure sparkling wines are opened while quite chilled, this helps to keep the dissolved CO2 inert (which stops the wine from spraying all over the place). Also, make sure you hold the cork firmly and twist the bottle. The cork should remain in your hand (as opposed to embedded in the ceiling – or embedded in someone’s eye socket) and the wine should remain in the bottle.
- Break the rules:
Plenty has been penned regarding the “rules” for wine and food matches. In reality, most wines will pair fine with most foods. In some instances, wine and food will get along so well that surprisingly good additional flavours and textures will develop. In other instances, the wine and food will not get along so well, and surprisingly bad additional flavours and textures will develop. In most cases, neither will happen. The solids and liquids will simply get along.
- “What do I do with leftover wine?”:
Um, sorry, I don’t understand the question? What is “leftover wine?” Assuming you have an unfinished bottle of wine (I’m still struggling to comprehend this) and you want it to remain fresh over the next few days (seriously?), the name of the game is to minimize the contact it has with oxygen. Though all sorts of air pumps and preserving gadgets exist, the easiest (and possibly most effective) way to do this is simply to transfer the remaining wine into a smaller bottle, filling it all the way up before capping. If it doesn’t all fit, well, sorry, you have no choice but to drink the overflow.
- You’re not getting older, you’re getting…well, older:
Once you pass a certain age, you can’t help but hear the inevitable: “You’re aging like a fine wine.” Fact is, only a small percentage of the world’s wines are designed to get better with extended age (and are usually found under lock and key at your local booze shop). Most wines (like most people) tend to decline as the years go by. The glory of youth fading and all that.. Also, aging an average quality wine typically achieves little purpose. Time is not going to transform an everyday wine into an auction-worthy treasure.
- Fill ’er up:
When it comes to glassware, pretty much anything goes (including drinking straight from the bottle/can/carton if that’s your particular bent). That being said, decently made stemware designed for wine typically makes appreciating what’s in it more likely. Whether you want to differentiate between red wine and white wine glasses is your call (though mostly unnecessary). Just make sure they are a decent size as they should ideally be filled no more than half way (exposure to air will release aromas). For sparkling wine, the taller “flute” is preferable to the squatter “coupe.”
- Be cautious with ratings/scores/recommendations:
There’s a fair bit of pay-to-play these days, with both “experts” and “influencers” being paid by the industry to talk up their wares. Sometimes this is identified as sponsored content, sometimes not. Wine is extremely subjective. It’s also very situation-dependant. Ever wonder why that local red tasted so good with an al fresco lunch in a Tuscan vineyard but the exact same wine was nothing special at home in your kitchen when it’s -30 outside? I repeat: al fresco lunch in a Tuscan vineyard. Right? Of course, if you’ve found a reviewer who consistently sets you down the right path, great. But don’t slavishly follow critics or “buy on scores.”
- Have a good year:
How important is a wine’s vintage…really? Actually, thanks (or whatever) to global warming, the instances of truly disastrous harvests are pretty few and far between. In the distant past, wineries in the more “fringe” climates could be severely effected by cold summers, rain at harvest, or fruit-crushing hail (or all three). These days, scientific weather monitoring can give winemakers a bit of a heads up as to what’s in store, and winemakers can react accordingly. Also keep in mind that most respected wineries will likely make good wines in spite of what hand Mother Nature deals – they’ll just make less of it. Then there’s the obvious: it’s pretty unlikely here in Ontario to actually have a choice of vintage. One year sells out, the next year comes in. Maybe a bit of overlap now and again, but typically you take what the LCBO offers.
- Don’t be intimidated:
It’s grape juice. For whatever reason, wine has historically been raised to a level where it is perceived as some mystical elixir that can only truly be understood and enjoyed by a select chosen few (thankfully, this misconception is dying out). Sure, there are complexities if you want to explore them, but if you don’t there’s nothing to stop you from simply enjoying the stuff.