Things Serious Wine Enthusiasts Can’t Live Without
Once you start collecting fine wine, it quickly moves beyond buying a beverage to become a large component of your lifestyle. Why shouldn’t it? Wine is one of humanity’s oldest drinks and has been a cornerstone of our culture for centuries. It stands today, much as it has throughout history, at the junction of culture and pleasure. That does not, however, mean that the general public is well versed in fine wine care and etiquette.
Often, the realm of fine wine is viewed as the province of only the elite. While that may have been true, with today’s bustling global economy, a modest collection is well within the realm of possibility of more people than ever before. While it very much should include a culture of sophistication, that should be bound by personal tenant, rather than class. To many, however, the wider fine wine experience remains a goal at the end of a journey shrouded in mystery.
“What more do you need than bottles?” is a question that quickly gives way to disappointment as prospective enthusiasts, lacking a guide to wine culture, become disheartened with their first, fumbling forays.
Wine, however, is a drink best enjoyed and experienced by everyone, novice and expert alike. Here is a brief guide to a few pairings, some essential and others optional, that will complement those bottles nicely.
- Wine Cooler – Wine cellars are lovely… but somewhat impractical for the average wine lover. If the idea of a dank, moldering basement doesn’t exactly bring to mind visions of culture and sophistication, that’s perfectly understandable. In many areas, it isn’t even a good idea. Unless you’re in a position to create a completely climate controlled environment, in a few short years, you could be maintaining a collection of fine vinegars.The best way to make sure you are protecting the quality and value of your wine is with a commercial grade wine cooler. Available in single, double, and triple zones for multiple temperature options out of the same unit, wine refrigerators provide the perfect solution. Today’s models offer several prime advantages for wine enthusiasts.
Wine has a very narrow temperature band in which it should be kept, and a wine cooler can help you give your collection the perfect environment. This helps both stop negative chemical reactions that can ruin the contents of your bottle, but also helps support the beneficial maturation of your wine to bring out its best flavor and character. It not only affects long term storage, but the taste and aroma presented to guests when it’s offered. To make matters more complicated, different wines require different temperatures. VinePair, a website tuned into drinking culture, they offer the following broad guidelines.
Far from being cold boxes that you would want to store in a cave away from a guest’s eyes, wine coolers are now built to be seen and admired. Stainless steel and matte black options are available, as are glass doors, led lighting, and wood trim.
State-of-the-art temperature controls ensure that your wine collection is maintained in its optimal temperature ranges. For the environmentally-minded enthusiasts, today’s compressors are both quiet and efficient, offering little noise and less carbon footprint.
Look for a model that offers the amenities you need. Small coolers can hold several dozen bottles, while larger, upright models can house hundreds. Choose a single, smaller cooler in the kitchen for vintages you use most frequently, and a larger model to hold the rest of your collection in the cellar. Make sure you choose a model from a reputable manufacturer who stands behind their equipment. For instance, KingsBottle offers a 2-year warranty.
- Glassware – Glassware is the unsung hero of the wine experience. Many assume that the entire purpose of a wine glass is to hold the contents until it has been drunk and look pretty while doing it. In fact, many people mistakenly buy their wine glasses purely for looks, without any regard to the wine they plan to serve in it. This is a mistake.Wine, as any enthusiast will tell you, is more than a drink; it is an experience. Part of the experience is the taste and aroma. To fully realize those key components, specially designed glasses particular to the type of wine served are necessary. Short and round or tall and skinny, each serves a purpose based on the vintage it was meant for.
The champagne or sparkling wine flute is tall and narrow. This helps to preserve, and in fact, encourage the bubbly effervescence we love. The other common type of glass you commonly see is the champagne saucer. Under most circumstances, you want to avoid this. It was designed for the way champagne was served in the glasses heyday, the early part of the 20th century when sweet syrups were added to make a dessert wine. It remains popular in the media, but will not be as popular with your palette.
White wine should be served in glasses shaped like a tulip. This is the classic wine goblet most people are familiar with. It allows the flavors and aromas to breathe without dissipating. Some will use this as an all-purpose wine glass, and it will do in a pinch, but will only give an optimal experience with a white wine or light blush.
At first glance, a red wine glass is very similar to that of white. You will notice, on close comparison, however, that its bowl is larger and more rounded. This is not for an extra pour of beverage, but rather for extra air. Full-bodied red wines need extra room to breathe, and the larger bowl size gives them room to reach their heady potential.
These are the most common glass types, and there are plenty of options available for every budget. They can be made of everything from simple glass to more ornate crystal with fanciful decorations. The choice is yours and limited only by your taste and budget.
As a side note, there are smaller, niche and novelty glasses available. Some of these are made with the same care toward flavor as the above, traditional offerings, some are not, so do your due diligence. A few of the favorites are spill proof glasses that tip without spilling a drop, aerating glasses that are intended to speed up the aromatizing, and insulated “travel glasses” that are meant for hot backyards in the summer.
- Wine Service – The proper wine service is essential for an enjoyable and trouble free experience, whether you’re serving a large party, a private tasting, or just having an intimate dinner for two. Let’s take a look at the core pieces to a functional wine service setup.Corkscrew – Of all the wine service tools and accessories, this one is the can’t-do-without. Corkscrews come in a wide variety to suit your preference. The most common is the waiter’s corkscrew, familiar friend to sommeliers everywhere. It has a small foil knife, and the cork is pulled with a lever action. Other models include two handles for better leverage, mount to tables for stability, or are electric for easy, one-hand operation.
Tabletop Chiller – When serving from an open bottle, a tabletop wine chiller can help make sure the last drink was the same perfect temperature as the first. Traditionally, this was accomplished by an ice bucket. Now, small electric chillers fit snugly around bottles and maintain a precise, even temperature. They aren’t strictly required to enjoy a bottle at a leisurely pace, but you won’t go back once you try it out.
Vacuum Sealer, Corks, Bottle Preservers – If you aren’t going to finish a bottle right away, don’t let it go to waste. While you can simply recork the bottle for extremely short-term storage (a trend which popular restaurants are getting on board with to sell you full bottles versus glasses), for longer storage, you need a vacuum sealer. Air is not your wine’s friend. These sealers extract the air and stopper the bottle to preserve its characteristics until you return.
Wine Totes – Wine totes are great for handily taking a couple bottles to a party or dinner engagement. Available in chic styles and patterns, they give you a convenient way to carry one or several bottles. Some are even insulated to help preserve the ideal temperature. They also come in handy as a way to avoid any accident when moving a few bottles from your long-term storage to the kitchen cooler.
If you enjoy mixed drinks with a wine base, it may be worth it to include a few drink mixing basics. A shaker, strainer, shot measure, and ice tongs are fairly common. You can also add an ice crushing bag and small mallet to be prepared for any eventuality.
- A Wine Journal or Logbook – Part of collecting is acquisitions. As with any collecting hobby, documentation is vital. A simple logbook helps you maintain an inventory of your bottles. There’s no reason to wonder if you have the right wine on hand when you can reference your log to be sure. This helps you both fill in gaps in your collection and avoid over-buying a single vintage or type (unless, of course, that is your focus).A second reason to keep an accurate inventory is valuation. Fine wine can be more than a beverage or treat, it can be an investment. A complete log helps you keep an eye on your bottles and their value. You may never dream of selling that rare vintage, but it is important to understand what you have in your collection.
In addition or in conjunction with your wine log, a wine journal can also be helpful. This lets you record your wine experiences in your own words. This helps to fine tune your palette by requiring analysis and thought. The results are a more educated consumer making more discerning purchases.
Does that sound like a lot of paperwork? It doesn’t have to be. In fact, it works best to eliminate the paper altogether. There are plenty of programs and application, available from both the App Store and Google Play, that will do the labor intensive part for you. Some can provide valuation, allow you to operate both a log and journal in one place, and even filter your favorite vintages for quick reference. The important thing is to find a style that works for you and make it part of your wine lifestyle.
- A Pairing Guide – Can you eat french fries with soup? Yes. Should you serve that at your next dinner? Probably not. Just as certain foods work best in specific combinations, so too do wine vintages pair with certain foods. While a broad overview is easy to come by online, for example, red wine for pasta in a red sauce, for the best experience, a pairing guide can help further winnow down the options to the best choice for a particular meal.A properly selected wine not only accentuates the food, it is also a mark of discernment for the host. It helps you show your guest that you take the time to plan, gather your resources, and follow through on execution. This is an important message to send whether you are discussing a promotion, celebrating an event, or just enjoying the company of a close friend.
Closely related to a pairing guide, find a recipe book for cooking with wine. Yes, cooking wines are readily available at any supermarket. If you wouldn’t drink it, why would you cook with it? Don’t necessarily open a rare and costly bottle for a cup of wine to be used in Rosemary and White Wine Braised Chicken, keep a bottle on hand that is palatable to drink specifically for cooking.
- Wine Decor – You have the bottles. You have the cooler. You are cultivating a sommelier’s nose. Wine is quickly becoming a fixture in your lifestyle. Most likely, you already view wine as an art, why not literally as art?Wine decor fits seamlessly into any design scheme. Whether it is attractive, yet functional bottle holders, wall hangings, or an antique service set, wine decor can make a stunning display and become a collecting hobby in its own right. Best of all, it lets you express your passion to your guests in a way that can start conversations and strengthen personal and professional relationships.
As more enthusiasts embrace wine culture, so too do more designers incorporate wine into their offerings. Decorative bottle displays can hold gold and jewel adorned bottles. Crystal decanter sets gleam on mirrored service trays. You even get oversized champagne corks as stools. There are plenty of store-bought options available.
If you are a hands-on decorator, you can even, with a little work and wine consumption (Separately; safety first.) Create your own decorations. A quick google search will yield instructions and videos that help you turn your used bottles into glasses, corks into stunning crafts, and even craft bottle sculptures that wow. The limit is your imagination and taste.
- Protection – Paranoia serves no one. Prudence serves all. Understand that your fine wine collection is a valuable commodity, whether for your personal enjoyment or as an investment. You have put time, effort, and money into acquiring your bottles. Protecting that investment makes good, common sense.Consider a back-up power supply for your storage solution. While an emergency battery is an option, if the electricity is interrupted for more than a few hours, it may not do much good. A generator, whether specifically dedicated to only your wine or for the household essentials, helps ensure that quality is not lost due to a power failure.
If you live in an area prone to earthquakes or other natural disasters, a reinforced storage area may make sense. Designed to protect your collection from the ravages of nature, this can come in the form of strengthening your existing structure or constructing a special area for your wine storage needs.
Finally, a valuables rider on your insurance policy may not be able to replace every bottle you’ve collected, but it will help mitigate the financial loss. Many standard home or renter’s policies do not cover the loss of valuables over a certain amount. You will want to check with your insurer. If you do decide to insure your collection, an accurate logbook becomes invaluable, and it is strongly suggested that you take pictures of, at the least, your most expensive bottles. They will help you in the unfortunate event a claim becomes necessary.
While wine will always be the central focus for a wine enthusiast, these items can help you enjoy your collection to the fullest extent possible. By acquiring the accessories and embracing completely the lifestyle of a connoisseur, you can make new friends, explore your passion for the finer things in life, and curate a collection that will give you pride and enjoyment for years to come. If you’ve found these helpful, raise a glass to me. Happy collecting!
Carolyn Clarke has been writing about food, wine, and the good life for nearly 10 years. When she’s not investigating the latest food trend or tracking down a great bottle of red, she can be found hiking and biking in the great outdoors.