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Ask Your Sommelier: Expert Wine Tips from the Special Wines Direct Sommeliers

What is the best way to store bottles of wine before and after opening?

Before opening- on its side so the cork doesn’t dry out.
After opening- it’s generally best to drink the whole bottle once opened because once exposed to oxygen wine doesn’t keep. If you can’t get through an entire bottle in one night and you aren’t too pretentious, you can put the cork back in it, (or buy one of those wine saver kits that removes oxygen from the bottle) and store it upright at room temperature for a few days. Put whites back in the fridge to keep cool. Some reds might even taste better after a day of opening up in the bottle! If it doesn’t keep or your standards are too high for drinking leftovers consider yourself blessed with delicious cooking wine!

Is it important to use specific wine glasses for different wines?

Choosing a wine glass is kind of like shoe shopping- there are so many fun and cutesy options, but don’t choose a glass just for the aesthetics- quality stemware and the right type of glass really do impact your wine tasting experience!
Here are the basics:
You need a glass with room to swirl the wine and put your nose inside to smell it.
For red wine, you need a larger globe so there’s plenty of air space for the wine to open up. The bigger the red the more opening it will need- just maintain a “the glass is half full” approach. Even though the stem-less glasses are very trendy, we prefer stems so the heat of your hands doesn’t interfere with the wine temperature (especially with whites).
For champagne- flutes are always necessary to hold all those bubbles!

What temperature should wine be served at?

OCD and perfectionist wine drinkers should check out our blog for a detailed and precise wine temperature chart. For all other wine drinkers here is the general temperature range to follow. Sparkling wines are best really cold (around 40° F), serve crisp whites one notch warmer, then full-bodied whites around 50°. Reds are traditionally served at room temperature, but remember, that tradition refers to room temperatures in Europe, not Arizona! Lighter Reds can be served slightly chilled (approx. 52°), and complex full-bodied Reds do best in the 60-65° range. If you’re throwing an outdoor soirée try to keep the bottles out of direct sunlight- baked wine is not so tasty.

Is decanting really necessary?

Not all the time. If you have a complex, full bodied, “Big” Red wine it will benefit from decanting- the extra oxygen the decanter gives helps the wine “open up” and exposes more of the yummy flavors. We like decanting our big Cabernets, Zinfandels, and Shiraz/Syrahs. Of course if you have a fancy decanter you’re dying to show off- any red wine looks classier decanted, so we give you permission to use it.

Is there any special type of red wine that won’t give you headaches or make your skin flushed?

Yes, we call it “Clean Wine.” Many cheaper wineries get lazy when it comes to processing their grapes- they leave the stems and debris in the mix, which results in impurities in the wine that can leave you with a roaring headache and flushed skin. Wines that are processed by hand result in a cleaner wine that doesn’t trigger these reactions. Deerfield Ranch Winery swears by their “clean” techniques. They also use a lower level of sulfites and histamines during the winemaking process so people who are usually “allergic” to most red wine can drink their wines without reactions. For more info on Deerfield Ranch Winery check out the Deerfield page and the testimonial from the winemaker’s own wife.

How do you decipher a wine label? (Especially the European ones)

There are a few details that all wine labels have in common:

Vintage - if you know if that year was particularly great/or not so great you’ll have a better idea of the wine’s quality. In general, most wines are meant to be drunk right away so newer vintages are a good thing to note (unless the wine was made to be cellared, the back of the bottle usually gives some guidelines on that). (Port, some Champagnes, and a few other wines are the exception to the rule and usually don’t show a vintage).

Alcohol Content - higher percentages can sometimes mean a more unbalanced wine, however some varietals like Zinfandel often have much higher percentages naturally.

Region/DOC/AVA - this is where it gets complicated and overwhelming for newer wine drinkers. Europe typically puts more emphasis on the region than the grape variety and has a complex system of regulating wine growing regions and the quality of wine produced. On French labels this will be noted by AOC or AC- those are your better wines. Italy operates with DOCs and DOCGs- make sure your label has one of these markings or you’ll be drinking lower quality table wine. The DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the better wine. However it’s good to know your Italian and French regions because they each have their signature grapes, styles, and reputations. The American Approved Viticultural Areas (AVA system) is less confusing than the European methods. A bottle that says Napa or Sonoma on it versus just California will probably be better.

Estate/Reserve - Estate or Estate Grown means that the winemaker also grew the wine (or played some role in growing it) usually results in a better wine. Reserve can mean several different things. In Italy, “Riserva” denotes the wine was aged for a minimum amount of time. These terms can also mean that the best grapes were used, or only a small amount of wine was produced.

What are the rules of cellaring a wine?

Most wines are made to be drunk sooner rather than later so they are best enjoyed within a couple years of purchasing. Some wines provide more details on the back of the bottle- enjoy within the next 3-5 years, will reward cellaring for 5-10 years etc… If you are going to cellar the wine check the label or with the winery or a Sommelier to find out the best amount of time to lay it away. Store the bottle on its side in room temperature or cooler conditions; keep away from sunlight, heat, or extreme cold.


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