Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort, including Antlers Lodge. He’s also a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine. His wine column appears regularly in SavorSA.
Most of the products we eat or drink take an under-appreciated path before arriving on our dining room table. As a chef, I feel as if I am a shepherd, seeking the best-quality product and consciously taking care of it by showcasing it simply in the best possible way. Wine is no different. For those who work the vineyard and oversee the wine-making process it is truly a labor of love. Below I have listed a few techniques that will allow you to enjoy wine at its full potential by simply giving it the attention and respect it deserves.
A good-quality, tulip-shaped crystal wine glass will benefit in more ways than one. First off, crystal is rough compared to glass although not easily detected by the human eye; under a microscope it is quite noticeable. With your fingertip you can easily feel the friction on the rim of a crystal product and even play a subtle ringing hum that cannot be replicated on the perfectly smooth glass product. When wine is swirled in crystal, the rough surface will create more agitation and intensify the aromatics or as we say (volatize the esters) essentially, making it more enticing to the nose. I find that a medium-to-large tulip-shaped glass is the most universal and will allow for enough room to swirl while concentrating the bouquet.
Seasoning the glass
Always give your glassware a sniff before using as residual chlorine or soap that was not properly rinsed off will most definitely interfere. Make sure the glass is rinsed thoroughly and aired dry. If you are in a restaurant, ask for a new glass. Dust can easily work its way into your glass during storage so an easy way to completely enjoy wine without the distraction of foreign remnants is to simply “season it.” To do this, add a tiny amount of the wine you are about to drink to your glass and roll the stem of the glass in your fingers while tilting it. Essentially you want to cover the entire interior of the glass with the wine. Then, dump it out. Remember, I did say use a tiny amount.
Then fill up your glass with confidence in the purity of what you are going to consume. This is also a good technique when transitioning to a new wine that may have a noticeable dominant character that will stand out in the new wine where it doesn’t belong. Pouring an un-oaked Chardonnay into the same glass that previously contained a highly aromatic Gewürztraminer is a good example of when the “seasoning” element will help. Rinsing with water will only contribute to dilution, so I don’t recommend that.
This is a big one. We typically pour whites at refrigerator temperature, which is too cold and reds at room temperature, which is too warm. Ideally most whites should be around 45 degrees and most reds at 55-60 degrees. Freestanding wine cellars are great to have as you can generally “set it and forget it.” Another way to achieve this is to remove your whites from the refrigerator a full half hour or so before consuming and the opposite for reds, as these can benefit from a half-hour of refrigeration. Light-bodied reds can benefit from a more aggressive chill, however the tannin in big powerful reds will be more pronounced when chilled. So, a slight chill to simply bring them down from room temperature is the objective.
Aeration and Decanting
Most wines benefit nicely with aeration. The interaction with oxygen will allow for the wine to emerge and show its full potential. Pouring the wine into a wide-bottomed decanter and allowing it to rest will require some patience yet will be sure to enhance your drinking pleasure. The million-dollar question is how long? It can range from a half an hour to half a day. There is no perfect answer as there are so many variables that come into play. Most wine will definitely benefit from at least a short decant and it can be quite exciting to sip on the wine slowly as it develops and evolves with time in the glass.
Don’t be afraid to decant white wines for a short while as well. Even sparkling wines can go through a subtle transformation that some will prefer. It will dial the bubbles back slightly and ultimately showcase the core of the wine. A narrow-bottomed decanter would be the preferred vessel for sparkling, as you wouldn’t want to spread the contents too thin and overly dissipate the sparkle.
For those with little patience, aerators come in handy and will allow you the benefit of aerating as you go. You can simply pour a glass at a time through these small devices that will create a fairly viscous interaction with oxygen and open the wine up quicker, while allowing you to preserve the wine in the bottle for later.
If you want to store wine overnight there are a few things you need to know. We just covered decanting and accelerating the interaction with oxygen. In this scenario, however, we need to do the opposite and minimize the exposure to oxygen as much as possible. Most wine left out at room temperature will most likely be undrinkable the following day. The refrigerator will slow down the rate of oxidation and therefore preserve the wine longer than if it was left at room temperature. Some even put their reds in the refrigerator to achieve this. Wine preservation argon works quite well and will add several days of preservation to your open bottle. It can be purchased at wine shops for about $10 and is good for around 120 uses. Another method is to consume half of the contents of the bottle and store the remainder in a half-sized 375 ml .bottle. If the half-size bottle is topped off and filled properly, it will have minimal exposure to oxygen and allow for another day or two of quality drinking.
So pay homage to the winemakers who give us this wonderful beverage by sipping slowly and most of all — enjoy it at its full potential with others who will appreciate it.