For so many wine lovers, the dream is to own a huge cellar stocked from floor to ceiling with racks of exquisite vintages, each more rare and expensive than the last. The reality, though, is that for most, a top-quality wine is an infrequent treat. There’s a much greater chance that the wine in your glass is one of the cheaper, less prestigious varieties that have a reputation for poor flavor, with sharp, vinegary whites, and reds which have a dry, disagreeable feel in the mouth.
But does affordable wine always have to taste this bad? The answer, in most cases, is no. The time is right to let your everyday wine live up to its potential with these simple and effective tips.
Important for all wine, but particularly so with more affordable varieties, decanting was originally used mainly to cut down on the amount of sediment that may accumulate in the glass, and with it, the graininess that can sometimes be detected in the mouth. In contemporary wines, the purpose of decanting is more about aeration — often referred to as “letting the wine breathe.”
Decanting stimulates the oxygenation process, which serves to both release aromatic compounds in the wine and smooth out any harsh tannins which may also be present. This is particularly important in budget wine, as these elements can be more pronounced and are sometimes accompanied by a faint, rotten-egg odor due to sulphur dioxide build-up.
Wine should, then, be poured into a decanter (any glass or ceramic container) and left for at least 10 minutes before drinking, although two hours is preferable. After decanting, wines tend to be smoother, more fragrant, and more pleasant to drink. If you’ve only ever drunk wine immediately after opening, you’ll be surprised at the difference in taste.
While more controversial, this method is again intended to speed up oxygenation in wine. Ideally, a wine should be opened and left to breathe a while before serving, but sometimes there’s just not enough time to wait. In these circumstances, the process can be accelerated.
To accomplish this, an aerator can be used. This gadget mixes just the right amount of air into the wine as it is poured into the glass, giving the perfect taste in seconds. A similar effect can be achieved by simply decanting your wine into a second container (preferably with a lid) then shaking for 15 to 20 seconds. The wine’s oxygenation will be rapid, so you can get on with enjoying your wine that much sooner.
Some experts frown on this technique, stating that the wine’s delicate composition is somehow damaged in the process. Although this may be true of a more costly, intricately flavored bottle, this is not as much of a factor in cheaper, but still perfectly enjoyable, everyday wines.
The temperature at which wine is served is important to the way it tastes, perhaps more so than any other factor, and this is especially true in less expensive wine. The most important thing to remember is to serve cooler than you might think. This is because a lower temperature will soften any harsh tannins which may be present in red wine, and also lessen the sharp acidity in white.
As a rule, white wine should be served served fridge-cold, between 8 and 12 degrees Celcius , while sparking wine will taste at its best a little colder, somewhere between 4 and 8 degrees . A lighter red, such as a pinot noir or a zinfandel, will taste great at about 14 to 18 degrees; a rich, full-bodied red, such as a shiraz or a chianti, is at its best served between 18 to 22 degrees .
Try putting red wines in the fridge up to 15 minutes before serving to achieve the desired temperature (or in the freezer in the case of sparkling), and don’t be afraid to experiment, especially with inexpensive wines. Over-chilling that cheaper cabernet sauvignon may be the difference between an unpleasantly tannin-rich drink, and a smooth, perfectly palatable one.
The next time you encounter a wine that tastes every bit as cheap as its price tag suggests, don’t just throw it down the sink. If you give these simple guidelines a try, you may just be surprised by how much your humble drink is transformed.