Consider a Decanter
When it comes to aerating your wine, a well-designed decanter will accomplish that with great efficiency, and hopefully with the least amount of fuss and muss. Traditionally decanting’s purpose was to separate sediment from the wine by leaving it in the bottle as the wine was carefully poured into a vessel of some sort. Decanting also unbinds a tight, young wine, or perhaps enhances the tannin structure of an old wine by getting some air into it.
But before you decant, you must know the wine you’re considering for this process. Knowing the optimal way to handle each wine before consumption is key. Too much aeration of any sort can squash-flat the life and verve in a wine in no time. On the other hand, certain wines blossom in to an amazing palate tantalizing experience when treated properly. If you’re dealing with an unfamiliar wine, first thing to do is pop the cork, give the cork a sniff to make sure the wine’s in good shape and not corked, then pour one ounce in a glass. Give the glass the 4 S’s of tasting (text and video in my blog topics). Try to analyze its current state, and what some time and air will do to it. Being patient, and knowledgeable about getting the most out of wine comes withexperience- with your learned patience and forethought manifesting the wine in its most drinkable, enjoyable form. Let both bottle and glass sit for a half-hour. Come back, and reassess. There can be many possible courses of action, as you will see when you read on.
If you’re planning on consuming the wine shortly after opening, then you may want to employ the decanter as the quickest option. Some folks pour the decanted wine back into the bottle, which has the effect of two aeration cycles. This may gurgle a little more life out of the wine than you bargained for-re-canting it back into the bottle is something to be seriously considered. You can’t undo it.
If you’ve got more time on your hands, like a day, consider this. Pour the bottle into a glass, stopping when the wine is at a wide (use your judgement with a Rhone bottle), or widest point of the bottle (close to the neck as you would find in a Bordeaux bottle). Place the wine open on your kitchen counter overnight with the cork laying across the mouth of the bottle to keep bugs out. If you got a problem with fruit flies or ants, try one of the fly screens covered below, or one layer of paper towel loosely rubber banded over the mouth of the bottle. In the morning put the cork back in the wine, and stick in the fridge. When you are ready to consume the bottle that night, take it out of the fridge an hour before you plan on drinking it so it can warm to room temp. Short term refrigeration, as many tasting rooms will tell you is the best way to preserve the condition of your wines once opened.
Earlier in the year, I went on a hunt to find the most practical and useable decanter for my needs. I came across the Menu Wine Breather Carafe at Ken Brown’s tasting room in Buellton, and bought one. It’s a simple design that allows for secure inversion of the bottle onto the decanter, and hands free transfer with no drips, as shown in the photos. I found it works great.
OK- this isn’t as redneck as opening a bottle of wine with the heel of your shoe- captured on a YouTube video a couple years back. I imagine that exercise provided some essence-wilting agitation to the juice, but if stuck on a desert island it would definitely get the job done.
We’re talking something a lot gentler, and a whole lot easier here- aeration with basic finesse. Ever since I learned this simple move, I’ve put away my aerator, except for the most extreme circumstances- maybe Trader Joe’s Coastal Syrah. You know, TJ’s $4.99 Tuesday night Coastal Syrah, made by Castoro Cellars. Put that through an aerator and it almost tastes like 10 bucks. A very credible source told me that’s the same Syrah Castoro sells for $25 in the tasting room. I can go with that all day long with a big smile on my face.
A Westside vineyard owner showed me this cool aeration move- totally bypassing the aerator. I’ve come to notice that using any one of several aerators currently available around our wine country strips just a bit more verve de vino than I’m willing to let go of by too much bubbling away when the wine’s inverted toward the glass.
I must admit I’ve seen some talented tasting room cats apply just the right amount of soft, subdued bubble-ation to a one ounce pour. At a mildly Goth-themed tasting room in early October I witnessed the Vince McMahon WWE-endorsed version of wine agitation, when the attendant shook the crap out of a tight bottle of red. “Ouch,” I thought, “You’re hurting a living thing, man!” Maybe save that kind of wine resuscitation for backstage. Isn’t there something in the employee handbook about that?
Anyway, this move is so dang simple…so gentle. Just remove the cork, cover the mouth of the bottle with your thumb, and gently invert 180 degrees, bring it upright, release the gas, repeat once more- then pour a small taste. If it needs to be un-tightened again, do one more inversion, and try it. Maybe let it breathe for 10 or 15 more minutes- but don’t beat the crap out of it for just being what it is. It most likely needs to be put in the fridge to get closer to 62 degrees f- sadly another grievous mistake I’ve made countless thousands of times in my wine drinking career: drinking the wine when it’s too warm- mostly reds, if not all.
I’d give anything for someone to invent a wine device that flashes “Open, open, open” when the wine’s really open. Sadly, I’ve been on the second half of too many bottles that seemed to just make that turn onto Super Fab Street after the first half was gone.
Give this maneuver a whirl at home. See if there’s a difference for you.
Bemoaning Cool Kitchen Wine Device Extinction
Continuing on with the 62 degree f red train of thought, when the realization finally struck that I had consumed way too many bottles of pretty good wine at the wrong temperature I went on a search for a viable solution. What’s viable is I’ve tastefully used up every square inch of space in my house, and really don’t have any space to spare without committing a seriously ugly, extremely un-feng shui-ish interior design foul, not to mention the constant suck of electricity by an extra refrigerator. I’ve got a nicely painted, semi-well sealed shed/man cave out back with power, but it gets so hot in the summer I can’t bear the thought of the wine fridge running 20 out of 24 hours a day trying to keep up.
My real issue and mission was trying to serve red wine around 62 degrees f, and maintain that temperature after opening. Guess I must be a true North County hillbilly because I don’t have A/C. It doesn’t bother me either. My neighbors live pretty far away, and no one gets offended, if you catch my drift. I have a ceiling fan in the living room that gets turned on occasionally for some kind of indoor breeze, but it doesn’t do much to maintain a comfortable atmosphere on very hot days. I decided what I needed was wine stabilization once the bottle gets into play- chilled and stabilized for drinking, even though it could be 95 in the house.
A few months back, a thoughtful hunt for a solution began. There’s a ton of mini-wine fridges on the market, and lots of adult-sized real wine collector stuff. But like many working stiffs I’ve met in our wine country, I’ve got my four or five prized cases shabbily stashed sideways in a closet that’s exactly right in the center of my house, and for sure the coolest space available on 90-plus degree days. Better than nothing, and they seem none the worse for wear, although it does feel like it’s time for a strategic review and check, with hopefully some smiling, positive results enjoyed with some complementary food pairing.
Clicking through numerous online sources, I came upon these bottle chillers. “Pretty cool,” I thought, “I can chill the bottle to what it should be for consumption.” There were two models available that looked like the same factory in China made them- very similar. I clicked and clicked all over the web to see if a supplier had them in stock, and not one was available- nowhere to be found. I sat back and thought, “Hmmm. Must have been a real piece of junk for both to be discontinued that way.” Fast forward another week, and a couple more mis-chilled bottles of wine later I decided to search on eBay.
Typing in a short line of text, followed by a click, and there it was- the Kalorik Chambrer WineBar with Dual Zone, claimed in new/never used condition. It was the brand I wanted. I’d seen it listed for over $200 new on line, so the $85 asking price definitely put it in the zone for me. I offered $65 with seller pays shipping, and an immediate acceptance came back. I was amazed, happy, and optimistic that all claims in the listing were true.
A week later it appeared at my P.O. box, looking as if it had adequately survived its trip. Took it home, sliced flaps on the carton and unwrapped the new wine toy. I shook my head in amazement that they tried to pawn this off as new when there were serious indicators of overheating on the back of the unit once the plastic bag came off. Apparently the East Coasters that sold me this rig think P.T. Barnum still lives on in the saying, “A sucker is born every minute.” It was quite amusing to see all these white pieces of tape strategically attached, as if it was straight from the factory and previously unopened.
The smoky chrome-like plastic finish on the main body definitely showed signs of use, but a quick polish with Flitz Chrome Cleaner I just bought for my bike quickly removed all but the most stubborn burn marks on the back out of sight. I turned the unit on and was pleased to hear the cooler start right up after the Blue Tooth transmitters for the bottle probes were activated. I nodded in approval- things seemed to be looking up.
Then came the ultimate litmus test- does it really work? The closest guinea pig at hand was a bottle of TJ’s Coastal Syrah- wha’ do ya’ know? I uncorked it, stuck the probe in, and set the machine for reds, and there it was on the digital thermo display- 77-degrees, with the target temp of 62 also displayed. Whereupon, I waited, and waited, and waited for the temp to drop to proper consumption temperature.
Then it dawned on me why this product was forced into extinction. In these modern times everyone thinks everything should be done for them automatically, without forethought or any sort of preliminary effort- in this case the bottle of wine must be opened. The real purpose of this wine cooler is to preserve serving temperature, and not necessarily chill wine down in an expedient manner. After realizing all I had to do was put the bottle in the fridge for a half hour after uncorking, and it would emerge within just a few degrees of nearly ready for proper consumption I was like, “Duh?”
Sadly, these units were incorrectly marketed. They are not chillers, but serving temperature preservers. When my house is 95 degrees, and I’m sitting down to a beautiful Santa Maria grilled steak on my deck, it is quite consoling to know that my wine is being looked after properly in the kitchen. It actually makes a huge difference. (Yep- unabashedly admitting to enjoying red wine with steak when it’s 95-degrees out.) Another thought that struck me is how stupid the consumer must be- to think that an open chilling device with only half the bottle enveloped by the cooling element could actually provide enough cooling power to quickly recoup a 10 to 15-degree difference and land at proper drinking temp.
This gadget continues to work just fine, and does everything I expected it to do, once I realized exactly what it really does. In the end, all the complaints from very stupid wine drinkers brought down a useful, practical, energy saving wine device. Bummer.
Lord It Over the Fruit Flies
They’re back!…those pesky little fruit flies…that like anything with sugar in it, including wine. Although considering how thick they were in the previous couple years, there seems to be significantly fewer trying to jump in my wine glass for a couple laps around the pool.
Here’s a cool product that will save your beverage from anything that’s airborne. They are super high quality- made of stainless steel. Based on poking around the web and seeing what’s sold at tasting rooms, I think these are one of the best on the market- rust free, don’t get blown off in the wind, most substantial, and least gimmicky. They fit cocktail glasses, beer glasses, or wine glasses just right. And keep those darned flies out when you remember to put it back on after taking a sip.
They’re made by Bev Hat in Irvine CA. I originally bought them at Justin as a gift. I recently saw some at Opolo, Paso Robles, priced at $13.99 for the two pack. Ken Brown Wines on Hwy. 246 in Buellton sells them also around same price, or you can buy them online.