5 ‘Bare Bones’ Wine Essentials for Every Wine Lover
There is no doubt that wine is one of the greatest experiences we have available to us in our everyday lives. However, it’s a vast subject and can often be overwhelming, confusing and intimidating. So for now, let’s not worry about writing the perfect tasting note, nor trying to remember whether the ‘95 or ‘96... View Article
There is no doubt that wine is one of the greatest experiences we have available to us in our everyday lives. However, it’s a vast subject and can often be overwhelming, confusing and intimidating. So for now, let’s not worry about writing the perfect tasting note, nor trying to remember whether the ‘95 or ‘96 vintage was better in Burgundy (some say ‘95, but I prefer ‘96). Instead, let’s strip it back to the basics and start with the 5 essential items needed to simply enjoy your chosen bottle of vino.
1. The Corkscrew
If the bottle in question has a screw cap, or perhaps a glass cork or Zork closure, feel free to skip ahead to #2. However, if your bottle is sealed with one of the 13 billion corks produced each year – read on. Unless you’re extremely patient (and somewhat talented) and plan to open your bottle with your shoe, then you are going to need a special instrument designed for the sole purpose of extracting the cork from your bottle so you may enjoy the contents.
A corkscrew, like most things wine-related, is a very personal choice. You can go for the ‘statement’ opener – an electric, cordless gadget that can remove the cork at the touch of a button. Or perhaps the countertop corkscrew that sits atop your bar or kitchen sideboard looking rather imposing, and may even be mistaken for a futuristic-looking mixer. And while these both may do the desired job, they skew a bit too heavily towards ‘form’ and leave out a lot of the ‘function’.
Another popular design is the winged corkscrew. There’s no denying these work, although it doesn’t have a foil cutter and the end of the screw is rather useless at this task, so you’d either have to have a separate foil cutter (a handy tool, but not a bare bones essential), or plunge the screw straight through the foil and make life even harder for yourself. And once you’ve got it in place, the inferior versions tend to tear the cork into pieces before it’s out of the bottle, leaving you with cork crumbs everywhere – not ideal.
There are many more options other than these, but my personal favorite is the waiter’s friend. Maybe it’s from my days as a sommelier when this trusty tool allowed me to successfully open innumerable bottles without incident, but there is no doubt that it’s exceptionally easy to use, extremely accurate and incredibly affordable. The small knife on the side allows you to remove the foil neatly, careful placement of the screw in the middle of the cork assures easy retraction, and the double lever (this is important, the singe levers are useless) allows you to gradually and effortlessly extract the cork. Mission accomplished. Experiment with the different versions and find something you’re comfortable with, which is important, after all you’ll be spending a lot of time together. www.costco.com, www.amazon.com
2. The Glass
Right, now that your bottle is open, you need something to pour it into – enter, the wine glass. These days there are as many different types of wine glasses as there are bottles of wine produced, ok, maybe not quite that many, but there certainly is an overwhelmingly large selection from which to choose. Your wine glass is the most important aspect for your enjoyment of the wine – it is the vessel that allows you to look at the colour, to become acquainted with the aromas, and of course, that delivers the wine from the bottle to your taste buds. And while there is nothing to stop you from pouring wine into anything that holds liquid, you will simply get a much broader experience and understanding of the wine if you drink it from a proper wine glass than say, a plastic cup (it’s ok, we’ve all done it in times of need!). Of course, you may want to have several different types of glasses on hand for various occasions, but we’re talking bare bones essentials here, so if you could only have one single glass from which to enjoy your wine, here’s what to look for:
Firstly, the glass must be clear. Coloured glass or fancy patterns will prevent you from enjoying the beautiful shades of the wine. Next, the bowl of the glass needs to be big enough so you can easily swirl the wine around without spilling any, and the sides of the glass must be slightly tapered so that the buoyant aromas are focused towards the top of the glass just waiting for you to take a few deep sniffs. Lastly, the stem. There are mixed feelings about the need for a stem since stemless glasses have become so popular. Personally, I’m a traditionalist in this sense, and prefer a glass with a stem because I’d rather my fingerprints didn’t mar the appearance of the wine. However, on those occasions that I’ve used stemless glasses, usually in informal, casual settings, I’ve very much enjoyed them – as long as it’s clear glass with an appropriate sized bowl, by all means go stemless! And don’t forget, if this is the one and only glass you have, it’s also perfect for Champagne and sparkling wine as these wines are much more expressive in a regular wine glass than in a typical Champagne flute.
3. The Decanter
Is this really a bare bones wine essential, you may ask. Well, yes, I believe it is. Can you drink a bottle of wine without first pouring it into a decanter? Of course, but for some wines, the decanter is a necessary part of the process of enjoying the best the bottle can give you.
There are two main reasons to decant your wine: the removal of sediment and to aerate the wine. Older wines may have developed sediment that would be better left in the bottom of the bottle – although I do know several people that actually enjoy a glass full of chunky particles! But if you’re not one of them, then pouring the wine gently into a decanter will prevent any unfortunately incidents. The second reason, aeration, will reward you with a much more expressive, evocative experience of the wine once you give it the gift of air. We all know we should swirl the wine in the glass to let it open up, so why not take that up a notch and let the decanter provide the oxygen necessary to unlock those hidden gems in the wine’s aromas and flavors?
Now this doesn’t mean you have to have a very fancy, very expensive decanter, on the contrary, a very basic one does the same job as the flashier, more artistic varieties. You simply need to be able to slosh the wine around to let the air connect with the wine. I have even been known to use a glass water pitcher as a decanter which does exactly the same job and comes in handy if you want to simultaneously decant two bottles and only have one decanter. Some wines need half a day to open up and others do well with only a few hours – either way, a bit of advance planning is required.
4. The Aerator
I need a decanter and an aerator? Absolutely. Have you ever come home late from work just dying for a glass of good wine? Would you rather wait an hour for the wine to open up in the decanter, or would you instead prefer to spend that hour enjoying the wine? But just because you’re in a hurry doesn’t mean you have to lose out on the facets of the wine that contact with air imparts – not if you have an aerator at least.
Simply pouring the wine through the aerator on the way into your glass conveys the same benefits as if the wine had been decanted, but without you dying of thirst first. And since aerators are portable, you can take it with you so even that cheap wine your mother-in-law loves to serve can be somewhat improved with a quick infusion of oxygen.
As with all wine accessories, the aerator comes in many forms. One of the best is the Vinturi – it makes rather rude gurgling noises as the wine whooshes through it, but that’s little price to pay for the benefit it provides the wine. Another one I quite enjoy is the Tilt Variable Aerator by Host. Just place it in the top of the bottle and tilt it at different angles to provide a varying degree of aeration. The Tilt Mini does the same and has a handy stopper for those rare occasions when the bottle goes unfinished.
5. The Chiller
Come on, you might say, is this one really necessary? After all, you have a large appliance in your kitchen that seems to manage with all the other items that need chilling, right? Well, yes, and while a fridge is perfectly suitable for those of us who remember to put the wine into it far enough in advance of when we plan to drink it, but not so useful when we forget. When you’re thirsty, a bottle of wine can never chill quickly enough – so some kind, creative geniuses have invented a few tools that will solve our temperature issues. There are the electric versions into which you insert the bottle, add ice and water to a separate section, chose the type of wine you’re chilling (red, Champagne etc.) turn on and within about five minutes your bottle of white has reached the ideal drinking temperature. (www.bedbathandbeyond.com) Quite a nifty solution, and depending on how many times you forget to stock the fridge with wine, the moderate cost may be worthwhile.There are much simpler versions, like the Host Chill Cooling Pour Spout, which is a clear plastic wand that comes straight from the freezer and is inserted into the bottle (after you pour out some wine to allow for displacement). You may have to wait quite a while for the wine to reach the desired coolness however, but it’s a great way to the wine cool once it’s already chilled. The easiest and most effective way to quickly chill a wine bottle is a sommelier favorite – the ice bath. Simply grab a bucket, put the wine bottle in the empty bucket, surround it with ice up to the neck, pour cold water over the ice and add some salt to the water to speed up the cooling process. It may take slightly longer than 5 minutes, but it’s foolproof and doesn’t cost a dime. With these five wine essentials in your arsenal, whether you’re a novice or connoisseur, drinking a wine with age or your favorite everyday house wine, relaxing with friends or hosting a dinner party, you will positively enhance your experience of every bottle of wine – and that’s something worth drinking to!