Nothing irritates me more than useless wine gadgets, unless it’s useless people, but that’s a different article, isn’t it?
- CategoryEat & Drink
Nothing irritates me more than useless wine gadgets, unless it’s useless people, but that’s a different article, isn’t it? The whole wine accessories industry is predicated on a certain amount of consumer naïveté, on the belief that this “breathable” wine glass or that magnetized gizmo or that bizarrely shaped decanter are essential to the enjoyment of wine.
So let me be blunt. What is essential to the enjoyment of wine is good wine and good company, even if the latter is your own and you’re drinking out of a paper cup like that dude from Sideways. And I have had some seriously good wine out of red Solo plastic party cups, just for the record.
That said, there are some fundamental tools worth adding to your wine toolkit if you don’t already have them. The first is decent glasses with stems because although plastic cups may not detract from your wine enjoyment, they certainly won’t add to it either. Here’s what you need: a set of good quality, translucent, matching, immaculately clean, crystal wine glasses with stems. Here’s what you don’t need: oversized silly glasses that hold an entire bottle of wine and cost an absurd amount; glasses that allege to magically “oxygenate” your wine for you; glasses without stems such that your grubby, greasy paws make a mess and overly warm the wine inside; or colored glassware of any sort including, and I am sorry say it, those pink breast cancer awareness wine glasses. Because accurate color assessment matters in your overall impression of a wine, and seeing the world through rose-colored glasses means you’re doing exactly that.
A lot of research and resultant controversy has gone into the notion of stemware shape. Does having a particular size or shape of vessel help to concentrate the aromatics of a wine in a meaningful way? The quick answer is “yes,” though far less so than manufacturers of pricey crystal would have you believe. Be sensible. Don’t pour a big monster red wine into a tiny port glass, and don’t drink a delicate sipping wine out of a monstrously sized red wine balloon. The way in which oxygen interacts with wine to release its polyphenol-driven aromatics can be important but only in wines that merit that kind of analysis. Everyday wine should be drunk out of everyday wine glasses, period. At home, I favor Spiegelau crystal in a generic size for daily wine with dinner. I also keep sets of oversized Burgundy glasses (for better pinot noir, nebbiolo and the like), Bordeaux glasses (for big cabs and syrah), pretty little cordial glasses for fortified or dessert wines and, of course, good quality flutes for bubbles. If I have a dinner party with “real” wines, it’s nice to set the table correctly with glassware for multiple wines. Otherwise, Mr. Sexton and I use a basic glass.
What matters more than shape 99 percent of the time, folks, is cleanliness. I never ever use dish soap of any sort on wine glasses because that residue is difficult to fully remove. I use only super hot water to clean my glasses and occasionally add a tiny amount of bleach diluted with water every few months to clear out any build-up of organic matter. Don’t use Palmolive, Madge, and don’t use Jet-Dry in the dishwasher either. Your next bottle of wine will unfairly shoulder that legacy of chemical aromas.
And how about decanters? Much like elaborately shaped glasses, decanters are, well, over-blown. Any clean glass vessel will do and I have cheerfully and successfully decanted wines into Teleflora vases (free with bouquet!) provided the receiving glassware was scrupulously clean. Why do we decant wines and which ones do we decant? There are three reasons and three reasons alone to decant wines. The first is to remove the yucky solid bits from the yummy liquid wine in older reds that have some age on them. No one enjoys exfoliating her teeth when sipping wine so getting that gritty stuff out is key. It’s also important to note that the wine and its solid bits have been friends for quite some time and the presence of such precipitates can actually be an indication of quality, i.e., the wine wasn’t sterilized or stripped of flavor in its infancy. The second reason one decants wine is to introduce oxygen into a very youthful wine. When a young wine is closed or not showing its aromatics well, you can either cellar it and wait another few years for oxygen and Father Time to S-L-O-W-L-Y works their softening wonders in the bottle, or you can impatiently open that shy bottle right away today, decant it back and forth a few times, and try to expedite the opening of those aromatics. Try this the next time you have a nicer bottle of recently released wine that seems kind of dull on the nose. Moving the wine back and forth between clean glass containers can really open up the aromatics in an adolescent wine.
The third and final reason one decants wines is to “bring the fancy.” Really. It’s the hallmark of a successful grape juice charlatan. Whether or not it enhances the physical enjoyment of a wine is secondary to the ritual delights of caring for a wine enough to serve it out of a decanter. Even the most humble of everyday reds gets a facelift when you pour it into and out of a lovely glass decanter. Service matters, at home as much as in restaurants, so bring the fancy once in a while and decant your wines. It adds to the ambience in a meaningful way.
Last gadget you need: a wine opener that works. Don’t shred corks with one of those el cheapo corkscrews with wings that flap up and down on the rare occasion when they work at all. Either get a Pulltaps brand, the waiter’s BFF corkscrew with a Teflon “worm,” (the curlicue part that actually screws down into the cork itself) or upgrade and buy the Rabbit, which is infallible if large. Corks made out of real cork are porous and crumbly and either of these two wine openers will help keep that organic stopper from shredding in the bottle. And hey, if you get a tiny speck of cork in your wine glass by some chance, don’t freak out and embarrass yourself. It’s akin to returning the banana because there was a tiny bit of stringy banana bit left on the fruit part after you peeled it. Nothing screams “amateur” more than being a cork dork when you dine out, trust me.
Buy the basics for your wine toolkit and save the rest of your discretionary income to upgrade your grape juice. Trust someone who’s worked in the business for well over a decade now and skip the bells and whistles of wine gadgets. As in restaurants, the steak is always worth more than the sizzle, so apply your dollars to better and more wine, not to accessories you genuinely don’t need.