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Beginners Guide To Being A Wine Tosser – Part 2

Baudelaire said “One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.” Today we choose wine. If you missed Part I of this series, start there and brush up on the basics. If you’re ready for Part 2 of our wine guide, proceed with as little caution as you can reasonably get away with.

Alcohol Content

Right now you’re tempted to down bottle after bottle under the pretence of practicing what you’ve learned so far, but don’t. First, we must talk about alcohol content. Because your friends don’t like being babysitters and your girlfriend likes it even less.

The first thing you need to know is that, although you might think wine is the wimpy alternative to beer, you won’t be thinking that after you’ve experienced your first wine hangover. There are exceptions to every rule, but on the whole, wine has a higher alcohol content than your favourite brew.

The percentage of alcohol by volume varies vastly from wine to wine. At the low end of the spectrum are sparkling wines, wine coolers and anything that would be considered a ‘table wine.’ They’re unlikely to reach more than 14%. Wines in the mid range, red or white, fall anywhere throughout the teens. And at the high end of the spectrum, clocking in at 20% or more, are port wine and sherry. Wine is getting boozier by the harvest, due to the increased demand for wines with richer fruit flavour. The more intense the flavour, the riper the grapes, the higher the alcohol content. This is where the “proceed with caution” thing comes in handy.

When To Consume

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The basic assumption you probably have is that the longer you keep your wine, the better it gets. And that’s true sometimes – but only sometimes. There is a lengthy list of factors to consider when deciding how long to age your wine, including the type of grape, the method of production, the storage conditions and, last but certainly not least, your personal preferences.

Start with a few basic rules. In general, more expensive wines are designed to become better with age, while more inexpensive wines do not benefit from aging. More than 90% are designed to be consumed within a couple of years after they are produced. Typically, wines gain complexity and lose fruitiness as they age. Tannic red wines also soften and mellow with time. Once a wine reaches maturity, it will plateau before beginning the journey back downhill. Therefore, it is just as possible to age a wine for too long as it is to age it for too little a time.

If you’re just starting out, choose only the particular kinds of wine you enjoy most and do some research into the guidelines that govern their specific aging processes. If you’re looking to get a little more advanced, purchase several bottles (or even a case) of a wine you’re considering letting age. Try one and take notes. Then try the others at intervals of a few months, or even a year, until you’ve developed a feel for when the wine has peaked. Take note for future reference.

Serving Wine

The big moment is finally here! You’ve chosen your wine and aged it to perfection. Now you’re ready to taste the fruits (quite literally) of your labour and impress your friends with your recently acquired vino cred. Here’s how to serve it without looking like a n00b:

Red

Drinking Wine By The Fireplace

The conventional rule of thumb is that red wine should be served at room temperature, but as room temperature varies from location to location and season to season, a more precise rule is needed. For best results, red wine should be served slightly cool: 17-21° C or 63-60° F. Remember that it’s easier to warm a glass than cool it. And speaking of glasses, it should have a large, wide bowl as red wine benefits from having a larger area of contact with the air.

White

Refreshring White Wine in a Glass

White wine is at its best when it’s chilled to refrigerator temperature. The lighter and more zesty the wine, the colder it can be. Richer, more full-bodied, barrel-fermented white wines of high quality should be brought out of the fridge 20 minutes early to warm up a bit. You’re looking for a range of 7-14° C (44-57° F). White wine glasses are smaller than red and tulip-shaped, which reduces the surface area of contact and prevents the wine from warming up too quickly.

Rosé

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A rosé, unsurprisingly, falls between red and white. The more fruity the wine, the warmer it can be when you serve it. Put the bottle in the refrigerator 30 minutes before opening. When served it should be cool, but not as cold as a white wine. 12-17° C (53-63° F) is appropriate. Rosé may be served in a white wine glass, or in a special glass with a slight taper or flared lip.

Sparkling

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Sparkling wine comes in a bucket for a reason. It should be ice cold, like an Outkast song, somewhere between 5° and 10° C (38-50° F). Put sparkling wine in the fridge an hour to an hour and a half before serving, or in a bucket with an ice/water mixture at least 20 minutes before serving. The more high-quality the bubbly, the warmer the bottle should be to fully enjoy its nuanced flavours. The sparkling wine glass is a familiar sight: tall, thin and flute-shaped to retain the carbonation and capture the flavour.

Holding & Swigging Wine

Man Tasting Red Wine At Home

First things first: don’t actually swig, heathen. We civilised folks sip. But before you get there, you have to get the glass in your hand first. Proper etiquette dictates that a wine glass should be held by the stem or base, not by the bowl. This serves several purposes. First, it prevents unsightly fingerprints. Second, it prevents your body temperature from affecting the temperature of the wine. And third, it makes it easier to swirl the wine and stare at it pompously before you drink.

To sip like a pro, start with the swirl. Swirling decants the wine and coats the glass with aromas. The swirl is also the perfect time to gauge your wine’s colour and consistency. With the swirl complete, it’s time to take a sniff. Scent is an essential part of the wine drinking experience, and an important component of taste. When you take a sip, swish the wine around your mouth and allow it to linger on your taste buds. Savour. There’s no rush. Notice the wine’s different dimensions before you swallow; note its aftertaste post-swallow. Nod approvingly, so you look like you know what you’re doing.

And then you’re ready for the final, and our favourite, step: keep drinking, champ.

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