Dialing in the right temperatures. Wine pros often advise us: “Most people drink their white wines too cold and their red wines too warm.” You could be doing this yourself, without realizing what kind of enjoyment you are missing out on. When a white is too cold, its aromas tend to hide, and its acidity can seem to run wild. When a red is too warm, it can expel a stinging blast of alcohol and suppress its beautiful fruit.
A white will settle down to its ideal temperature in the glass. But that warm red won’t get cooler unless you’re pouring it one place and then drinking it in a much cooler place. Have you heard that red wine should be served at room temperature? Well, that advice stopped being useful when the rooms of northern Europe stopped being about 60 degrees. If you’re living in a stone castle and the year is 1904, then sure — room temperature is fine. What we call “room temperature” is much higher today than it was 100 years ago, and no wine on earth should be served at 72 degrees.
Generally, serve your big reds like cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah between 55 and 65 degrees; lighter reds like pinot noir, tempranillo and sangiovese between 50 and 60; dessert wines and fuller-bodied whites like chardonnay and riesling between 45 and 55; and lighter-bodied whites like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, rosés and sparkling wines between 40 and 50 (the better the sparkling wine, the closer to 50).
For long-term storage, set your wine refrigerator at 55 and forget about it, or lay your bottles down in a dark, humid room — like a basement — that stays between 50 and 60 all year long. One more trick for those of you who don’t live in a stone castle; put your whites in the fridge for two hours and take them out 30 minutes before you serve them, and put your reds in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before you serve them. If you’re in a hurry, whip up an ice bucket with plenty of water in it. You want icy water — not a bucket of ice chunks.
Finding a mentor-ish consultant. No one knows the wines in a shop like the people selling it. It’s their job to know and to steer you not only to the best bottles, but also to the best values. If they don’t, they risk losing you forever. File that under “Fool me once, etc.” Once you establish that you and your wine seller have the same tastes (or she at least understands yours), you’ll be able to return to her indefinitely. Give her feedback, and make her work for you, and if she’s not working for you, well, there are plenty of wine sellers in the sea.
Getting your mind right. More often than not, in a picturesque setting, at a momentous affair, when people sip a wine and say, “Hey, that’s good,” what they are really saying is, “Hey, I’m good. I’m feeling good right now.” It’s a wine assessment/mood mashup. We’ve all had them. It doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It just means that circumstances can conspire to turn us into softer critics, if only temporarily.
Don’t trick yourself into believing that every crappy wine is life-elevating. Do try, however, to allow yourself to be amazed more often. Don’t be jaded. Don’t let the relatively small challenges or annoyances of the day ruin your repast. Big challenges and annoyances are a different matter; I’m not suggesting full-time rose-colored glasses or head-in-sand-burying. I’m only encouraging the practice of gratefulness. Keep yourself open to the arrival of pleasure, and be so bold as to invite it in at times.
BYO-ing better. Keep buying wine in restaurants, but when you haul your own bottles into a BYO restaurant, make it a “one plus one equals three” situation. Sure, you’re saving money, but there are so many other benefits. Be sure to look at the menu before you arrive and put some thought into your bottle selections.
And then …
1) Arrive with the bottles at roughly the right temperature, and sometimes that will require ice and maybe a little drippage. Stay the course.
2) Don’t cheap out. Bottles on restaurant lists cost way more than they do in retail shops. Exploit that disparity, and treat yourself to a little splurge on the wine.
3) Bring more wine than you will drink, both in quantity and style, and don’t rule out half-bottles (375 milliliters). The more tastes you can experience — and share — the more you’ll enjoy yourself. You’ll learn more too.
4) Double up on glasses for everyone. This way, you’ll always have two different wines to try as you journey through the food courses. Most servers are happy to oblige, even if they are initially confused by the request.
5) When there is a glass or two left in a bottle that everyone is done drinking, offer a glass to your server, or send the bottle to the kitchen. The kindness will come back to you — if not that night, then some other time.
6) Tip like a BYO-er — generously. You saved a ton of money on wine, and your server opened your bottles, brought you extra glasses and an ice bucket, and sometimes even refilled your glasses. It’s worth a few extra bucks or even more than a few. You’ll still come out way ahead.
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