As I write this column, we are in the midst of a late-winter Arctic blast, all restaurants and winery tasting rooms are closed and virtually all public gatherings have been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time you read this, maybe life will be somewhat returning to normal. Whether that is the case or not, the weather will certainly have improved, and we will at least be able to enjoy our favorite beverage outdoors on the deck or patio.
Certain wines, especially dry white wines, rosés, and young, fruity reds are especially suited to spring time. Most wineries focus their new releases on such wines, many from the most recent vintage.
Young wines often present certain challenges, but you can optimize them by doing a few simple things right.
Any wine with a 2019 vintage date on the label was just a bunch of grapes hanging on a vine about seven months ago. In that short span of time it’s been picked, pressed, fermented, pumped, possibly fined and filtered, pumped again and stored in tank or barrel, pumped again, run through a bottling line and shipped.
How would you feel after all that? A bit shocked?
That’s exactly what happens to wine. Bottle shock is not a scientific term, but a common result from bottling and shipping new wines.
In simple terms, the wine shuts down, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. Until quite recently, classified growth Bordeaux would commonly shut down for years before it began showing the nuanced complexity that made it so special.
Your picnic rosé is not likely to have such a major problem, but any young wine that seems a bit on the ‘dumb’ side — lacking aromas, showing constrained flavors, a short finish — may be showing the effects of recent transport. What can you do?
Aerate the wine aggressively. That means get a lot of oxygen into it, either by decanting it or simply giving the bottle a good shake.
There are any number of tools that you can purchase to speed aeration, but you need not spend the money. Here’s a fun trick you can try.
Pour a healthy glass of your newly-opened young wine and give it a taste. Then take a turkey baster, make sure it’s clean, and give a couple of squeezes with the point a good inch deep in the glass. That will instantly aerate your wine and if you find it improved, go ahead and blast away.
Serving your wine too cold can also dumb it down, though that is not quite the same as bottle shock.
Other than sparkling wines, no wine should be served straight from the fridge. That will kill the aromas and much of the fruit flavor. It will also hide any flaws, which is probably helpful if you’re drinking a two-buck chuck, but for any decent wine it just detracts from the pleasure.
So let your wine warm up to around 55 degrees for white and rosé or 60 for light reds. Simply cupping your warm hands around the bowl of the glass will do the trick quickly.
We are seeing more and more wines sealed with screw-caps these days. Especially for outdoor sipping, they make a lot of sense. But they have one drawback, which is they tend to reinforce the reductive (anaerobic) style of winemaking, which intentionally keeps wines closed down by eliminating contact with oxygen.
Corks allow oxygen transfer more readily than screw-caps, so any wine with a screw-cap is highly likely to need the old turkey baster treatment.
For any and all young wines, you’ll get maximum flavor by letting them warm gradually to room temperature, and practice gently swirling the glass to keep the wine breathing as you sip.