At what temperature should wines be served?
Everyone knows that you chill whites and you don’t chill reds. But the problem with that simplistic rule is that white wines generally get served too cold and red wines too warm. A good rule of thumb is to take white wines out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving and pop the red wines into the fridge 20 minutes before serving. Ideal serving temperatures for white wines are around 45-55 degrees; if they are too cold, they are refreshing but can lose some of their taste. Most red wines are best when served at about 65 degrees which typically is a little cooler than room temperature. An exception to this rule of thumb is sparkling wine which should be chilled thoroughly before popping the cork in order to prevent gushing and losing a good portion of the bottle.
How do you pair wine and chocolate?
How do you pair wine and chocolate? Many people, in fact, think that wine and chocolate don’t go well together at all, but I think that great matches can be made between the right wine and the right chocolate. As with wine and food pairings, balance is the key; you don’t want the wine to overpower the chocolate and vice versa. With that in mind, the key ingredient in chocolate pairing success is sweetness level. I believe that oftentimes people try and pair sweet chocolate with dry wine that may not work very well. Sipping a dry red without any perceptible sweetness will taste sour and bitter after taking a bite of sweet chocolate.
The goal with chocolate pairing, therefore, is to try and match the sweetness level of the chocolate with the sweetness level in the wine. This can run the spectrum from a sweet Moscato with white chocolate all the way to 85% dark chocolate with Cabernet. We really like the way 60% dark chocolate complements our Cabernet Franc Port which is why we serve it to our customers in the tasting room. Of course subjectivity is also a factor, as is typically the case when talking about wine. Gather your friends with different kinds of wines and plates of chocolate and see what you like!
How long should a wine be aged?
We hear this question all the time and the answer is quite complicated. But basically, it really depends on the type of wine, how it’s made and personal preference. Let’s discuss each of these 3 factors one at a time.
The type of wine is very important when considering how long to hold a wine before drinking it. As a wine ages, it tends to lose fruit and gain complexity. Typically, fruit wines and most white wines should be consumed young before they lose a lot of fruit character. Oak-aged white wines like Chardonnay can sometimes be held longer because they have acquired some tannins from the barrels that give them some aging capacity. Red wines can typically be aged longer than white wines, although there are exceptions. Certain specialty wines, like Vintage Port, can be aged for a very long time. The grape variety and the location of the vineyard plays a critical role when determining aging capacity; a big Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes grown in Bordeaux will last much longer than a fruity Concord made from grapes grown in Pennsylvania.
Winemaking practices have an effect on aging capacity of wine. Factors that affect the aging potential such as levels of acid, alcohol, sugar and tannins can be manipulated by winemakers. Taking tannins that we discussed in last months’ Question of the Month as an example, a winemaker may leave the wine in contact with the skins during fermentation for a few weeks to make a highly tannic red wine. Alternately, there are fining agents that can be used to remove tannins to make a less tannic wine. A highly tannic wine will taste much better after years of aging because upon aging, tannins bind together and create a softer, more drinkable wine.
Possibly, the most important factor when deciding on how long to age a wine is personal preference. Some people prefer fruit-forward wines while other people will exchange fruit for complexity. Some people like tannins while others don’t like that puckering sensation that tannins can cause. The list goes on. Preferences can also be affected by what you are eating with the wine, but that is another topic!
So what do we recommend for our wines? All of our fruit wines and white wines will be best if consumed within 1 year. The exception would be our oak-aged Chardonnay which some may prefer with another year of aging. The fruity red wines like the Harvest Red, Concord and Chambourcin also fall into the 1-year category. Our dry, oak-aged reds like the Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Meritage are made to be consumed upon release, but will also do well with up to 2 or 3 years of aging. Our Port definitely needs a year or two of aging before reaching its peak and should be drunk within 5 years.
How long will a bottle of wine last after it is opened?
After a bottle of wine is opened, the wine is immediately exposed to oxygen which causes spoilage reactions to occur. If an opened bottle with headspace is left out on the counter in your kitchen, the wine’s flavor will start to change and the wine may spoil in a few days. Spoilage does not mean that the wine is harmful to drink; in this context it could mean anything from vinegar to just not “tasting good” anymore.
So how do you make an opened bottle of wine last longer? There are 2 major things you can do. The first is to chill it by putting it into the refrigerator; with red wine, you would just need to allow enough time to warm the wine up before serving again. The second is to remove the oxygen. The pump apparatus that people use helps a bit because it removes some of the air, but you can’t create enough of a vacuum to remove all of the oxygen. Spraying compressed gas (Private Reserve for example) into the bottle helps also because you are replacing oxygen with an inert gas like nitrogen or argon. But the absolute best way to remove the oxygen is to pour the remaining wine into another smaller container. Our suggestion is to get a 375-mL bottle (half-size bottle) and when you open a bottle that you will not finish, pour half of it into the smaller bottle. That leaves 2 glasses for now and 2 glasses for later!
What does it mean to let a wine breathe?
You’ve probably watched someone open a bottle of wine and instead of pouring into your glass for consumption, letting it sit in order for it to “breathe”. Is it necessary? For some wines, the answer is Yes! Allowing a wine to breathe simply means contacting it with some air for a period of time. This can be accomplished either by pouring the bottle into a decanter or simply pouring the wine into glasses, allowing a lot of air space. Sometimes a wine is described as “closed” immediately upon opening meaning the flavors are somewhat masked. Red wines that are a bit tannic can benefit from breathing because the air contact will soften the tannins. Be careful not to let an older wine breathe too long because it can deteriorate quite rapidly. And how long should you let a wine breathe? The answer, of course, depends on the wine; experimentation is key. If the wine tastes good immediately upon opening, by all means, drink it right away. But if the wine tastes harsh or lacking in flavor, pour some into a glass and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes and try it again. I always find it fascinating to see how a red wine changes in the glass with time!
What does the term "dry" mean?
I think many people misunderstand dryness as it relates to wine. A dry wine simply means a lack of residual sugar. Tannins in a wine can bind to proteins in your mouth, making your mouth feel dry and giving you a puckering sensation. Oftentimes we hear people saying that a wine is too dry when really what they mean is that the wine is too tannic. For instance, most Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons are dry since all of the sugar has been fermented to alcohol, but Cabernets typically contain more tannins and therefore are perceived as being drier.
If you would like to know how tannins feel in your mouth, over-steep a cup of black tea. Let it cool, don’t add any sugar, and swirl it around in your mouth. You should feel the tannins drying out your mouth and may then have a better sense of what tannins in wine feel like.
What is decanting, when is it necessary, and how is it done?
Decanting is simply separating the liquid wine from solids that have developed in the bottle over time. It is necessary to perform on old wine and on vintage port. As wine ages, large molecules are formed and precipitate out, leaving sediment. How old is old? Depends on the wine, but a good way to tell if decanting is needed is to gently lift the bottle out of the wine rack and see if any sediment has formed on the side of the bottle with a flashlight. In the case of vintage Port, the wine is bottled very young, with the expectation that a lot of sediment will form and the Port will be decanted. Before decanting, it is best to stand the bottle upright for at least a day or two to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Holding a light source, like a flashlight or traditionally a candle, at the neck of the bottle, the wine should be poured slowly into a decanter until the sediment can be seen at the neck of the bottle. If you are cheap like me, you can pour the remaining sludge through a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to get every last drop.
What is the best way to store unopened wine?
Wine should be stored in a cool location where a constant temperature is maintained. Heat is a wine's enemy so no matter how nice it looks, don't install a wine rack in a cabinet above your stove or refrigerator! High temperatures make a wine age must faster than normal. Fluctuations in temperatures force air in and out of the bottle and can also cause rapid aging due to exposure to oxygen. Wine coolers are a great way to store wine, but are rather expensive. Usually, a nice, cool basement is a good location for wine storage.
One other thing to remember when storing wine with natural cork is that the cork must be kept wet. That means the wine either needs to be stored on its side or upside down. If the cork dries out, air can get into the bottle easier and cause spoilage. Wines with synthetic corks or screw caps can be stored in any position.
What wine should I serve with turkey?
When the holidays start getting close, we get this question asked quite a bit. Trying to find the perfect wine to match all the different flavors on the Thanksgiving table can be rather daunting. The main rule to remember is not to try drinking a style of wine you don’t like, just because someone tells you that is what pairs the best with turkey. Turkey is pretty forgiving, so if you like dry whites, Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio will be perfect. If you like something a little sweeter, try a Riesling or the Autumn Blush; I personally think that Riesling may be the most versatile wine to have on the table since it can match to many of the traditional side dishes like sweet potatoes as well as the turkey. If you prefer red wines, a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir is the best choice. At our holiday table, we typically have 4 or 5 different kinds of wines open to make sure everyone has their favorite. It’s also fun to try different wines with each course and hear everyone’s differing opinions about the best pairings.