We've spent a lot of time here looking at different bottles of wine, learning about them, enjoying them -- but we haven't talked much about opening them or what to do once that's done. Vine reader and neighbor Steve G. recently asked me for recommendations for wine accessories -- all of those little things that make drinking wine easier and better.
Since I'm never one to turn down a potential column topic, I jumped on the idea like a hyperactive frog. Especially around this time of year, for last minute Christmas or Chanukah shopping -- wine related gifts can really help in a pinch.
Now, I've looked at wine catalogs that have a lot of outlandish gizmos and gadgets for oenological use. Most of that stuff may be cool looking or fun to play with, but it tends to clutter the counter and make the Sweet Partner in Crime clear her throat insistently. You've also got cutesy things like wine charms (people forget which charms are theirs as easily as their glasses), silly wall signs, funny looking wine holders, and other kitschy things. However, I've got a few things that I've got that I use regularly and that greatly aid in my enjoyment of this little hobby of mine. I've also included some Amazon links to some of these products if you want to see what I'm referring to.
First off -- think about the first thing you have to do when you're drinking wine: opening the bottle. Unless your entire cellar is full of Stelvin closures, you're going to need to find a way to get the cork out. Now, while there are techniques to do with no tools...it's usually best to use an opener of some kind.
For absolute ease of use, I've yet to find anything that works better than the Screwpull Pocket Model Corkscrew. Until I became comfortable using the "waiter style" corkscrews, the Screwpull was an absolute godsend. It's still the best opener for delicate corks that I've found. It's almost impossible to break corks with it. It doesn't work quite as well on a few kinds of "squishier" synthetic corks, but for the most part, it'll serve you well.
I actually prefer the "pocket model" to the "table model." It's also worth dropping a few dollars extra on the Screwpull Foil Cutter. If you prefer a waiter style one (which is what I normally use), make sure you get one with good, solid metal construction and perhaps a built-in foil cutter.
If you're like me, you've bought a bottle of white wine, had it sitting on a rack (because leaving it for long periods of time in a regular fridge kills the flavor), and found an occasion to open it -- but it's still at room temperature. There are all sorts of more expensive ways to cool wine, but I always come back to the sleeve you keep in your freezer. Vacu Vin makes a very good, inexpensive wine chiller -- it's held me in good stead for years.
Of course, if you want to splurge, you could get yourself a small, attractive wine fridge to keep in the corner to rotate your whites through. I can personally attest to the quality of the Cuisinart CWC-600 Private Reserve 6-Bottle Stainless-Steel Countertop Wine Cellar. Just remember -- this is a wine fridge...not a refrigerator. Set it for 50-55 degrees.
Going all the way back to the start of the Vine, I've talked about the necessity of swirling wine to release the flavors and scents, as well as letting the process start by opening a wine a little while before you get to drinking to allow it to "breathe" and reach its fullest balance of flavor. Unfortunately, letting a wine breathe can take some time -- hours in the case of some reds, and I often want to drink right now! While nothing can really take the place of decanting and some time, you can shortcut the process a bit with an aerator. An aerator is a device that you pour wine through. It's basically a funnel with a small hole in the side that draws in air as the wine swirls down. This serves two purposes -- it's a "fast swirl" to get the alcohol evaporating and the air injected into the wine opens the wine more quickly. Traditionalists will say that this can "bruise" the wine -- and it might not be a good idea for really expensive vintages. To get your ordinary table wine up to speed, it works pretty well. I've had good luck with the Respirer Next Generation model.
I won't delve too deeply into the arcana of home décor, since wine glasses and decanters come in all shapes and sizes to serve your every need, but I can mention one particularly interesting addition to the wine world -- the breathable wine glass. These glasses, produced by Eisch, allow oxygen to penetrate the glass itself, thus bringing the entire surface of the wine in contact with air rather than just the top. As a result, the wine opens much more quickly. It really does work, and they're dishwasher safe. My only caution about these glasses -- you can't keep a glass of wine in one of these for too long. After a couple of hours, the wine can go flavorless. I don't think that will be a problem for any of our readers, though.
If you don't finish a bottle for some reason and you want to keep it for an extra day or so, I think a vacuum stopper, coupled with putting the bottle in the fridge overnight (and letting it warm back up) is better than the old "jam the cork back in and hope" method. Again, Vacu Vin's Wine Saver Pump is my go-to. Their basic vacuum and stopper set has served me well.
As a final recommendation, here's an indispensible invention for anyone who drinks a lot of red wine. Red wine picks its spots to spill -- usually on the lightest colored upholstery, carpet, or clothing that you've got in your place. The pigments in red wine, called anthocyanins, attach themselves to any kind of fabric and cling like a nymphomaniacal gymnast. There are plenty of home remedies, the best of which is to dump a bunch of salt on the stain and hope for the best. However, I heartily endorse a more commercial solution to the problem: Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover. The inventor of this stuff has earned my eternal gratitude. I was doing a wine tasting about a year ago, and I spilled red wine on the hostesses' cream-colored carpet. A few squirts of this stuff -- the stain comes up like magic. Get some. You'll thank me later.
Happy holidays to everyone! See you in 2010...