THE LIFE OF WINE.
Although it surprises many people, one must take into account that wines behave like living beings: they are born, grow, come into full force and eventually die. The longevity of a wine depends on its initial aptitudes and storage conditions. The saying, “the older the better” is not true. Many do not improve over time, even those that are well preserved. But others, due to their structure, vintage and origin, become greater.
It is important to know that age is not synonymous with evolution, that is, there are older wines that will keep even better than younger wines. Therefore, we should distinguish between the four main groups:
You should also know that wine, when it has the ability to age well, does so better in larger containers. In large bottles, wine remains younger than in small containers, because it is contact with the exterior, through the glass, that makes it evolve. This is easy to understand if you compare it with cheese (which is also a living food which evolves): a one-half kilo cheese will not last as long as a whole kilo cheese.
FORMAT, PRESENTATION, AND STOPPERS.
Today there are more and more types of containers for wine, but the glass bottle remains the most common. Traditionally, its form corresponded to productions in specific areas (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Jerez), but with the development of marketing and innovation, this tendency has been lost. Now you can find all shapes and colors, including unique models related to a specific winery. Dark colors are usually used for wine that will be aged, since they preserve wines from the effect of light better.
The formats vary widely, although the most common remains three-fourths of a liter or 750ml. The bottles of 3/8, 375ml, or a half liter (500ml), are good choices for moderate consumption and are the most accepted (be careful about the vintage, because the wine evolves more quickly). Among the largest, the most common is called the magnum, holding 1 1/2 liters and ideal for a festive meal for four people. Beyond that, although it is less common, you can find the double magnum.
Currently, there is a new container showing up called BIB (Bag in Box), which is more and more popular abroad for young wines. As its name suggests, it is composed of a bag inside a box, packed with a tap. It has the advantage of a self-draining system, which prevents the wine’s contact with air and keeps it in good condition until its final consumption. In addition, some new formats in aluminum cans or bottles are even beginning to gain ground.
Among the stoppers, the ultimate still remains the cork. Corks vary greatly in quality, formats, and prices. The highest quality is found in natural cork of great length (55mm), but there are other, cheaper options, such as plywood and composite plugs. If the corks become contaminated, they pass on an unpleasant and characteristic musty cork smell to the wine (or as they say in France, “bouchonné”), which spoils it.
Hence the development of synthetic corks (made of plastic) and the screw cap, which avoid this problem and are becoming more common in young wines. These have been being tested for quite a long time, and meet all the conditions for proper conservation of wines that do not require aging in the bottle.
Despite these trends, the makers of the finest wines in the high-end category still prefer to use traditional materials such as glass bottles and natural corks.
What most affects wine, like any other food, is temperature and light, hence the statement, “Store in a cool place.” Food was traditionally always stored in warehouses, often underground, where it was always cool and dark. Today it is hard to find a place like this, especially when living in the city. In an apartment, always look for a place with few temperature swings, the cool est spot. The kitchen is usually the worst place, as there are many sources of heat. A closet is much better; keep away from radiators and put bottles on the floor, where the temperature is lower. Assuming that this situation is not ideal, try not to keep the wine too long (a few months) or go shopping according to your consumption.
Bottles should be stored lying down so that the cork is kept moist and prevents them from losing liquid. The ideal temperature is between 54 ºF and 65 ºF / 12 ºC and 16 ºC. When the temperature is high, the wine ages more quickly, and if it is too low, it may encourage the formation of sediment. A slight shift up or down is not serious as long as the temperature remains more or less constant.
Humidity is also important, as are extremes: in the desert and the tropics, wine keeps poorly. It should be kept at about 70-80% humidity. A dark place, as we have said, is fundamental, and furthermore, it should be quiet and without vibrations (the room next to the elevator is not advised). It should also be well ventilated, to prevent odors.
If you cannot meet these conditions, at least the basic ones, there is also the option of buying a portable “cellar,” a thermo-regulated box, often with humidity control, designed to store wine.
By now you have learned how to taste, to better understand wine (namely, to choose what you like), and now we have reached the turning point, consumption, which can spoil everything. A bad wine served too warm in a coarse glass, and in bad company, can be downright unpleasant.
We again touch on the temperature of the wine because it is incredibly important when serving, not only because it can take away much of the pleasure, but because it markedly changes aromas and flavors.
– Aroma: The higher the temperature of a wine, the more volatile the aromas and, therefore, the more intense they will be to us. Above a certain temperature, wines come to seem alcoholic and burning. In contrast, the lower the temperature, the less aromatic it will be.
– Sweet: The sensations of sweetness and alcohol are enhanced with increasing temperature, so sweet wines must be served cold (but not freezing cold).
-The fiery nature: The sum of the acidity and alcohol is also enhanced with heat.
-Saltiness, bitterness and astringency: These, in contrast, are reinforced with decreasing temperature. This is why a structured red should never be served cold.
– Hardness: The sum of the acidity and tannin, this is enhanced by the cold.
– Effervescence: Carbon dioxide is released more quickly if the temperature is high. Therefore, sparkling wines should be served cold and kept in a bucket of ice water throughout the meal.
OPTIMUM TEMPERATURES FOR SERVING VARIOUS WINES
|– Fine young whites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 45-46 ºF / 7-8 ºC||– Strong, full-bodied reds . . . . . . . . . . . . 57-63 ºF / 14-17 ºC|
|– Sweet whites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 41-43 ºF / 5-6 ºC||Aged reds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . 61-65 ºF / 16-18 ºC|
|– Sparkling wines and Champagnes . . . .. 43-50 ºF / 6-10 ºC||– Amontillados . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54-59 ºF / 12-15 ºC|
|– Whites made with oak . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50-54 ºF / 10-12 ºC||– Oloroso Sherry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57-61 ºF / 14-16 ºC|
|– Rosés . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46-50 ºF / 8-10 ºC||– Port and Madeira . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . 55-57 ºF / 13-14 ºC|
|– Light young reds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54-59 ºF / 12-15 ºC|
Ideally, wine should reach the optimal consumption temperature gradually (don’t stick it in the freezer!). Perhaps this is most problematic in the service of red wines. You may think you have to serve them at room temperature, which is what “they” say to do, but this refers to what the temperature used to be in houses (61-64 ºF / 16-18 ºC), not the temperature we are used to keeping our houses at now (75-82 ºF / 24-28 ºC). So, if one day you are served a red that is too warm, don’t hesitate to ask for a bucket of cold water and a few pieces of ice. Within minutes, the wine will improve considerably.
Drinking a good glass of wine is not only a small luxury but also a great pleasure. Of course, a basic wine in a wineskin, a porrón (a traditional glass wine pitcher) or even a beer glass can be fine in the right time and place, but you would never drink a great wine in these conditions; there is a lot of work and effort behind it, and it deserves much better treatment.
When choosing glasses, look for a tall stem (so you can hold it by the foot of the glass, which prevents the bowl from getting dirty from the oil on your hands and the wine from being warmed) and crystal, or clear, uncolored glass (colored or buffed glasses will not let you appreciate the visual nuances of wine). As for the form, it’s best if the bowl is not too open (to concentrate the flavors) and not too large. On certain occasions and for special wines, it might be nice to use a large glass, but in general choose a versatile glass that can be used with different types of wine (white, rosé and red), and between 10 and 13 oz. capacity.
There are manufacturers that have optimized the adaptation of glasses for different types of wines, developing models of different forms, not only to improve your sense of smell, but also to direct the liquid to one or another area of the mouth. These can be fun but are not essential.
By contrast, for sparkling wines, it is crucial to choose a fluted glass (the elongated shape) which allows the carbon dioxide to gradually be released. Always avoid drinking from very open glasses (unfortunately quite typical), which are much better for shrimp cocktail or ice cream.
Now we have the wine at the correct temperature and have chosen a glass, but there is a doubt about whether or not to decant the wine – because we’ve all heard that we should do so and that it’s good for the wine. Decanting the wine from the bottle is an operation that consists of separating the wine from the sediment that has formed over time during aging. However, this action always entails a certain aeration which, depending on the type of wine you have in hand, can be beneficial or harmful.
Regarding the old question of whether to open a bottle for a while before you serve it, the answer is clear and simple: no. If a wine needs to be aerated before consumption, the gas exchange that takes place through the neck of the bottle is almost zero, since the contact surface is very small. In this case, transfer the contents of wine to a spacious decanter, where it will get the sought-after aeration.
To give some general guidelines, you could say that aeration is good for powerful, aged wines, full of youth and tannins. With it, you will achieve the effect of softening the tannins and allow the aromatic potential of wine to be expressed and intensified. However, you must be very cautious when decanting an aged bottle, with a delicate and fragile bouquet; it can be completely ruined by an abrupt and inadequate aeration. In such cases, handling the bottle with care is sufficient to avoid serving sediment.
Sometimes, what you want is to oxygenate wine quickly, because it is very close and you know that it doesn’t have any sediment. In this case, look for a large pitcher and transfer the wine energetically, so that the liquid hits against the glass and increases the aeration effect. We call this aerating wine.
FOOD AND WINE PAIRING.
The harmony between wine and food or, as it is often called, pairing (from the French “marriage,” meaning marriage), is an exciting field where many factors come into play: the physiochemical reactions occurring and how we perceive them through our senses, one’s personal taste, cultural backgrounds, the association of ideas, etc.
When thinking about the pairing, we must consider all the sensations which both wine and food produce in us: the flavors (sour, salty, sweet, bitter), tactile and chemical sensations (texture, spiciness), temperature (which greatly changes our perception), and aromas.
In general, the majority of pairings are established by association or complementariness: color (whites with white meat, reds with red meat), flavors (sweet desserts with sweet wines), sensations (fatty foods with tannic wines), aromas (smoked foods with oaky whites), or intensity (strong foods with full-bodied wines). But sometimes, contrast pairing – like blue cheese with sweet wine – can yield excellent results.
Obviously, there are also foods that are difficult to pair with wine, such as those based on very bitter foods (like artichokes) or very hot and spicy (spices). Don’t think that common pairings are definitive or that there are any hard and fast rules to it. Curiosity and the pursuit of pleasure should prevail. Allow your personal preferences to lead and remember that the combination possibilities are endless. Here are some ideas, depending on the type of wine:
– Simple young white wines: a light appetizer.
– Noble varieties (Chardonnay) of young white wines: white fish, goat cheese.
– Oaky Chardonnay: fatty fish (sea bream, turbot), smoked fish or meats, white meat.
– Rosé wines: vegetables, pasta, rice, cured meats, soft cheeses.
– Young red wines: cured meats, pâtés, medium cheeses, bluefish and even some dishes made with salt cod.
– Crianza red wines: grilled meats, roasts, stews, cured cheeses.
– Reserva, Gran Reserva, and Vanguardista (“cutting edge”) wines: more subtle and elaborate game dishes and stews.
– Sweet wines: fruit-based desserts for lighter wines, tarts with dried fruits for denser wines.