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Gentlemen's Essentials: Wine - Storing and Pouring

Gentlemen’s Essentials: Wine - Storing and Pouring


Good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used.
-William Shakespeare, Othello





Where should I keep it?

One man’s cellar is another man’s spare cupboard, and so it should be – all but the most dedicated wine collectors can get by with a little space and forethought and need not invest thousands creating (or buying) the perfect wine storage environment. A few simple guidelines should have you storing your wine safely and comfortably.

First and foremost, for long-term storage, wine should be kept on its side. This keeps the cork moist.

Temperature in your storage area should be cool, ideally around 10~11°C (50∼52°F) though constancy of temperature is as important as temperature itself. Stable temperatures of 15°C (60°F) technically shouldn’t damage your wine but this is certainly the upper range and it would be best to keep ambient temperature well below this. Temperatures above this can “cook” a wine producing an unpleasant jammy flavour in reds and often causing wine to leak from the top of the cork. This should also be kept in mind when selecting wines in the shop – little dried droplets of wine running down the bottle from under the foil is often evidence that the wine has been allowed to heat up sometime in its past. It doesn’t take long either; an hour in a hot car will cause many wines to expand and start leaking. Extremely low temperatures should also be avoided as they can cause crystals to precipitate in the wine and most wines will force their cork out when temperatures drop a few degrees below zero. For these reasons, over the stove, on top of the fridge, or out in the shed are not the best places to keep your juice.

Humidity is another important, yet often overlooked, variable in wine storage. Ideal humidity is somewhere between 75 – 85%. Again, this is simply an ideal and many good wines survive just fine outside of this range but be warned that prolonged dry conditions will eventually cause the cork to shrink and dry, allowing oxygen inside the bottle and thereby destroying its contents. Areas with too much humidity can cause labels to rot (less so these days however as most wineries now use a special ‘rot-free’ paper) and corks to go moldy, though this rarely affects the wine itself.

Light can also adversely affect wines and, contrary to popular belief, dark glass does not shut out all of those nasty little UV rays. Delicate whites and champagnes seem to be the most quickly-affected but reds are also eventually negatively affected by prolonged light exposure. For this reason, keep your wines in a relatively dark area even if these simply means throwing a blanket over them or laying some cardboard over the sleeping bottles.

Two other considerations are vibration and odors. Not only will vibration keep the sediments from settling out of a red wine, it will eventually destroy a wine. Though it may not look like it at first glance, corks are in fact porous and as such will ‘soak up’ ambient odors and transfer them to the wine itself. Main offenders include perfumes, solvents, and cleaners so keeping wine under the sink with all the cleaning stuff is a definite no-no. Chlorine (found in many cleaning products) is especially nasty and can easily combine with phenol in the cork to produce trichloronisole which gives wine that awful corked (think wet cardboard) taste.

Many people have found success using a simple styrofoam cooler as this shuts out light and helps to keep a constant temperature. If you are a little more serious you can buy dedicated wine fridges, or 'caves' as they are sometimes known. These are great and come in varying capacities, some having separate temperature controls for reds and whites. I use a 32-bottle Haier to preserve my wines through the hot summers and it has never let me down. :biggrin:

With all that said, please remember that these are simply ideals and I know many people that somehow manage to keep wine in fairly good order out on the back porch, in the fridge, under their bed, or even in the entertainment unit in constant daylight! :eek:

Do I need to age my wine?

The fact is that, these days, most people simply do not buy wine to ‘lay it down’ and wait for it to mature. Most wine is consumed, for better or worse, months or even days after its purchase. Many wineries (being businesses) realize this and more and more we see wines produced that are ready to be drunk immediately and require no further aging at home. If however you are one of the minority and have the patience and foresight to lay your wine down for a few years it is worth noting that not all wines will benefit from aging. This in itself is a huge topic but basically most cheap red wines these days simply don’t have the tannins and structure to last more than a few years. You can lay down your $5 Yellow Tail Shiraz for as long as you like – it ain’t getting any better (well, if it was any good in the first place that is).

This is best discussed with your wine shop proprietor who can suggest reds that are meant to go the distance - wines that are austere, tannic, and unapproachable now but will round out and be perfect drinkers in 10 years. Many white burgundies and champagnes also benefit from aging. If you roll deep and buy wines by the case, many wine geeks will crack a bottle every year to see how it’s coming along and estimate its ‘peak’. There are charts available that estimate how different wines will age, giving you a peak maturity window in which to drink the wines. Add to this that every vintage is in itself different and you get an idea….like I said, huge topic so I think I’ll just stop here. For those who want to know more, here is an example vintage chart: http://www.cellarnotes.net/vintage_chart.htm

Time to pop this baby!

Using the small knife, cut evenly around the lip of the bottle and remove the ‘cap’ of foil. Alternately you can just rip the whole foil cover off. Although there are several types of cork-removal devices available I would recommend a simple screwpull or ‘waiter’s friend’, the latter having both a knife and bottle-opener/lever attached. Make sure to choose one with a wide helix, which means that if you look down the ‘barrel’ the centre will be open, not closed like a screw. These helixes with a solid core often tear out the heart of a cork, especially on older wines. Twist the corkscrew straight down through the centre of the cork so that it goes in the length of the cork and pull straight out. Some people will run the neck under hot water for an especially tight cork. Should a cork break you now have two choices, either try again with the remaining cork or simply push it into the bottle. Either way you may end up with tiny cork bits in the first glass of wine – these won’t hurt anyone and can be easily removed. You may also notice what look like glass crystals on the inside of the cork – these are interesting but harmless. A dizzying array of corkscrews can be seen here: http://corkscrew.com/index.html

In the case of sparkling wines and champages just shake them up and aim them at that guy over in the corner hitting on your wife…*stop*, just kidding! :tongue: Remove the foil and ‘cage’, hold the neck of the bottle with your thumb over the cork and then grip the cork with your hand. Twist the bottle and slowly draw the cork out. Though it looks cool (think Formula 1 winners blasting off huge bottles of bubbly), letting the whole thing explode wastes most of the carbon dioxide and aroma of a champagne and will of course make a mess in your house as well. Take it easy and don’t let the cork fly – your restraint will be rewarded with a beautiful, fragrant drink instead of flat juice.

Screwcaps are also becoming increasingly popular and not just on cheap wines either. Once the sure sign of a crappy wine, screwcaps are catching on everywhere and practically eliminate cork taint, are re-sealable, and, obviously, can be opened without a corkscrew. Almost all wines from Australia and New Zealand have gone to screwcaps. As much as they make sense however, I personally love the ritual and sounds involved in pulling a good old cork.

Sniff the cork?

You see it in the movies all the time. The snooty-looking waiter sniffs the cork or hands it to the even snootier-looking customer to smell. What are they doing? Ridiculous affectation? Not really. This is usually done to see if the wine is ‘corked’ or spoiled. It is usually very obvious by the smell of the cork if the wine is corked and is a much more pleasant way to discover you’ve got a bad wine than taking a big gulp, or worse, having one of your home dinner guests figure it out. :blushing: Alternatively, a small amount of wine is sometimes poured and tested. Cork taint is relatively rare (I’ve read statistics that put it at anywhere from 1~5% of bottles). For more information on this you can check: http://www.thewinedoctor.com/author/corked.shtml
Keep in mind that some wines can smell like rotten eggs for a second or two immediately after being opened – this is normal and is due to the sulphites used to preserve many wines. It dissipates quickly.

To decant or not to decant


Decanting simply means to pour the wine into another container, usually called, you guessed it, a decanter (carafe in some places). In the old days when all wines were unfiltered this was a necessity as it allowed one to separate the wine from the sediments that formed in the bottle. The bottle was held over a candle and you stopped pouring once you saw the sediment going into the neck of the bottle. With modern production techniques this isn’t as big of a concern as it once was though many reds still do ‘throw a sediment’.

The other reason for decanting is to introduce oxygen into the wine and allow especially young, tannic reds to ‘mature’ or dissipate some of their mouth-puckering bitterness. There is much debate over whether decanting for an hour or so before makes a difference but I believe it does. Simply opening a bottle and letting it sit won’t do much as only the very top is exposed, but sloshing it into a proper decanter will expose much more surface area to the air. This can also let a wine ‘open up’ – a wine that smells like nothing when first opened can be very fragrant after an hour in the decanter. Similarly, a wine that is unapproachable and tannic can really soften and open up after decanting. How many times have you a wine that was ok at first but excellent by the time you got halfway through it? (No, it isn't just because you're getting drunk :lol:) Keep in mind that some very old Burgundies are quite delicate and will sometimes fall apart after an hour in a decanter. Some people even decant whites and claim that this makes a difference. After decanting, you can also funnel the wine back into the bottle for serving if that suits or simply pour from the decanter itself. Try it for yourself and see what you think.

I would recommend a very simple decanter like the ones you see in family restaurants. There are many weird and wonderful shapes out there but if cost and ease of cleaning are important to you then simple is better. Those kind of decanters with the huge flared bottoms that you get on your wedding day are great in that they expose a huge surface area of the wine to the air but they are a real bugger to clean. You need a special brush or even oxygenated tablets to keep these bad boys sparkling. Here are enough decanters to keep you decanting well into the next century: http://www.decanters.com/index.html

So when are we actually going to drink the wine? :a54:

We’re almost there. Assuming your whites are chilled and your reds are just below room temperature we’re ready to go…but, alas, we need something to pour the wine into. Once again we’re heading into deep and controversial waters but, simply put, there are different glasses for different wines. Champagnes and sparklings should go into tapered Champagne flutes as this preserves the bubbles and concentrates those wonderful aromas at the top of the glass. The classic white wine glass has a semi-wide bowl and red wine glasses generally have a wider bowl to expose more of the wine to the air and facilitate ‘swirling’ of the wine to release aromas. Generally speaking, the bowl itself should be taller than it is wide and the rim should be smaller than the bowl. I heartily recommend Riedel crystal and find them to be worth the money: https://glassware.riedel.com/default.aspx They make different glasses for different wine varietals and the founder has apparently proven that glass shape really does make a difference in how a wine tastes. Either way, they’re great looking and durable glasses and take the guesswork out of deciding which type of glass each type of wine needs.

Don’t overfill your (her?) glass – a 1/3 full is standard depending on the type of glass used. Others say, with the exception of champagne, pour until the wine reaches the widest part of the bowl. Too full and you can't swirl the wine without spilling it, too little wine and you look like a cheapskate. Champagne glasses may of course be filled higher with a few inches left at the top. Many waiters will place their thumb in the concave space at the bottom of the bottle (called a ‘punt’) when pouring though I have had bottles slip from my grip when doing it this way. In restaurants wine will generally be served clockwise, ladies first, host last. In your home do it however you’d like.

People have often asked me, "How long does a wine last after being opened?" The answer is that it varies according to wine type, amount left in the bottle, and ambient temperature. Even very well-made reds won't last much beyond a few days before they go off (they may still be technically drinkable but are a shadow of their former selves). Whites can go a bit longer in the fridge. I also recommend the vacuum pumps you can buy that draw the air out of the bottle and seal the top like a cork. They are inexpensive and I can get an extra day or two out of my reds this way. I am always wary ordering a glass wine from a half-empty bottle in a restaurant...how long has that thing been open? One other handy trick is, upon opening, immediately pour wine into a 375 or 500ml bottle and cork it, leaving as little air space between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork. This will keep for weeks or months in your cellar. This is great for when you don't want to commit to drinking a whole bottle by yourself and just want a glass or two. A cheap and popular brand is Vacu-vin: http://www.amazon.com/Vacu-Vin-3-Piece-Saver-White/dp/B00004SAF4

A final note on enjoying wine

Wine brings people together and is meant to be enjoyed. Rules are also made to broken so if you love your Syrah freezing cold in a paper cup then that’s great! If you can’t discern a Bordeaux from a Burgundy it doesn’t matter one jot if you’re having fun. If your favorite wine is a non-vintage mystery mix costing $4 from the corner store, awesome! Drinking wine should be an enjoyable experience so please regard all the above as guidelines rather than rules. Some of my best wine experiences have involved drinking wines in less-than-ideal conditions: a warm New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that had been shaken up in my backpack all day on the top of a mountain, young Rioja wine from a barrel in Spain in a wooden cup, Champagne straight from the bottle with my wife while watching New Years fireworks, cheap Australian Shiraz on the tailgate of pickup. It’s all good. Experiment and enjoy. :thumbup1:
 
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Great guide! Is there anything special one needs to know about port wines, or should I follow the same guidelines?

I am no authority when it comes to port, but from what I understand it is kept in basically the same manner as still wine with the exception that port with stoppers are stored standing up (port with regular corks are stored lying down). Most vintage port is decanted, with the decanter traditionally being handed around to guests clockwise, each filling their own glass.

As you may already know, port is generally served in smaller glasses designed especially for that purpose:
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I believe that port doesn't last as long as say, brandy, but will last longer than regular fortified wine once opened. Others say you should consume any older vintage port within 24~48 hours of opening but cheaper, younger ports can last weeks to months on the counter after opening. Keeping opened port in the fridge may also extend its life but make sure to bring it back up to serving temperature before drinking.

One other trick that some people do (actually they do this for wine too - maybe I'll add this to the original post) is, after opening, immediately pour some port/wine into a smaller, 375ml. bottle and quickly cork it. With this minimal exposure to air the bottle can be laid down again for weeks or months with no ill-effects. Make sure to try to pour enough wine in the bottle so that it almost touches (or does touch) the bottom of the cork (ie. you're trying to minimize the amount of oxygen in the bottle). This is a great method when you don't want to 'sacrifice' a whole bottle at once.

Hope this helps a bit.
 
I am no authority when it comes to port, but from what I understand it is kept in basically the same manner as still wine with the exception that port with stoppers are stored standing up (port with regular corks are stored lying down). Most vintage port is decanted, with the decanter traditionally being handed around to guests clockwise, each filling their own glass.

As you may already know, port is generally served in smaller glasses designed especially for that purpose:
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I believe that port doesn't last as long as say, brandy, but will last longer than regular fortified wine once opened. Others say you should consume any older vintage port within 24~48 hours of opening but cheaper, younger ports can last weeks to months on the counter after opening. Keeping opened port in the fridge may also extend its life but make sure to bring it back up to serving temperature before drinking.

One other trick that some people do (actually they do this for wine too - maybe I'll add this to the original post) is, after opening, immediately pour some port/wine into a smaller, 375ml. bottle and quickly cork it. With this minimal exposure to air the bottle can be laid down again for weeks or months with no ill-effects. Make sure to try to pour enough wine in the bottle so that it almost touches (or does touch) the bottom of the cork (ie. you're trying to minimize the amount of oxygen in the bottle). This is a great method when you don't want to 'sacrifice' a whole bottle at once.

Hope this helps a bit.

Thanks alot! A friend of dad gave him some 40 year old port (which by now is...I'm not sure..old) Now I'll be able to let him know how to store and enjoy it properly :)

Plus, being Portuguese, I really should know all this. I feel it is even more necessary:tongue:
 
I've had good results with a Vacuvin that sucks most of the air out of a bottle through a special stopper - seems to keep a wine decent for 3-4 days after opening.
 
I've been wanting to participate in putting a Speakeasy guide together much like this or what CastleCraver has done with classic cocktails. Would anyone be offended if I put something together regarding fortified wines - ports included?

Do you have any suggestions for a first-time creation? Things that should or should not be included/addressed?

This sounds like fun, I'd like to give it a whirl.
 
I've been wanting to participate in putting a Speakeasy guide together much like this or what CastleCraver has done with classic cocktails. Would anyone be offended if I put something together regarding fortified wines - ports included?

Do you have any suggestions for a first-time creation? Things that should or should not be included/addressed?

This sounds like fun, I'd like to give it a whirl.


I say go for it. Don't forget to include the Australian ports like Yalumba Clocktower and Galway Pipe. Outstanding ports for the money.:smile:
 
I've been wanting to participate in putting a Speakeasy guide together much like this or what CastleCraver has done with classic cocktails. Would anyone be offended if I put something together regarding fortified wines - ports included?

Do you have any suggestions for a first-time creation? Things that should or should not be included/addressed?

This sounds like fun, I'd like to give it a whirl.

I for one would love to learn more about ports and other fortifieds. Bring it on! :biggrin:
 
Really an excellent post.

As far as champagne opening, I hold the bottle still and slowly twist the cork until it pfffts open, less movement on the bottle and you keep a higher amount of gas in the btl.
 
Here's a tip I got from a head brewer of what was Eldrige Pope: If you've got a bottle of red you want to drink but haven't given it time to breath, open it and give it a quick blat in the microwave. Sounds harsh but it works a charm. :-D
 
Really an excellent post.

As far as champagne opening, I hold the bottle still and slowly twist the cork until it pfffts open, less movement on the bottle and you keep a higher amount of gas in the btl.

Thanks. Wow, I totally forgot I even wrote this. :biggrin1:
 
Outside of decanting to get some air into the wine, does anyone have any experience with those gadgets that you pour the wine through to aerate it? Curious if they are hocus pocus or not.
 
Outside of decanting to get some air into the wine, does anyone have any experience with those gadgets that you pour the wine through to aerate it? Curious if they are hocus pocus or not.

Good question. I'm not sure they'll do much more than a good swirl in the glass would do but I could be wrong. I find that it isn't just getting air into the wine; it also needs a bid of time to react with the air. I usually pour my wine in a decanter (it gets aerated in the process) and try to wait at least 30 minutes...longer for bigger, younger reds.
 
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