Wine Basics or How to Start Appreciating Wine

I enjoyed reading Adam Montefiore’s article in the Jerusalem Post entitled, “Wine Talk: Keep It Simple.” He calls it his unsophisticated guide to enjoying wine at home, however, I think that this is a self denigrating statement. Unsophisticated is a poor choice of words. In order to help someone sort out all the complexity of information about wine, one must be sophisticated enough to understand what is important and what is not. I choose to call this my practical guide to wine. But don’t hesitate to go deeper into this pleasurable experience by reading, attending courses, going to wineries, and expanding your level of wine knowledge. Here you will find some basics, though not without my biases.

Purchasing wine can sometimes be fraught with hazard and I would qualify Adam’s advice to purchase your wine in the supermarket. At least in Israel, the wines are not kept well at these places that know how to care for your produce and milk products. At the supermarket, I have never seen wines kept horizontally, an important point that he makes later in the article. If you want to buy what I would call “table wine” for drinking at an informal gathering, the supermarket offers a wide variety of the lower priced everyday wines. These have the fastest turnover and probably haven’t stood on the shelf for long, allowing you to not worry about the cork drying out. Here in Israel, I heartily second what Montefiore says about avoiding the imported wines. The Israeli wines from Golan Heights, Recanati, Binyamina, Dalton, and others offer a number of good wines for under 50 shekels. Yesterday, SuperSol was selling a red wine from Dalton at 3 bottles for 100 shekels. If, on the other hand, you want a very special wine for a very special occasion, I would avoid the supermarket because these wines are not turned over very fast and may spoil, standing on the shelf for months. For this wine, go to a wine store and acquaint yourself with the owner. Get friendly and talk about what to do if you buy a wine from him and find that it has spoiled when you open it at home only a short time after the purchase. If you find out that he will gladly replace the wine, become a regular customer. Otherwise find another store. I would also advise that you go on an outing and visit a winery or two. These make for fun excursions and sometimes you will find sales or even receive a discount as a member of their wine club. You can trust the winery’s storage methods and they always stand behind their wines. Frequently they’ll send you a replacement for a bad one, delivered to the front door of your home.

Once you bring your wine home, store it In the horizontal position. Refrigerate the white and rose wines. If you are going to drink the red wine within few days, place it in a dark, cool closet. If you are buying wine to drink in six months, invest in a small wine cooler. I just purchased one for 30 bottles and am very happy with it. Get in touch with me if you have any specific questions about these devices.

I really like what Adam says about when to open the wine, so I’ll quote him here:

“Everyone asks if they should open a bottle to let it breathe. In truth, this is a waste of time because the only part of the wine that is exposed to the air is the bit in the neck of the bottle. Best is to tip the wine out into a carafe or water pitcher, and then pour it back into the bottle. The wine will be softer, more approachable, and you will have the pleasure of serving it from the bottle.”

And I add that you should spend some time swirling the red wine in your glass to aerate it.

Beyond the use of the coolness of the refrigerator to slow the chemical processes that result in wine spoilage, I disagree with what he says about storing the wine and I would advise the purchase one of the simple and inexpensive devices that allow you to remove air from the bottle while waiting to finish it the next day. This will help keep it in the same state as when you first opened it. If you store it overnight in the refrigerator, take it out to the room temperature an hour before drinking to allow it to equlibrate. Don’t drink part of the wine and expect to be able to return to the same smooth, full-bodied blend of flavors a week later. Finish it tomorrow or use it for cooking.

I agree with Mr. Montefiore that too much has been made of drinking a certain wine with a certain food. I think it is cute when he says “match the wine to the mood, not the food,” but does he mean I should drink Blue Nun when I feel blue? I say, “Any wine with any any food and you’ll be put into a good mood!”

And lastly, I’ll quote a dear friend of mine who, indirectly, is responsible for my having embarked on this journey through the blogosphere. He says that it doesn’t matter what Robert Parker or any other pundit, cum wine expert says about a wine. What is important is what you sense when you smell it and taste it, and how it feels in your mouth when you swallow it.

L’Chaim

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One thought on “Wine Basics or How to Start Appreciating Wine

  1. Your Sept 6th post was most interesting. Cathy and I both regularly enjoy wines (mostly red wines) and I enjoyed reading your thoughts, particularly the “horizontal” tip. In fact, I just went down to my cellar and moved my stock of four bottles on their sides. 

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