Sommelier-Approved Solutions to 7 Issues Every Serious Wine Drinker Has Faced
Ever needed to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew or chill a bottle quickly? Here's what you need to know.
"I have always brought my work home with me when it comes to entertaining."
That's Chris Morrison, Australia-based sommelier and author of This Is Not a Wine Guide, a new book that lays a foundation for getting into wine.
"Service and hospitality put the humanity into a wine experience," Morrison continues in the book. "Working in restaurants has taught me that this is something we can all do and it makes every bottle of wine, and every meal, taste that little bit better. This book is intended to be a lifestyle guide, putting wine in a human, rather than a technical context. And that gives you ‘permission’ to just enjoy wine and make it fit into your life, but not become the center of it."
In the book, Morrison shares everything from helpful pairing guidelines to strategies for dealing with some of the most common issues wine drinkers might face when they're drinking and entertaining at home. Ever needed to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew? Or needed to chill down a bottle quickly? Read on for an excerpt from Morrison's book for a list of seven handy tips any serious wine drinker should know.
Edited Extract from This is not a Wine Guide by Chris Morrison, Murdoch Books, RRP US $23.99
1. [How to Take] the Chilled Edge off a Bottle of Too-Cold Wine
Empty the bottle of wine into a decanter. Next, fill a large bowl with hot water from the kitchen tap. Place the decanter in the heated water, ensuring the level of the water meets the level of the wine, then leave it for a few minutes. And presto, you’ve got a less-chilled wine.
2. How to Cool a Wine Down Quickly
Repeat the exact same process as in previous tip, but use iced water. To test where the temperature is at in either case, take a long plastic drinking straw and dip one end into the wine, then take your finger and place it over the opposite end of the straw. This creates a vacuum and will draw up a small amount of wine into the straw. You can then taste the wine and check its temperature. This is an old bartender trick for testing a cocktail mix but it works just as well if you are looking to check the temperature of a wine.
3. How to Filter Sediment Out of Your Wine
Store wines to be decanted upright for a day or two beforehand, so any sediment can settle onto the base. When ready to serve, hold the unopened bottle up to a source of direct light. It could be a candle, lamp, cigarette lighter or a ceiling light. You just need some form of backlighting, which will help you see if the wine is carrying any sediment. Something I always have on hand for decanting is muslin (cheesecloth). Muslin is a soft, loosely knit fabric made from cotton that’s long been used in kitchens for fine straining jobs – it’s also useful for straining wine, when necessary. You need pieces of it cut into small squares measuring around 10 x 10 cm (4 x 4 inches). Put a clean funnel into your decanter then place layers of the cloth squares inside the funnel, making sure the entire surface is covered evenly. Pour in the wine, making sure you monitor the level of it going in, to avoid spillage. The cloth will filter sediment but will also clog quickly, as the fabric tightens a bit when it becomes wet. Without a funnel you can still strain your wine; you just need to push the cloth into the top of the decanter with your fingers so it forms a pouch or pocket. Then just pour your wine slowly through this.
4. How to Tell When a Screw-Cap Is 'Screwed'
Wines sealed under a screw-cap are not impervious to the effects of poor storage. Despite what many wine drinkers think, the part of a screw-cap that protects a wine from spoiling is the small, soft disc that covers the opening of the bottle. The cap, which is the part you screw off, and the ‘skirt,' which covers the top part of the bottle, are there to protect the cap from being dislodged. If you see any damage to the cap, such as a dent or mark, there is a risk that the disc could have been dislodged and the wine could be affected.
5. [How to Deal with] Dust and Fine Particles Floating on the Surface of Your Wine
Not everything can be removed from your wine with muslin (cheesecloth). Dust particles or tiny bits from a cork can all work their way into your wine. If you see any small particles on the surface of your wine in either a glass or decanter, try this technique. Simply get a standard piece of tissue, drape it (flat) across the entire surface of the wine then quickly remove it. You will sacrifice a small amount of wine in this process but the dust and everything else will be gone. If you need to use this technique, do it in a glass after pouring, even if the particles are in a decanter, as the narrow opening of decanters makes it too hard, if not impossible, to do.
6. How to Remove a Cork if You Don't Have a Corkscrew
Screw-top caps are becoming so prevalent that this is less of an issue these days. But it’s not unheard of to be confronted with a cork and not have a corkscrew handy. When in a real bind, a few simple handyman tools can help you out. You need a screw, of the type used in building. It should be a long one so it can penetrate most (or all) of the length of the cork, with some length to spare. It doesn’t matter what type of head it has on it, that’s not important. Using a screwdriver, twist the screw straight into the cork, leaving about 1 cm (1⁄2 inch) of the screw poking out of the top of the cork. Slide the protruding bit of the screw between the claws of a hammer and gently pull the cork straight upwards, to work it free. Improvisational—but effective.
Another trick, when you don’t have a corkscrew, is pushing the cork back into the bottle. Don’t worry about the cork coming into direct with the wine—it won’t damage the wine or make it taste ‘corky.’ Take the pointy end of a chopstick and push it down one side of the cork, between the cork and the bottle. Wiggle the chopstick down the side of the cork until it reaches the base of it. This separates the cork from the glass and breaks the vacuum ‘seal.’ You can then force the cork into the bottle easily with your fingers. Don’t use this technique on older bottles with potentially fragile corks, as these can just disintegrate into pieces.
7. The Safest Way to Open Sparkling Wine
Any wine bottled under pressure needs to be approached with care when opening. Spraying a sparkling wine everywhere in a gush of foam may look impressive but frankly, what a waste. I’d rather be drinking it. And there are safety considerations too—if the cork comes out too fast and is pointing in the wrong direction, it can break something or injure someone. Here are some tips:
A well-chilled sparkling wine that hasn’t been agitated or shaken before opening is least likely to fizz or cause the cork to race out uncontrollably.
Make sure your bottle is on a firm surface when you come to open it. This could be a kitchen bench, a table or even your car bonnet—just as long as it is flat and stable.
Remove the foil around the top of the bottle.
Place a hand firmly around the neck of the bottle, using your ‘strong’ hand for this. So, if you are a leftie like me, use your left hand.
Place the thumb of that hand over the top of the cork. This is for safety; as you work the cork out, you will sense quickly if it is starting to shoot out too fast. Taking your other hand, gently unwind the small piece of wire twisted into a loop around the ‘cage’ and loosen it. I always leave the wire cage in place over the cork as it acts like a grip around the cork, which can be often wet and slippery from chilling in an ice bucket or from condensation from the refrigerator.
Tilt the bottle—this is important. There is a small gap between the level of the wine and the bottom of the cork (or screw-cap) in every bottle of wine. In sparkling wines, this air pocket is highly pressurized. If you open the bottle while it is upright, the pressure will escape through the opening at the top of the bottle, often taking some of the wine with it. Taking the hand that’s not dealing with the cork end of things, grip the base of the bottle and tilt it at a 45-degree angle or until wine forms a bubble around the air pocket. When this happens, it’s safe to open, as the liquid surrounding the air pocket means the pressure can’t escape. If you want to get every last drop out of your bottle of bubbles, this is an important step.
Grip and twist. Grip the cork tightly and twist the bottle firmly but gently from the base, slowly working the cork out. You will feel the pressure building up in the cork behind your thumb. When you feel the cork start to emerge from the bottle, slowly release your thumb pressure. The cork will come out at a speed where you won’t get Champagne all over the floor. Or over you.