Step 1: Preparing to Buy & Taste Wine
The number one thing you need to know about tasting wine is that you must create the conditions to taste the same wine as made by the winemaker. Wine, like an apple or milk let’s say, is derived from food therefore it changes depending on how it is stored and treated. A piece of fruit left in your kid’s lunchbox for two weeks, turns brown and mushy. You leave milk at room temperature, it turns sour. A great winemaker, Chris Loxton, really brought this home to me one day. We were standing in his barrel/tasting room, pre-tasting the wines that he would be pouring for guests that day. One bottle was slightly oxidated (cork didn’t fit right so air got in) but I doubt anyone except Chris would be able to tell. But he threw out the bottle with a serious look and remarked, “I want people to taste the wine I made.”
Like most of the people I know, my house didn’t have a special place to store wine. I left it in an open air wine rack in the dining room and figured it was good enough. After talking to Chris, I changed my mind. I wanted to taste what the winemaker intended as much as possible. Just as milk needs to be kept at a particular temperature, wine needs to be kept at “cellar temperature” which averages 53-55° degrees. Refrigerators are kept between 35-38° to avoid mold growing or turning it to ice (freezing). You may have heard that when tomatoes are refrigerated they break down and lose flavor, but you probably keep the tomatoes in the crisper anyway thinking what the heck they can’t be that different and I’ll eat them quickly. Wine is not like that. If you need scientific proof, I suggest reading Becca Yeaman’s blog, The Academic Wino.
You are going to have to splurge for a little wine refrigerator (or bigger if you want to follow my footsteps). A 30 bottle fridge is pretty nice and not too much of a commitment. An 18 bottle fridge is less than $200 USD and easy to find at your local store. My husband got a great deal on a 75 bottle wine refrigerator that is stainless steel and black and looks great in my kitchen. It was a Christmas gift surprise. And don’t hesitate to buy a dented or used one – you’ll be double-happy to know that you got this awesome fun item for a deal. Consider it insurance, if you are going to upgrade your wine knowledge, you can’t tie one hand behind your back by wondering if the wine was well-stored. And don’t worry about it always being filled, I store Pellegrino in mine when there’s room.
First assignment: get a wine fridge.
Next up, the value of keeping track of what you drink and a really cool way to do it. We’ll start buying and tasting wine soon, I promise!
*This post is part of a series that I started on my Facebook page on September 25, 2012. I’m inviting folks who want to learn a quick, fun and easy system for becoming wine savvy to follow in my footsteps as I learn about South African wine. Once you know the tricks, you can apply it to understanding wine from anywhere. Go to my facebook page to read the series’ introductory post.