Wine Accessories: Tools for the Journey Ahead
WELCOME GUEST BLOGGER Joshua Sweeney
A favorite saying among online wine reviewers is that wine is a journey, not a destination. What this means is that we should be drinking wine for the experience of it, not the effect.
When you’re in college (and this is the cliché that we always fall back on, as if there aren’t discerning drinkers pursuing a higher degree), quaffing whatever beverage loaded with a high alcohol percentage is proffered to us, any plastic cup filled from any jug, cooler, bathtub, or keg will do. Once we move beyond the destination of drinking to get drunk into the realm of appreciating the nuances of a beverage with a secondary benefit of a buzz, the need for implements becomes more apparent.
Essentially, wine needs outside help to reach its potential.
First, a quick note on corkscrews. Any old thing that gets the wine open works, obviously, but some old things work better than others. In my experience, the two reliable wine-opening tools are waiter’s friends and lever models. Both give you the most control over how the cork comes out, preventing breaking and crumbling of the cork. Wing corkscrews and self-pull corkscrews, because of their nature, have a higher risk of damaging the cork and dropping bits of it into the wine.
Also, because the use of synthetic corks is increasing, it’s imperative that you have two kinds of corkscrews: one with a stainless-steel worm and one with a Teflon worm.
Teflon worms are remarkably easier for removing real cork, and are reliable for hundreds of openings, but their coating gets scraped off and damaged by synthetics.
Stainless steel works perfectly fine on synthetics, but they tend to grip real cork, making it a real pain to remove real cork from them.
You can get a waiter’s friend with either style for less than $10 to back up your primary cork-removing option.
While wine professionals and scientists alike perpetually argue about whether the shape or size of a glass influences the different types of wine differently, there does seem to be a consensus on one attribute of an adequate wine glass: the rim. The best wine glass will have a thin rim, delivering the wine most efficiently into your mouth and remaining unobtrusive as you sip. Thicker rims will affect the dispersion of the wine, causing it to miss the most ideal parts of your tongue for tasting.
As for the size and shape of a wine glass, it seems a tulip-shaped, fairly large glass is the safe option. This leaves you with room to swirl the wine vigorously without splashing out of the glass and gives you a narrower opening to concentrate the escaping aromas for your enjoyment.
Remember that you want to fill the glass only to the widest part of the glass. It’s the laws of physics at work. Tasting glasses will widen near the bottom first, room for only an ounce or so of wine, so those will not be ideal sippers.
Stemmed vs. stemless? All up to you. Stemmed glasses are much, much easier to break due to their larger profile, fragile nature, and higher center of gravity. Stemless glasses force you to hold the glass by the bowl, increasing the radiant heat that you transfer to your wine. Either style has its advantages.
There are insulating and cushioned slipcovers for stemware out there, but they limit your ability to see the wine in the glass and sometimes get in the way of your bottom lip when sipping. Again, advantages on all sides.
Oh, I almost forgot about Champagne glasses. While the argument that the shape of glass doesn’t matter may ring true for flat wine, on sparkling wine, you definitely want the narrower flute-style to accommodate the carbonation. Drinking Champagne in a regular wine glass is like drinking beer from a salad bowl (something you may also do in college).
A more complex consideration for your wine is storage. If you’re the kind of person who purchases wines to be consumed that night or that week, but you still want to display them, a decorative 4 to 6 piece display is all you need. If you plan to age wine, or you have a large variety of wines rotating in and out of service, a larger rack is required. You can get standing table racks that hold around 12 bottles and cellar-style racks that hold between 40 and 100 bottles. Bear in mind that the more bottles a rack holds, the less decorative and intricate it necessarily has to be.
Consider this: if you buy a wine that needs to age 3 years, that means that spot is effectively gone from your rack for at least 3 years. If you invest in a wine like this every 3 months, you will have 9 spots perpetually out of service on your rack, and that’s if you diligently pop the cork on a wine right when it peaks. On a 12 bottle rack, that means you only have 3 spots free for any bottles you’ll be purchasing on top of that.
As far as where you should be storing your wine? We have wine cellars and not wine attics or wine sunrooms for a reason: wine needs a cool, consistent temperature and minimal exposure to sunlight. Heat and sunlight negatively affect the quality of wine.
Heat makes wine more volatile, causing chemicals to react and change within the bottle much more quickly, defeating the purpose of aging them.
Sunlight (ultraviolet light, specifically) also induces chemical reactions in wine. Both are blamed for ultimately “cooking” the flavor of the wine.
A dark, cool room, perpetually in shade and around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) will keep your wine in the best condition. Absent having an actual cellar, some sort of closet or cabinet far from sources of heat will do in a pinch. Air-conditioning to keep wine exactly at 10 degrees Celsius is helpful but unnecessary for all but the longer-term cellaring projects (5+ years).
Aeration and Decanting
The debate over aeration rages ever onward. Purists insist it dramatically alters the flavor of wine in ways the winemaker didn’t intend while another school of thought swears by the convenience and effectiveness. My personal experience with them? They’re perfectly fine for most cheaper wines, but aerating a wine that doesn’t need it (young, crisp, sweet whites come to mind) can have a negative impact on their flavor. To be safe, I recommend decanting wines over $20.
The ideal aerator works in one of two ways. One will have a narrow choke point with vents for pulling in air to mix with the wine. The other will have a decanter-like pouring surface or bubble to spread out the wine and simulate decanting in small amounts at a time. You should be able to get an aerator in either of these styles for less than $50.
If you have a wine that needs to breathe for a couple hours, you want to invest in a decanter. Decanters can run from the cheap, under $10, to the ridiculously expensive (gold-lined, hand-blown, uniquely designed for hundreds of dollars). Any investment on those fronts are largely aesthetic.
A wide base, offering a larger surface area on the wine is always good, as is a narrow, blooming mouth for pouring.
A punt (indentation) in the bottom will help ring out sediment, but on most wines that’s unnecessary.
If the opening is excessively narrow, some sort of funnel made from an inert material (stainless steel, silver, medical-grade plastic or rubber) will be necessary for pouring the wine into the decanter.
There are dozens of other accessories that are a worthy investment for wine drinkers, but the ones I outlined above are inexpensive, beneficial considerations for enjoying your wine. Any comments about the accessories I listed above? Any questions about other accessories I didn’t address? Leave a comment here or contact me directly. I’ll be happy to answer what I can.
About the Author
Joshua Sweeney is the Head of Online Retail and Senior Buyer for wine(accessorized). He worked his way up from humble beginnings, packing orders for a wine accessories company in a warehouse, during which he developed a keen interest in the wide variety of accessories available for wine. When wine(accessorized) began to take shape in December of 2009, he was tapped to help design and market the website and select the items that would be sold. He is focused on finding functional and interesting accessories that are affordable to average wine consumers such as himself.
Josh also writes for wine(explored), a wine blog affiliated with wine(accessorized). There, he chronicles his love of local wines in North Carolina and Virginia as well as his passion for discovering wine bargains and unusual wines. He embraces his role as a young professional and desires to help make his Millennial generation the greatest generation of wine consumers ever. Josh graduated from Virginia Tech with an English degree focused in both Literature, Linguistics, and Culture and Creative Writing.