Wine Tasting 101 (Part Five: Accessories)

grape-harvest-by-dora-hitz-c1910
Grape Harvest, by Dora Hitz C1910

Accessories! Whether it’s gadgets or handbags, we can never get enough of them, and the line between ‘need’ and ‘want’ is often blurred. The world of Oenophily is no exception, and a quick wander around the web will expose you to a vast array of things which you simply must have in order to make your wine-drinking life complete.

So, what do you really need? Based on what I have floating around my house, here’s a list of my Top 5 wine accessories.

1/ Wine glasses. I use the same basic glass for red and white. Wine glasses should be made of glass or a similar substance. They should be tulip-shaped to capture the aroma, and have a stem so that the warmth of your hand doesn’t affect the temperature of the wine (if you ever need to warm wine up, you can do so by cupping your hand around the bowl of the glass. The rest of the time you’re supposed to hold it by the stem. No, I don’t usually remember to do that). They should have a thin, straight edge so that the wine rolls smoothly into your mouth. I’d caution against anything too thin, though, as the endless worry about breaking them just isn’t worth the hassle.

2/ Champagne flute. Trends in champagne glasses have changed over the years. In the 1920s they were broad and bowl-like. Now they’re tall and thin. Apparently the next ‘proper’ way to drink bubbly will be out of a regular wine-glass in order to concentrate the aroma, but it’s likely to be a while before that really catches on, and in the meantime most of us will probably stick with the current classic, the champagne flute. Again, hold it by the stem: champagne (and its non-French counterparts) are supposed to be enjoyed cold.

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My Top 5 wine accessories, plus some wine to use them on.
3/ A Waiter’s Friend. Most New Zealand wine these days comes in screw-tops, so when I went up to Matakana over New Year’s I completely forgot to take my Waiter’s Friend with me. This turned out to be a mistake when one of the bottles I purchased at Brick Bay Winery proved to have a traditional cork. Luckily I had my Swiss Army knife, and the Significant Other has strong hands, so we didn’t need to resort to trying to smash the top off the bottle, or – worse! – not drinking wine! I bought mine from a bottle shop, and the owner talked me through how to use it, but if you already have one that you don’t know how to use I’m sure there are YouTube videos galore.

4/ A Decanter. Wine’s alive. Alive! And sometimes it needs to take a breath before it can fully give you all its nuances. That’s where a decanter comes in. They don’t have to be fancy – mine was $3 from a local budget shop – they just have to give the wine a place to breathe for a while. The narrow neck limits the amount of air which reaches the wine (you want it to breathe, not hyperventilate), and the action of pouring it in wakes everything up. It also means you can screw the cap back on the rest of the bottle and stick it in the fridge (yes, even red wine) to preserve it. And if you’re going back to that bottle of fridge-preserved red the decanter gives it a place to warm back up. As a side-note, refrigerating opened wine in a sealed bottle is a handy trick if, like me, you aren’t in a position to use up a whole bottle at once. Most wines will last 2-3 days this way, and I’ve had a few remain drinkable for 5-6. In fact, some even seem to be improved by the process, which gives them a long period of slow breathing to develop in.

concise-world-atlas-of-wine
At 350 pages, even the concise version is a bit big to stick in your back pocket.

5/ A Wine Guide. There are plenty of apps for this, but I’m rather attached to my pocket-sized, fold-out, paper guide, which I purchased in Queenstown last Easter. When you can’t refer back to a book, a pocket guide (or an app) provides an on-the-spot reference point for your wine-tasting experience.

Of course, there are heaps of other accessories which can also be useful. I really need to buy some tiny wine glasses for use with dessert wines and sherries. A notebook and pen are invaluable for jotting down tasting notes. A wine rack allows you to store bottles safely and compactly. A stopper can be useful if you’re using bottles sealed with corks, especially when a cork breaks. But that’s the thing about accessories: there’s always a new toy to play with. My advice is to start with the basics, and then move on to the things you really feel a need for.

Salud, l’chaim, à votre santé, and cheers bro! May every glass of wine you drink be the best yet.

Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.

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