Awhile back my friend Valerie told me she was going to have to give up white wine. “Why would you do that?” I asked. Valerie likes white wine, especially Chardonnay, an issue on which we don’t see eye-to-eye.
White wine does have a place in the universe, such as on a warm summer evening paired with oysters or crab salad, but overall it is not my beverage of choice. Nevertheless, I try to give it a fair shake. At wine tastings I always try a little. Well, almost always. But when the reds are opened, I take a deep breath and feel a wonderful frisson of excitement. I inhale the delicious aroma of a deep, rich wine, and I am instantly happy.
Valerie admitted she would never give up whites entirely, but she explained the reason for approaching them sparingly: “White wine goes down too easily. I can drink half a bottle before I even realize it.”
Okay, I will agree with that. Whites are mostly light and easily sipped. Reds demand a lot more attention. When I inhale the aroma of a white wine, I often find little to excite me. Okay — Sauvignon Blanc might have a citrusy or grassy smell to it. Chardonnay might even smell a bit buttery and rich if it’s been aged in oak, especially oak barrels that have been highly toasted. But red wine! Oh my. With red wine there is a great range of wonderful aromas. If it’s a new world wine, there’s bound to be red fruit — cherry or plum or berry. Old world wines are more likely to be minerally, earthy and yes, we’re back to that “barnyard” that the French are so fond of. Smelling a red wine is an adventure.
And as a rule, you can count on a red wine to be more complex, to “open up” after the bottle has been opened for awhile.
Here’s a fun experiment: If you have some expensive red wine, open the bottle and pour yourself a bit. Do the whole “s” thing: See the color, swirl it in the glass, smell it, savor it when you taste. Good? Maybe. BUT — here’s the trick: Pour yourself another glass maybe 1/3 full, and let it sit for 30 minutes and then taste it. Way different! It has opened up. It should be richer, you should smell and taste a lot more things. Not just berries but perhaps chocolate, coffee, or cola (in a Syrah). In a Zinfandel, the fruit should be richer, the peppery finish more pronounced and perhaps you can catch just a hint of licorice.
And for even more fun, buy a supermarket wine of the same type and do the same thing. I’m pretty sure you will be surprised at the comparison. AND, if you don’t drink all the wine (I’m assuming you are doing this with a friend or two and not just opening a couple of bottles for yourself), slap the corks back in and try them side-by-side the next evening. The supermarket wine will not have improved. It might even taste flat or stale. The good wine, however, should be even better. It should have opened up even more. Now there is a limit — you don’t want to keep that wine for more than a two or three days. It won’t keep improving infinitely.
Here’s how I learned this for myself: I was doing a wine tasting with friends, and we did a side-by-side of an expensive (I’m talking $40 bottle of wine and in my world that’s expensive) and $12 bottle of Dancing Bull. When they were both first poured and tasted in a blind tasting, everyone preferred the Dancing Bull. We set the glasses aside and 30 minutes later tasted again and found that the Dancing Bull tasted the same but the other, more expensive wine, was much better — richer, fuller and more complex.
This is where the aerator comes in — you can pour your wine through an aerator and it almost instantly opens and changes. Gee, call me a purist, but the idea of bruising the wine by pouring it through a little swirly thing just doesn’t sit well. I much prefer to let it open gradually sitting in the glass.
Oh, and speaking of that, it is a good idea to open a nice wine and let it “breathe” awhile before pouring it. Decanting is a good idea because as you pour the wine (gently) from the bottle to the decanter, it begins to get oxygen. Also, the mouth of the decanter is wider than the opening of a bottle which doesn’t allow all that much oxygen in.
So, yeah, I like to treat my wines gently even if it is Dancing Bull. A lot of grapes gave their all so you could enjoy a casual glass of vino with your spaghetti.
Oh, and where does the soda pop come in? One time years ago when I’d returned from a trip to Paso Robles, I shared a bottle of nice wine with my friends and Valerie declared with great fervor, “This is great! It’s just like soda pop!” I was highly offended!
She hastily clarified that she simply meant it was delicious and went down easily. I’m still processing that, though. Not sure she doesn’t deserve a steady diet of Dancing Bull.
Shameless Plug: My book: “Beyond the Spotlight: On the Road with Phyllis Diller” is available at http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Spotlight-Road-Phyllis-Diller/dp/0985972882. Hint: It’s cheaper if you get the e-book. The pictures are in color.