21 Helpful Wine Tips
To celebrate turning 21 yesterday, I’ve put together 21 helpful wine tips for any beginner looking to get into wine.
From the need-to-knows to the insider information, these tips are a guaranteed way to improve your wine-drinking experience.
Add your helpful wine tips in the comments below!
21 – Before you smell a wine, give it a swish in the glass
If you want to experience the world of wine fully, you have to appreciate the wine’s bouquet as well as its flavours.
In fact, you may be surprised to know that sometimes a wine can be more interesting on the nose than the palette.
The process is simple. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be doing it naturally every time you open a bottle!
- Pour the wine to a point where you can comfortably move it in the glass without causing a spillage.
- Hold the wine in front of you, or place on a flat surface, and gently rotate it so the wine swirls about in the glass.
- This will allow the air to mix in with the wine and bring out some really intriguing aromas.
- Take your time smelling the wine with your nose at the lip of the glass and it angled towards you. Here’s a picture to demonstrate (please try to ignore the largeness of my nose).
This helpful wine tip will open up a new door to enjoying great wine.
20 – Screwtop does not mean bad wine; likewise, a cork does not mean good wine either
It’s easy to see why screwtops have got people turning their noses up at the wine bottle beneath. Perhaps it’s less romantic when you open it? Or maybe France’s reluctance to adopt the screwtop means we’re reluctant too.
But screwtops shouldn’t be a put off. For a start it means you won’t get a corked wine. While the cork has some appeal in a wine you might cellar for over ten years, allowing it to age more complexly, a screwtop will prevent the disappointing scene of opening a ten year cellared red that’s oxidised because of a bad cork.
Secondly, they’re easier to close back up if you’ve opened a bottle but haven’t drank it all. It will keep better for the following day as well.
Finally, it’s a much cheaper alternative for the winemaker. That means more investment in the wine, rather than the seal, and a slightly cheaper bottle (hopefully) when it arrives at your local independent.
19 – The best mulled wine starts with good wine
There’s few better drinks to bring a smile to your face on a cold, breezy winter’s day than mulled wine.
But if you’re going to make a batch of mulled wine don’t fool for the trick of the cheapest wine “spruced up”. It won’t work. Not in a worthwhile way, anyway.
Mulled wine is a loving affair. You invest your time and money in the cinnamon stick, cloves, orange peel and sugar. So why skimp on the wine?
Instead, spend a little more (not ridiculously so) and buy a good, tasty wine for your mulled wine base.
Here are my top wine suggestions for mulled wine:
- A medium-bodied, young, fruit-forward Pinot Noir (£8-£12); if you want your ingredients to shine through, this lighter wine variety will keep the fruit but give more room for you to enrich it.
- Spicy Argentinian Malbec (£7-£10); fuller bodied and loads of spicy potential this can make a mulled wine batch that’s so seductive on the nose you’ll have the neighbours queueing for miles.
- Merlot-prominent Claret (£6-£15); this is the classic choice for great mulled wine. Great balance of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that is guaranteed to be heart-warmingly good.
Making the mulled wine:
- Pour two or three bottles into a large saucepan with the hob on a medium-high heat.
- Once the wine is hot, add orange peel, four tablespoons of sugar (more if you like it sweeter, less if not!), three cloves and a cinnamon stick.
- Keep the wine hot, but turn down the heat a little. Leave for ten minutes, stirring regularly. Serve when ready!
18 – Cork wines should be stored on their side
When you put a bottle of wine on its side, the wine in the bottle will keep the cork wet. This prevents it from drying out, which would cause the cork to shrink.
A shrunk cork means only one thing: cork taint. No-one wants that.
17 – Pretty obvious this one, but always serve wine in a clean, clear glass
There’s been a lot written on wine glasses, especially if you’re interested in wine beyond the casual drinking level.
Whatever type of glass you’re serving it in, there are two rules a wine lover of any level should follow:
- Keep it clean.
- Keep it clear.
One of wine’s greatest attributes is its colour, so to mask that is just wrong. You want to be able to see its deepness, lightness, intensity, right? Sure. So always choose a clear glass.
Odour, soap suds, and other muck is an off-put – and not just for your eyes. It will always effect the quality of the wine you’re drinking, both on the nose and on the palette.
16 – Store unfinished wine in the fridge
White, rosé – even red wine needs to be stored in the fridge if you haven’t finished the bottle.
Heat causes the chemical reactions in the wine to quicken, which can mean your wine gets oxidised much quicker than you like if it’s in a sweltering kitchen on a summer’s afternoon.
Store the wine in the fridge instead. It’s easy to get a wine back up to room temperature for serving later.
15 – Tasting like a pro means using the right glassware
When you’re next at a tasting, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. In the world of wine, the official, international-standard tasting glasses are the ISO-Type.
And it’s not just pretentious lark, either. The ISO-Type is the best glass for seeing the wine’s colour, giving it a swirl, sniff and taste – especially if you’re tasting in quantity.
Wine enthusiasts running these tastings a pools of information, so if you want to know more about why the ISO-Type is the right glass, just ask them at your next tasting.
14 – Always trust your own taste first
One of the great things about being human is that we are all individuals. We see things differently to the next folks along the line.
Same goes for taste.
Just because I, Robert Parker, Oz Clarke, or Jancis Robinson rave about a wine or rip it to shreds, that doesn’t mean you agree.
Sure, you might find one professional whose views you admire and respect, but you should always trust your own taste first.
Be adventurous, but you know what you like.
13 – Try and serve your wine at the right temperature
Drinking wine should be an enjoyable experience. You don’t want a lukewarm high-acid Sauvignon Blanc or a freezing cold, tart Cabernet. You want the crisp, cold Sauvignon, and that warm, velvety Cabernet – so temperature is key.
Here’s a quick general guide to serving temperatures (although there are obviously exceptions so experimenting is always good):
- Red wine should be served at room temperature. Exceptions, like Sparkling red or some light-bodied varieties work well lightly chilled.
- Fuller bodied white wines like oak Chardonnays are also best lightly chilled.
- Crisp, high-acid whites like Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon amongst others are best chilled. As are rosés.
- Dessert wines and sparkling wines are superb when they’re well chilled; it also means you can pop the bubbles without much spillage.
12 – Store unopened bottles of wine the right way: Temperature
Firstly, if you’re wine is unopened keep it out of the fridge. That includes whites and rosés – these should go in the fridge only a few hours or the night before you serve them.
Excessively cold or hot temperatures can cause damage to the wine, so your ideal room will be a constant, warm temperature.
I know most of us don’t have thermometers so just imagine a comfortable room temperature where you don’t need a jumper but you’re not downing tap water either.
Kitchens are a pretty bad place to store your wine. All the opening and closing of an oven means a lot of fluctuation in room temperature.
Ideally, your room will be a constant heat. Try moving the wine rack to the dining room or hallway to overcome this problem.
11 – Lost the cork? Don’t panic
If you’ve lost the cork and you want to save some of the wine for later, a quick fix is here to save the day.
Grab some clingfilm and an elastic band, securing the film tightly over the open bottle. This will keep the air out and keep the wine good for another day.
However, if you’re prone to losing the cork, why not invest in a wine stopper? There’s some great ones on the market and it will provide a long term solution!
10 – Don’t waste the wine!
Wine is versatile beyond enjoying a glass or two.
It makes an excellent cooking ingredient, such as white wine for poaching fish or chicken, and red wine for the spaghetti bolognaise sauce.
You can also use it for some interesting marinades.
Even if you think the wine has gone off, don’t chuck it out just yet. Instead, pour the remaining wine into a vinegar bottle that has a bit of vinegar left in it.
After time, this will result in your own homemade wine vinegar that you can use as a tasty dressing!
09 – Don’t overdrink the same kind of wine
When you’ve found a wine you like, I understand that it’s easy to stick with it and just buy the same wine every time.
You’ll see the effects: shelf after supermarket shelf these days is stacked full of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. It used to be the same when Merlot dominated the market too.
But not only is it bad for the wine trade, it will suck for you too. Too much of a good thing is all too true in the wine world and you may find yourself ruining the style if you drink the same wine constantly.
There’s a wealth of taste out there and the best thing you can do is keep discovering new things. Never lose that drive.
08 – If you’re a beginner, here’s a cheat to wine and food matching
We should be forever grateful to the Italians. Thanks to the long lunches and great wine they enjoy so frequently, we’re lucky enough to reap the best of what they’ve learnt in their wines.
When you’re matching wine with food and you don’t know where to start, play it safe and pick an Italian wine.
The wines of Italy are pretty much made for food. They have excellent acidity and/or tannin balance just for that reason.
As you grow more confident, try new wines from other regions.
07 – There’s no substitute for getting out there and discovering things for yourself
If you really want to learn about wine, you need to be tasting wine a lot and immersing yourself.
So visit vineyards and meet the winemakers; have a taste of a wine you’ve never tried before; review products online; engage in discussions and just indulge yourself.
Trust me, you’ll have a great time.
06 – If the tannin is too much, decant the wine
Sometime you might get a bottle of red that surprises you with a dry and bitter tannin.
While this might just mean bad wine, there’s hope for something spectacular so don’t throw it away just yet.
Open the wine and pour it into a decanter. If you don’t have a decanter, a plastic or glass jug will do just as well.
Leave the wine for a few hours and try it again. With any luck the tannins would have softened, giving way to a more balanced and enjoyable wine.
05 – Always, always decant Vintage port
While you may get some sediment in a variety of (mainly red) wines and its good practice to decant wine, you must always decant vintage port.
Due to its fortified nature, the older the port gets the more sediment in the bottle. You will, in the particularly old ones, get quite a chunk of it!
04 – Be label-curious
While the main thing is enjoying the wine in the bottle, those of us who like to find out more about the things we like should look to the label first.
It might require some prior research about what the bits and bobs of wine labelling mean, especially with old world wines. But it will pay off.
Starting with the label can tell you a lot about the wine from grape variety to a particular Chateau. It might even try to tell you what it tastes like!
03 – Drink good wine with good company
It’s true what winos say about atmosphere – it simply does make the wine taste better. Not to mention drinking alone should be avoided whenever possible.
Drinking in the right place with the right people can make good wines taste great.
02 – Best white wines for a tasty spritzers
If you’re mixing your white wine with tonic water, Torrontés from Argentina is a surprisingly enjoyable mix.
Those who prefer it with club soda, go for a soft but crisp version of a Pinot Grigio or a flower-forward Muscadet.
Sweet-tooth wine lovers, try mixing Riesling with some lemonade.
01 – If the wine’s too dry, pair it with food
Great food wines might be a bit dry on its own. However, when they’re well-made you’ll notice that the dry finish gives way to a mouth-watering sensation. That’s from the wine’s acidity balance.
Classic examples like Gavi, Chianti and many Bordeaux blends are all dry and delightful with food.
Ben’s debut eBook, Ben Franks On Wine: Top Tips, is coming soon.