Let's do away with starchiness, add a touch of practicality, but maintain some etiquette—wine exists to be enjoyed, but not any old way. Join me as I explain how to keep a youthful spirit without relinquishing your savoir faire.
In recent years, a lot of talk has centered around the extremely rigid protocol that rules the wine world. Its cohorts? Unintelligible vocabulary, uptight posturing, language littered with technical jargon, metaphors akin to hieroglyphs, and a rigidity reminiscent of the British "stiff upper lip" (or what we imagine that to be). The wine world has also been criticized for focusing on people of a certain status and age. Breaking through these barriers to cater to a greater number of palates is bringing about subtle changes in the sector. But, does that mean anything goes? Here are a few things we should hang on to:
“Wine might be loosening up, but that doesn't mean everything goes.”
Carbonated? Sparkling? Bubbly? There is no need to use technical terminology to talk about still or sparkling wines, but by calling all kinds of “bubbly,” champagne, we only generate confusion. Champagne, cava or prosecco—just to name a few—are wines from different places of origin. So to avoid misunderstandings, why not simply use the generic term?
When opening a bottle... A bottle of wine doesn't need to be handled like a piece of precious porcelain, but we should respect a few basic rules to make sure we get to enjoy it to the full. Keeping the bottle in a vertical position before drinking it is essential. This lets any potential deposits settle at the bottom so we won't encounter them on our first sip. We shouldn't shake the bottle for the same reason.
If we want to make sure that no cork bits are clinging to the bottle neck—where they might find their way into our glass—we can clean the mouth of the bottle with a cloth.
Checking the wine for impurities is simple: pour a small amount into a glass (and then discard it). This will remove any sediment still remaining in the neck.
And one last thing. To see if the wine is in good condition, check the cork, making sure it isn't dry or foul-smelling.
When serving a glass... Ideally we should only fill the glass one-third of the way, even if continuously refilling it seems impractical. Never pour a full glass. And remember, avoid minor mishaps by not resting the bottle on the rim when pouring.
Drink the wines you buy as soon as possible. The commonly held belief that wine gets better with age isn't true for all bottles. Keep in mind that whites tend to have a shorter lifespan than reds.
Why do people make such a big deal about serving temperature? When a wine is excessively cold, we can't enjoy its properties—the flavor and aroma will be muted—and when it is excessively warm, all we will taste is the alcohol.
What about decanting? A controversial topic if there ever was one. Generalizations won't help us here. To find out whether you should decant your wine, it is best to seek professional advice. A specialized wine store is a good place to ask.
Let's move on to glassware... In theory, every type of wine requires a specific type of glass to fully enjoy its particular properties. Obviously this is too much to ask of you. We're aware that it might be appropriate for a wine professional, but it isn't something that makes sense for the majority of us. The solution? One glass for all wines, for example oenologue or Bordeaux style glasses (and bring out the pompadour for sparkling wines).
You’ve been invited to dinner. What wine should you bring? Unless the host is a connoisseur, in which case you should consult an expert with his or her finger on the wine world pulse, it is best to bring neither the most expensive wine (price isn't always indicative of quality) nor the cheapest (we don't want any unpleasant surprises). Generally, fruity whites, rosés or young reds make for great summer wines, whereas oak-aged reds (crianza or reserva) are wonderful in winter. That being said, we're more likely to hit the mark if we know what our host likes.
And if you happen to be the host... Open the bottle(s) brought by your guests when the wine is at its ideal temperature, starting with the lighter styles.
And at the restaurant... Many sommeliers seek to expand their horizons by taking food and drink pairing in new directions. At the moment, restaurants are working with a lot of fruit- or vegetable-based spirits made on site, as well as with fermented beverages or cocktails. The latter are gaining a lot of momentum, and I wouldn't be surprised if we soon see cocktails served with food and not just after a meal. Be open to recommendations and surprises.