There are numerous levels on which we "enjoy" a glass of wine. It may be simply a drink: an aperitif at the cocktail reception preceding a business dinner is perfectly served by a glass of vino merely decent; a quaffable red or white that gives us something to hang on to, and that doesn't overwhelm with either acid or alcohol. As a beverage to accompany the meal itself, a bit more personality is expected from our wine. Distinctive flavor, a good mouthfeel, and sufficient tannin or acidity to enhance the experience of what we're eating.
We might tap into the ancient history of wine as part of the human condition. Folks have been making and enjoying wine for thousands of years, from well before the days of Mesopotamia or the ascendancy of the Pharaohs. There aren't many things we do today that our prehistoric ancestors also did; however, enjoying a goblet of wine is one of them.
And for almost as long, wine has been considered a medicine, whether for its antibacterial properties, its ability to settle stomachs or nerves, or infused with various herbs and spices intended to heal our ills. Even today we laud the antioxidant affects of resveratrol and doctors often "prescribe" a glass or two for general well-being.
Then, of course, is wine's ongoing role as a social lubricant. Greek symposia, those wonderful, wine-fueled after-dinner gatherings provided a forum for debate and discussion and the exchange of thoughts and ideas. Throughout history, in venues large and small, from regal to run-of-the-mill, wine has stimulated human interaction, loosened tongues and inhibitions and encouraged conversation. And who can imagine a romantic interlude not well-served by the addition of Champagne or some other sparkling delight?
Still, we've not even touched on the delights of connoisseurship. To see and swirl and sniff, to sip and swallow with complete focus on the wine reveals flavors, aromas, memories and associations far beyond the "fact" of wine being no more than fermented grape juice. So whether we enjoy wine as a casual drink, with a great meal, as a connection with human history, for a healthier lifestyle, as part of a get-together with friends or in a formal tasting, any and all "improvements" to the experience are welcome.
Three simple steps, often overlooked, will make your wine drinking better than ever. Choose one, two or all three. None are earth-shattering, but all will increase your pleasure.
First, boost the fun. Start buying and serving large format bottles. Nothing livens up a dinner party like presenting the table with a magnum, a double magnum, or--holy-moly, a Jeroboam. It won't affect the wine (although wine in larger bottles does age more slowly) but it sure will amp up the social lubricant aspect. What a great way to get your companions jazzed, or, in the immortal words of Pink, "Let's gets this party started!"
Of course the discussion will veer to other bottle types and what they're called, i.e., Methuselah, Balthazar and Nebuchadnezzar to name a few. Which in turn ignites queries regarding the old testament, and Biblical kings and personalities. Did I mention the ancient history of wine as part of our human experience?
Besides, it's just so cool to have a large, or giant, bottle on the table and to serve your friends from it. Big wow factor here. Everyone is going to love this wine, and remember the night. Next step: pass out the smiles.
Second, build the flavor. Learn to use an ice bucket. The right temperature makes a huge difference in our physiological response to wine. Most reds are served too warm and lose their nuances of taste and aroma under a harsh blanket of alcohol. By serving red wine above its ideal temperature you literally allow its alcohol molecules to move to the front of the line; they'll be first to assault your sensory organs and will completely mask the flavors and complexity of the wine.
A few minutes in an ice bucket will put those flavor and aroma molecules back in queue where they belong and transform your wine into the lovely juice it was meant to be.
And please, an ice bucket works when filled with a combination of ice and water, not ice alone. Setting a warm bottle of wine atop a pile of ice is close to useless. Put a scoop or two of ice in a bucket, add cold water until the bucket is about two-thirds full, and then lower the bottle into what will momentarily become a freezing slurry.
It's the chilled water that cools the bottle. Even jammed into a pile of ice, there is very little direct contact between ice and glass. It'll take forever to cool an entire bottle in a bucket filled only with ice, but use less ice/more water and you will be surprised at how quickly your wine reaches an optimal temperature.
This little trick is akin to exchanging a hot, alcoholic bottle of wine for one of much higher quality. It will increase the pleasure of wine for whatever reason you and your friends are imbibing.
Third, indulge the fantasy. You've picked up some good, maybe great, bottles over the years. Most are squirreled away, awaiting the proverbial "special occasion" while you pull out the everyday stuff for, well... everyday. You know, the stuff they call Wednesday night wine. Solid, well made, not overly pricey, works well with everything from pizza to lamb chops.
Okay, that's fine, now and then. But do you really want it to be the "norm" in your wine drinking? Wine is about sensuality, about appreciation, about living and enjoying the good life. With so many challenges to face on a daily basis, why not reward yourself--just for being you. And reward your family and friends while you're at it.
Damn the torpedoes; full speed on that corkscrew. Open something indulgent to go with tonight's burger. Forget the "special occasion." Because, in fact, it's all a special occasion. Indulge the fantasy and pop that gorgeous Amarone or Bordeaux or monster cabernet you've been holding on to.
A wise old gent used to answer, when asked how he was, "I'm great. I woke up on the right side of the grass today." What wonderful words. Who among us knows what tomorrow will bring? So in the interim, life is a little better, a bit more satisfying, with a focus on the good, on the best of something. Hell, man. Cheval Blanc and mac and cheese were made for each other!
Boost the fun; build the flavor; indulge the fantasy. Salud.
For more fun and felicitous wine information,
enjoy wine and beer expert Jim Laughren's latest book
A Beer Drinker's Guide To Knowing & Enjoying Fine Wine,
available at amazon.com, powells.com and independent