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  •   How long should I decant a bottle of red wine?

  •   Do white wines need decanting?

  •   How do I safely open a bottle of champagne?

  •   What’s the difference between champagne and sparkling?

  •   How long can I keep a bottle of red/white/dessert wine that I have opened but cannot finish?

  •   Is older wine better?

  •   What is the right temperature to store white wine and red wine?

  •   What does "corked" mean?

  •   At what temperature should I serve a wine?

  •   What’s the deal with screwcaps?


How long should I decant a bottle of red wine?


Wines are decanted to soften their texture, and to remove sediment.


In the first case, the wine reacts with the air and the tannins become more mellow, giving the wine a softer texture. For this purpose, wines of up to 5 years of age can be decanted an hour or two before drinking. A rule of thumb is: The older the wine, the less time it needs in the decanter. Indeed, wines of 20 years of age or older may suffer from decanting, and resemble vinegar after just a few hours. If there is any doubt, err on the side of less time in the decanter – remember that the wine will continue to aerate in the glass, and that aeration cannot be reversed.


Removing sediment from a wine is usually only a consideration for wines over 5 years old, at which point most red wines will have developed solid particles from aging that taste bitter. In this case, the bottle should be removed from the rack and stood upright for at least an hour before opening. The wine should then be very carefully poured into the decanter until the last 75ml or so, which will be where the sediment is.


Do white wines need to be decanted?


The vast majority of white wines will not benefit from decanting. In general, the only reason to decant a white wine is if it is too cold, as pouring it into the decanter will warm it up slightly. This, however, may come at the cost of aerating the wine too much, degrading its quality.


Occasionally, you may come across a wine that at first shows a very sulphuric aroma which will disappear in time. Splashing the wine into a decanter can help dissipate those gases more quickly.


How do I open a bottle of sparkling wine safely?


Firstly, the bottle must be disturbed as little as possible. If a bottle has been disturbed, let it rest for at least an hour before attempting to open it.


Secondly, the bottle should not be opened until it is well chilled. This decreases the amount of pressure in the bottle and reduces the risk of the cork flying out once the cage is removed. Bear in mind that the whole bottle, including the neck, must be chilled.


Remove the foil and grasp the neck with one hand, keeping the thumb over the cage. Twist the wire and loosen the cage. At this point, if the cork shows no signs of being pushed out, lift your thumb and remove the cage before gently twisting the cork out. If the cork seems to be coming out by itself, use your free hand to grasp the cork with the cage still on top, and twist.


In either case, the sound of the cork coming out should resemble a gentle hiss or soft pop: a loud popping sound indicates that it has been removed too quickly.


What's the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?


Though "champagne" is often used in popular culture to refer to all sparkling wines, this is incorrect.


Champagne, the sparkling wine, is named after the Champagne region in France, and may only take this name if it was made in that area. Therefore, all Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes. This is the same for Prosecco and Cava, which may only be produced in certain areas of Italy and Spain, respectively.


You may sometimes see "méthode champenoise" on a label. This does not mean that the wine is a Champagne – it refers to the traditional method of sparkling wine production, with the effervescence being produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle.


How long can I keep a bottle of wine that I have opened but have not finished?


A rule of thumb is that red and sparkling wines have a shorter lifespan, once open, than whites, rosés, and sweet/fortified wines. Preservation of still wines is simple; keeping a sparkling wine fresh is slightly less so.


Sweet wines, such as ice wine or late-harvest wines, may be kept for two weeks with little noticeable decrease in quality. Fortified wines, with the exception of vintage port, may be kept for up to a month. Vintage port, however, should be treated as a regular wine with regards to preservation.


Still, non-sweet wines may be kept drinkable for up to a week – optimistically – in a kitchen fridge if the cork, or any reusable stopper (these are often made of silicone), is used to close the bottle. This is the simplest way, and perfect if the bottle is to be finished within the next few days: though it will slow down the degradation of the wine, it will not completely stop it, and you will notice changes in flavour. The cooler the fridge, the less the wine will change, though great care must be taken not to freeze the liquid.


Air is wine's biggest problem once opened, and many companies have developed ways to circumvent this. One solution, proposed by companies like Vacuvin, is to use a vacuum system: a pump is used to remove as much air as possible from the bottle. This extends the wine's drinking window to about a week.


A second solution is to use any rubber stopper, but to displace the oxygen in the bottle by spraying argon gas inside before quickly sealing it. In theory, this can prevent the wine from changing at all.


A cheap, but less-elegant solution is simply to decant the wine into a plastic bottle. Squeeze the air out of it before putting the cap on. This is similar to the pump vacuum system.


Sparkling wines are the most difficult to preserve. This usually involves using a strong stopper, designed specifically for sparkling wines, that acts as both cork and cage. Even with this system, however, the effervescence is unlikely to last for more than 3 days.


Is older wine better?


In a word, no.


The vast majority of the wines produced worldwide are made for immediate consumption – that is, within about two years of its release. These wines are not designed to age and will actually deteriorate if they are kept for too long.


Indeed, the wines that are made to be aged are the very ones that are relatively undrinkable in their youth: these are the wines that have the "resources" to develop in the bottle for much longer. These "resources" include tannins and acidity, both of which soften with age.


Sweet wines age equally well and generally increase in complexity, though sugar, unlike tannins and acidity, will not decrease in quantity with age.


What is the right temperature to store white wine and red wine?


Both red and white wines should be cellared between 10-15°C. A lower temperature will result in the wine aging more slowly, so in the case of white wines that are not made to age but which may be in the cellar for some time, a lower temperature is preferable.


At 10°C, white, rose, and sparkling wines are ready to serve as soon as you take them out of the cellar. Red wines, however, should be stood upright in a slightly warmer place for 20-30 minutes: this will allow the wine to warm up slightly, and allow any sediment to move to the bottom of the bottle where it will not be poured.


What does "corked" mean?


"Corked" is used to describe the presence of TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisol) in the wine, the result of natural fungi reacting to sanitation products like bleach in the winery.


Cork taint is not harmful to humans, though it is unpleasant to smell and taste. Corked wines generally smell of wet or rotten cardboard; in red wines, the fruit is dulled and the overall profile flat.


At what temperature should I serve a wine?


A general guideline is:


  •   Sparkling: 5-10°C

  •   White: 7-14°C

  •   Light red: 12-17°C

  •   Full red: 17-21°C


While sparkling wines are usually served very cold, there are exceptions. Aged vintage sparkling wines should be treated more like white wines, as they will probably have developed buttery, toasted, nutty flavors that are best expressed at slightly warmer temperatures. When in doubt, however, err on serving a wine slightly cooler: it is easy to allow it to warm up in the glass.


What’s the deal with screwcaps?


Generally used in New World wines, screwcaps have a reputation for being seen on low-end wines. This is probably because they do not require a corkscrew to open and so can be purchased and consumed without thought – though the same could be said for the mushroom-shaped corks found on sparkling wines.


The only truth in this popular belief is that wineries, particularly in the Old World, are reluctant to convert to screwcaps for fear that no one will take them seriously. Effectively, no one in the Old World has tried to prove consumers wrong.


Screwcaps have many advantages over corks: they are guaranteed to last much longer in the cellar (the foil on cork-sealed bottles was originally designed to prevent vermin and insects from damaging the closure),they cannot break during extraction (unlike old corks: in the case of very old port, it is not uncommon to cut the glass bottle at the neck to avoid having to deal with the cork entirely), and quality control is much easier (whereas natural cork, being a natural product, is simply cut from a larger piece – the manufacturer can do little to compensate for flaws in the material).


How do you know if a wine is too old to drink?


Before opening the wine, it is impossible to know if it is past its prime unless you have access to either someone else's notes, or your own notes taken from a previous tasting of the same vintage. Critics often publish anticipated maturity dates within a range of 10 years.


After opening, however, all is revealed, though it remains a subjective matter: some people simply like the characteristics of wines that are on their decline; some prefer their wines younger. Generally, a wine can be considered too old when it lacks body – for example, when a Shiraz has lost all its spiciness and lush sweetness, leaving behind only flavors of sour berries, or when a Pinot Noir tastes so thin as to resemble vinegar.


The question is best answered with the wine in question compared to itself a few years ago – if you remember it as being better the last time you tasted it, it may be on its way out. If this is not possible, then you must use your knowledge of the grape varietal or the region to compare what you taste to what you "should" taste: for example, a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley should not be flat, dull, and lifeless, nor should it seem particularly acidic straight after opening.


Since this is such a subjective matter, do not be surprised to hear mixed opinions when sharing a wine.