From that first pop of the cork to the last savored sip, wine has its way of smoothing out the rough spots and accentuating the good. It’s the perfect addition to leftover pizza or enjoyed by candlelight with risotto and prime rib, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a little intimidating.
Where to keep it? At what temperature? Should we aerate? Skip the stems?
Our friends at Kendall-Jackson introduced us to Emily Papach, a Master Sommelier with the Kendall-Jackson family of wines, for exactly that reason. We wanted to know all the dos and don’ts of storing, serving and enjoying one of our favorite beverages and we’re sharing our newfound knowledge (plus Emily’s advice) below.
Storing Your Wine
According to Emily, thinking about how to store wine should first include thoughts of time. How long will you be storing your wine prior to actually opening it?
“There is a little bit of air that’s left between the cork and the wine itself,” Emily explains, “and so when you keep wine on its side, you keep the cork in contact with the liquid and then the cork doesn’t dry out.” If you’re thinking about long-term wine storage, for both red and white, this is important. This is what will help protect the integrity of the wine over the course of time. Emily adds, “If you’re buying wine to drink over the course of next month or even next year, it’s not as important to lay the wine in its side.” This doesn’t really apply to wines with screw caps. Store them anyway you want, as long as you avoid light and large temperature shifts.
What is important, then? Temperature. Finding a space that doesn’t receive a lot of light and that keeps a constant temperature year-round is ideal. Emily explains, “the general rule of thumb [is to store red, white and rosé] at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Some wine refrigeration systems will allow for two different zones. If that’s the case, then red will be five degrees warmer than white. But again, that just depends on your storage system.”
And if you, like most, don’t have a wine fridge? Don’t fret. Emily is quick to add, “I live in a small apartment. I’ve never had a wine refrigeration system, so I have a little closet underneath my staircase that is dark and keeps a constant temperature year round.”
Another idea? “Basements tend to be cool all year,” Emily suggests, “try to avoid big temperature fluctuations. In a cabinet near a heating unit, like an oven, is not ideal.”
Preparing Your Wine
To get the most out of any glass of wine, you need air, which is why many choose to decant or aerate their bottles prior to drinking.
“Basically, what you’re doing is incorporating air into the wine in order to open up the aromatics,” Emily explains, “reds that have higher tannins tend to benefit from aeration, whereas wines that are lighter-bodied, like a pinot noir, don’t need as much. They’re easier to drink straight from the bottle.”
The same is true for whites; the fuller the white, the more it benefits from aeration or from opening up. Emily continues, “for example, if you have a young chardonnay from Burgundy or California, that might be something you choose to decant to let it open and breathe a little. But something very crisp and light, like a pinot gris, you wouldn’t need to aerate prior to drinking.”
When ready to uncork, Emily stresses that a round decanter is best for wine. “You tend to see the square decanters more for spirits,” she explains, “and that has more to do with presentation on a liquor cabinet. For everyday function, decanters for wine are a round shape.”
And certain varietals of wine will preserve better if decanted than others. Sugar is a great preservative, so sweeter wine will have a longer shelf life than crisper, drier ones.
“You find that your bigger tannin blends, like your cabernets and your cabernet-based reds, Nebbiolo…those that have a high tannin content have a longer shelf life,” Emily shares, “and those are the same wines that would also keep longer in a decanter.”
She goes on to detail that the younger the wine, the better it’ll store. “If you are going to decant a really old wine,” Emily says, “you’d want to consume it right after you decant. But if you have a just-released, California cabernet that’s current vintage, you might want to decant that quite a few hours before you consume it.”
What about those bottle-top aerators? “Personally, I don’t ever use an aerator,” Emily admits, “decanting will take care of the need to aerate…to me [whether decanting or using a bottle-top aerator] is really dependent on how much wine you want to drink.”
If you’re entertaining and plan to consume a whole bottle, Emily suggests that straight to the decanter is probably best. “If you’re just opening up a bottle to have one glass and you think it would benefit from aeration, then that’s when it would make sense to have a bottle-top aerator,” she says, “then you still preserve the integrity of the remaining bottle.“
Is there a sweet spot for the amount of time we decant? Emily says no. “I think part of the appeal of wine-drinking is to taste the differences between when you first pour and then as the wine evolves in the glass. And that goes for whether or not you decant or pour straight out of the bottle or use a bottle-top aeration system. I tend to be less patient, so as soon as I pour the glass of wine I want to drink it. [Laughs.] I don’t necessarily have an ideal timeframe to aerate and then drink.”
Similar to aeration, the temperature at which wine is served also has a lot to do with its notes and taste. Emily explains, “aromatics and flavors are suppressed the colder a wine is, and so the typical rule of thumb would be as you move from a light and crisp wine all the way up to a more full-bodied wine, you increase the temperature at which you serve it. So, when you think about your pinot gris or sauvignon blancs, those typically tend to be served colder than a California chardonnay.”
Yet, when it comes to the difference between using a marble chiller or putting a white or rosé on ice, Emily is pretty forgiving. “I think it all comes back to how you like drinking your wine,” she says, “if you like drinking cold chardonnay, then that’s how you should drink it. A marble chiller is great for keeping white wine cool, but if you like to drink your white wine cold, then go ahead and put it on ice.”
She reiterates, “for me, wine is all about pleasure, and it’s not going to be pleasurable if you’re not drinking it how you’d enjoy to drink it. So, while somebody might say the optimal temperature for drinking white wine is 50 degrees, if you like drinking white wine at 40 degrees, by all means, you should.”
Serving Your Wine
Any stemware aisle is sure to overwhelm the beginner (or even advanced) wine drinker, and Emily is just as quick to calm our fears here.
“There are a lot of options out there for stemware and I think it gets overcomplicated,” she says, noting that the primary consideration for glassware shouldn’t be what we think we need, but actually what our space dictates and the way we want to wash: By hand or via dishwasher?
Emily points out that a lot of specialty glasses, like sommelier series or Grand Cru, have more to do with the actual size of the stemware, not the shape, and these don’t fit into a standard dishwasher. Knowing how tall the shelves in your cabinets are, for example, will set you up to purchase the kinds of glasses that are right for you.
Beyond that, Emily divides stemware into four basic groups:
- White Wine Glasses: A glass with a smaller bowl that is used for crisp, light whites. Best for sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and rosé.
- Burgundy Glasses: A glass with a thicker base and sturdier bowl that tapers up into a fluted top, creating more surface area to help aerate a fuller-bodied wine. Best for pinot noir and chardonnay.
- Bordeaux Glasses: A glass with a larger bowl shape, but instead of a tapered top it remains open so that diameter of the glass is the same at the top as it is at the base, again aiding in aeration. Best for cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and classic Bordeaux grape varieties.
- Champagne Flutes: A glass with a fluted shape. Best for champagne.
And Emily’s thought on stemless wine glasses? “I don’t dislike stemless glassware,” she says, “if I’m just going to come home from work and pop a bottle to wind down for the day, I have no problem using stemless.” However, she clarifies by saying, “but if I just spent $200 on a bottle of red and am going to enjoy it over an anniversary dinner, chances are I’m going to decant it and put it in a glass with a stem. It’s meant to be taken a little more seriously, and I would treat it as such.”
Lastly, is cheese really the best appetizer to pair with wine?
It turns out, yes. That has a purpose, too. “A universal pairing with wine would [always] be cheese, because cheese has fat and salt and wine, of course, has acid,” Emily says. “So when you have fat on your palate and then acid on your palate, it makes for a very pleasant experience.”
As for specific cheeses and wines to serve together, Emily is ready with suggestions.
“For the Kendall-Jackson AVANT Sauvignon Blanc, I think goat cheese or fresh chevre would be an awesome wine pairing,” she shares, “and with the KJ AVANT Chardonnay, I think a soft ripened cheese or a washed rind cheese, something a little thicker and textured.”
And for red? Due to the higher tannin content, Emily suggests pairing a red with a cheese that likewise has a higher fat content, something like parmesano reggiano or Gouda. Nuts, pickles and crackers all make good choices, too, due to the same salt, fat and acidity ratio. Just keep in mind that the intensity of your wine should always match the intensity of your food. Emily adds, “If you have a seafood appetizer and you’ve got really light and delicate ingredients, I wouldn’t necessarily pair a red wine with that. I would default to something like a sauvignon blanc, a little bit lighter and crisper.”
Finally, Emily ends on a note we can’t help but agree with, “wine is meant to be enjoyed, I don’t think that anybody should overthink it. First and foremost, the point of drinking is to enjoy a glass of wine, so, as long as you’re enjoying what you’re drinking, I think it’s a win-win.”
SHOP THE WINE ACCESSORIES