If you’re like most people who are new to wine, you’ve probably been at a dinner or other social gathering where you worried about sounding ignorant when discussing wine. Or maybe you planned a party but had no clue whether you should chill wine before serving it, what glasses to serve it in, or whether you should buy a wine with “legs.” These are all perfectly reasonable questions that many wine newbies are asking.
For answers to these and other common questions about wine see the following:
What kind of glassware should I serve wine in?
Typically, you should serve white wine in a small-bowled glass to maintain its cool temperature and enable you to smell all of its aromas. On the other hand, red wines are best in a large-bowled glass, which provides a bigger surface area for the ethanol to evaporate. The larger glass also gives red wine a smoother taste and a better array of aromas.
Should I serve wine chilled?
The answer to this common question also depends on the type of wine. You should serve white wines chilled to between 44 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Sparkling wines taste best even colder, from 38 to 45 degrees, although high-end sparkling wines and Champagne are best served at white wine temperatures. However, when preparing to serve red wine, you only need to slightly chill the wine to just below room temperature (53 to 69 degrees), with cooler temperatures enhancing lighter reds such as Pinot Noir.
What are tannins? Are they good, bad, or neither?
A compound found in red wine, tannins come from grape seeds, stalks, and skins, as well as from oak, which means that wines aged in oak barrels can be tannic in nature.
Tannins tend to produce a dry-mouth sensation and influence several facets of red wine, such as its sugar balance, which people describe by such terms as dry, sweet, semi-sweet, and medium-sweet. They also play a factor in giving a wine its weight, which ranges from light-bodied to full-bodied.
Whether tannins are good or bad depends on the wine, and more tannins do not necessarily make a wine better. Wine makers must develop a keen skill to control the tannic nature of various wines.
Why do I get dry mouth with red wine but not with white wine?
The dry-mouth sensation you may get with red wine is due to the tannins, as mentioned earlier. Because winemakers crush red wine grapes together with the seeds, stalks, and skins, the wine becomes infused with tannins. However, vineyards that produce white wines tend to immediately press the juice off the skin of the grapes, a process that results in less tannic wines.
Why do people say wine has “legs?”
When people say that a wine has “legs,” they are referring to the streaks of alcohol left on the inside of the glass after they take a sip or swirl the glass. In general, if a wine has legs that are thin and streak down the glass quickly, the wine is low in alcohol content. If a wine’s legs are thick and move slowly, it has a high alcohol content. However, legs are not necessarily a sign of quality; they simply are indicative of the level of alcohol content in a given wine.
Is it best to “age” red wines before serving them?
Contrary to common belief, most red wines on today’s market are made to be served immediately after they reach the market, and only a small percentage of today’s red wines improve in quality with age. What’s more, most of today’s wines lose color and aroma after six months to two years in the bottle.
In general, wine with a low pH level is more likely to improve with age. Some of the red wines with potential to improve with age include Pinot Noir (two to eight years), Cabernet Sauvignon (four to 20 years), Sangiovese (two to eight years), Spanish Tempranillo (two to eight years), vintage Ports (20 to 50 years), and Zinfandel (two to six years).
If you aren’t sure about a wine’s capacity to improve with age, ask a sommelier or expert from your local wine store or vineyard. Don’t forget to take into account the distance a given wine may have traveled to get to your local store, especially if it’s an Old World wine, in which case it may have weathered potentially damaging changes in temperature.
With the above information, you should be more prepared to ask informed questions and increase your overall understanding about wine. Remember that learning about wine takes time, research, and experience sampling different varieties. Don’t be embarrassed to ask further questions of your sommelier so that you can have a more enriching experience as you compare different wines.