2 days pedalling round the vin yards surrounding Mendoza city did more than just give us a dull headache by evening, it gave us the opportunity to ask experts at both top and boutique wineries all of the novice wine drinker questions we desired. In an attempt not to forget this wisdom, I have compiled a list of the 20 tips that I can remember below.
Choosing Which Bottle of Wine:
The first five nuggets below are tips to help at the chosing stage. This should go some way to explain some of the cryptic things that you might read on wine bottles.
- Reserved for who? Wineries put reserva or gran reserva on bottles of wine to denote increasing quality. “Reserva” originally meant “reserved for further ageing” and tends to mean the wine has better quality grapes then cheaper lines from that same winery. The winery Vistandes said that they then mature reserva wines in a barrel and gran reserva wines in a virgin barrel. The term is used differently across different wineries though so can only really be an indicator of quality between lines under the same brand.
- Old or new barrel? Barrels are like tea bags, the more times you use them the less flavour they give. A wine matured in a virgin barrel will have gained stronger flavours from the wood. It will most likely be described as an “oaky wine”.
- You must be oaking! Argentinians use French oak and North American oak for their barrels. French oak is gentler in the flavours that it gives, which is good for a fruity wine such as Malbec (so that the barrel doesn’t drown out the fruit).
- DOC means that the wine meets certain international standards. Each winery can only have one wine classed as DOC. They chose the one that best meets those specific standards, not necessarily their best wine.
- Think Food. Carmelo Patti’s serving suggestions for his wines: Malbec for pasta or fish, Cabernet Sauvignon for red meat. The most premium, full bodied, older wines should be drunk without a meal, maybe with just a little cheese, and with your telephones switched off.
- The wine must always touch the cork. This is for the flavour and so that the cork doesn’t dry out.
- Take the foil off and keep checking the cork every 6 months. If wine begins to rise, drink it.
- Age gracefully: only wine that has spent time in a barrel is good to age, and only for as long as the winery recommends (as it depends on the grape and the time in the barrel). The maximum time for ageing runs from the date it was bottled, not bought.
- Live fast: young wines (that went directly from the pools to the bottles without going to the barrels) should be drunk within a couple of years.
- Don’t store wine where temperatures will fluctuate – if you don’t have a cellar or wine fridge, under the bed or under leather is good.
- Don’t store wine in direct light. Light through the bottle changes a wine’s properties. If you are buying wine in a clear bottle from a store with fluo lighting, take one from behind.
Tips for when Serving Wine:
- Space to breathe: older wines need to breathe between opening and drinking. Pour into a decanter/aerator or open the bottle an hour and a half before you want to drink it.
- Relieving tension: When opening an older wine, the cork will have expanded and be under a lot if tension so could crack. If it is difficult to remove, run a lighter round the glass where the cork is and it should slide out.
- Keep the cool: red wine should be drunk between 16-18 degrees. If it is a hot summer (maybe not a problem for the UK but may well be for Oz) and the wine is above that temperature, don’t put it in an ice bucket, put it in a decanter and then on a plate of ice.
How to Taste Wine:
- Start by looking at the colour
- Then smell
- Then taste, biting through the wine to cover your gums and teeth, and covering your whole tongue.
- Wine has different levels of flavour. Some of these come from the fruit; Red wines are often reminiscent of red fruits like cherry and raspberry, or pepper for Cabernet Sauvignon, and vanilla for Merlot. White wines may have citrus notes, pineapple, honey or white flowers.
- Other flavours come from the oak, like chocolate, tobacco and smoky flavours.
Storing open Bottles of Wine:
If you open a bottle, the best thing to do is to drink the whole thing. If this is just not possible, if you put the cork back in and store it in the fridge (even red) it should be ok for 5 days. The fuller the bottle the better as it leaves less room for air (air is the enemy).