A Guide To Choosing and Storing Wine
The history of wine is the history of civilization itself. Wine has been a part of human society for millenniums. First discovered by accident, wine has since become a staple of social gatherings, religious ceremonies, and everyday life. It spans culture and geography, with each region developing its own unique wine styles and flavors.
But this is not an article, like so many of ours, about the history of wine. This is a how-to guide for anyone who wants to get the most out of your wine-drinking experience. We’ll cover the best methods for choosing and storing your wine. And, given our penchant for all things wine history, we’ll be doing so through a particular historical lens.
The History and Art of Reading Wine Labels
Did you know that the practice of reading wine bottle labels to judge quality only began in the 19th century? Before that time, wine was historically stored and transported in barrels and amphorae (clay containers).
In the ancient world, Mesopotamian and Egyptian winemakers would press their grapes and store the resulting juice in amphorae. The wine would then be transported by ship to its destination, where it would be decanted into smaller vessels for drinking. During this long journey, the wine would often change color and taste, due to oxidation.
During this time, wines were often blends of different grape varieties and vintages. Although the amphorae were stamped with identifying factors like the vineyard’s name, wine vintage and type, it was still very difficult to ascertain the quality of the wine inside without tasting it first.
It was the ancient Romans who perfected the technique of glass blowing. They soon discovered that glass made it possible to better preserve the quality and taste of their Italian wine. Although glass was expensive at this time, so it was used sparingly.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the first glass wine bottles were produced in France. Although, it took until the 19th century for wine labels to begin including information like the wine’s vintage, producer, and region of origin. For the first time, this allowed more discerning drinkers to choose wines based on quality, rather than simply trusting the merchant’s word.
With the advent of wine bottle labels, came the practice of reading them. Today, there are a few things you should look for when reading a wine label:
- The vintage year: This is the year in which the grapes were harvested. Generally, older vintages are more expensive due to their longer aging.
- The producer: This is the winery or individual who made the wine. Reputable producers are usually a good indicator of quality.
- The region of origin: This indicates where the grapes were grown. Different regions produce wines with different flavors and characteristics.
Now that you know how to read a wine label, you’re ready to choose the right wine for your next meal or gathering.
Choosing a Wine
When it comes to choosing wine, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. That said, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you choose wine:
- The occasion: Is the wine for a special occasion or a casual get-together? Historically, wine was not only imbibed during the evenings or on special occasions. During the Middle Ages, wine was consumed frequently throughout the day. To avoid drinking water that was likely contaminated, the peasantry would often drink wine instead. Today, of course, wine is enjoyed by people from all walks of life and for all kinds of occasions. So, when it comes to choosing a bottle, you need to think whether you are doing so to impress your guests or just yourself!
- The type of food you’ll be eating: Different wines pair well with different types of cuisine. For example, full-bodied red wine is typically served with heartier fare, like steak or lamb, while light white wines are normally served with lighter dishes like fish and chicken. But what about dessert? – We hear you ask! The history and evolution of sweet wine within different cultures is a fascinating topic. Did you know that ice wine from Germany gets its name due to the fact that it is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine? Wine and food pairing finds its ultimate form in the work of the sommelier, a job title that has been in existence since the 14th century. However, at this time the title referred to a servant who transported his master’s luggage and readied the table wine by testing for poison.
- Your budget: The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold was a 1945 Romanee-Conti, which went for $558,000 at auction. However, you don’t need to spend nearly that much to enjoy a good bottle of wine. There are plenty of quality wines available at all price points. And it’s not always the case that the most expensive wine is the best. Once you know how to read wine labels and what to look for, you’ll be able to find the perfect wine to suit both your taste and your budget.
Storing Wine 101
In the past, wine was stored in caves which naturally provided high humidity levels, protection from sunlight, and cool, consistent temperatures; three things that are needed to correctly store and age wine. While today most caves have been replaced by wine cellars, there are still some regions in the world that use natural caves to age their wines.
Did You Know: The region of Champagne is famous for their natural underground caves, many of which are used to age wine.
While it is possible to buy a wine cellar for your home, most people don’t need to make such a large investment. It is possible to store wine perfectly well in your house, as long as you have a few key things:
- A cool, dark place: Wine should be stored in a cool, dark place. Ideally, the temperature should be between 50 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
- High humidity: Wine should also be stored in a place with high humidity, as this will help to prevent the corks from drying out.
- Good ventilation: Good ventilation is important to prevent mold and mildew from forming.
While the ideal temperature to store wine is 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit, the best serving temperature varies depending on the wine. For sparkling and light-bodied white wines, the ideal serving temperature is “ice cold” between 38 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. For rosé and full-bodied white wines, the ideal temperature is “fridge cold” between 44 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. For light-bodied red wine, the ideal temperature is “cool” between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And for bold red wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, the ideal serving temperature is “slightly cool” between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you want to keep your wine tasting its best, make sure to bring it to the right temperature before serving.
How to Be a Wine Lover: Sip, Not Gulp
The first step to enjoying wine is to pour yourself a glass. But before you take your first sip, it’s important to know how to hold your wine glass correctly. The proper way to hold a wine glass is by the stem, not the bowl. This may seem like an inconsequential detail, but it actually makes a big difference. Holding your wine glass by the stem prevents the heat from your hand from warming up the wine, which can alter its flavor.
Once you’ve got your wine glass in hand, it’s time to take that first sip. But before you do, make sure to give the wine a good swirl. Swirling helps to release the wine’s aromas, which in turn allows you to enjoy its flavor more fully. And when it comes to actually taking a sip of wine, resist the urge to gulp. Sipping wine slowly will help you appreciate all of its complexities and nuances.
The above advice is a far cry from the days of old when drinkers would clash their wine goblets together before downing their wine in one fell swoop. Actually, the advent of clinking glasses stems back to the 14th century when it was believed that the sound of glass clinking would ward off evil spirits. It’s also possible that people clinked glasses together during the Middle Ages, a period of upheaval and suspicion, in order to demonstrate that one drinker wasn’t attempting to poison the other by sloshing wine around between cups.
Anyways, the next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, take a moment to savor it, to really appreciate all the history and tradition that has gone into making your favorite wine. The ancient Greeks believed that wine was a gift from the gods, and who are we to argue?