1. After you bring your wines home, let them (especially the reds) rest for at least two weeks, preferably a month. Keep them in a cool, dark place. I don’t know why, but this brings out the best in wine. Often we have opened a bottle of one of our favorites the same night we bought it, because we just couldn’t wait—and have been disappointed to drink a confused, subdued wine. So let ’em rest—the wait will be worth it.
2. When you store your wines, DO keep them somewhat cool. Room temperature in the summertime in Florida will not do. You don’t have to invest in a wine cooler, but maybe you can find a mini-fridge that would suit your purposes. Keep red wine stored at around 60-65 and white wine at around 45-50. Temperature can be a big deal; if you live in a hot area such as Florida, if you’re having wine shipped in, to be on the safe side, do so during the colder months.
3. Before pouring, do the “sniff test” on your aerating pourer, glasses, and decanter. I learned this lesson when recently, after rinsing our glasses and drying them with a paper towel, I sniffed to be sure no residual soap smells were there. No soap, but how curious to pick up a distinct aroma of cedar; turns out it came from the paper towel! Lesson learned: do the sniff test on everything before you pour, even if it doesn’t seem like it would be necessary.
4. Do decant your wines (especially the reds). You can do this in two ways (we often combine them):
a. An aerating pourer. Don’t buy a fancy one that has several separating parts—this is a cleaning-up nightmare and is a system that is positively begging for bacterial growth. Just buy a simple one-piece pourer, the cheaper the better.
b. A decanter. When a wine seems “shy” or “subdued,” when we decant it (often using the aerating pourer to get it into the decanter), often the wine opens up much more quickly, revealing its joys.
5. Before taking a single sip, first swirl the wine in your glass—this helps combine air with (“aerate”) the wine, helping to bring the aromas and tastes out. Next, be sure to take a long, earnest whiff. Stick your nose right into the glass and really take in the aroma (also known as the “nose”). Smell is a huge part of tasting, and this will help prepare your taste buds for the next phase of enjoyment.
6. When you take a sip (or, for that matter, a swig), hold the wine in your mouth. Swish and chew. This will allow every surface of your tongue and palate to taste and sense the tastes, tanginess (acidity), freshness, sensations such as “velvety” (mouthfeel), and more.
7. Allow yourself to experience the “finish,” or how long the taste of the wine lingers in your mouth and throat after you swallow it.
8. Keep track of the wines you have tried in a notebook or on your computer. Make a record of the name, type of wine, vintage (year), and your own personal rating of it. Keep tasting notes on everything you sample. I don’t know about you, but once I pass three or four items, I must keep a list. If it weren’t for our tasting notes, it would be impossible to remember all of our impressions and all the wines we’ve liked, loved, and disliked. When we’re on the go, my little diary-style book with lined paper is just fine. Other people prefer spiral notebooks.
9. Do attend wine tastings. The best way to find new great wines is to go to tastings. Forget about online stores’ descriptions and even the reviews: it’s really best to build your own list from direct experience.
10. Consider creating your own tastings when you go out. When we dine out, instead of ordering a bottle of wine, we create our own “flights” by sharing two or three glasses each of contrasting reds and whites. Fun!
11. Start a tasting group with your fellow wine-geek friends. Meet once a week or once a month; agree on a price point, vintage (i.e. 2008), appellation (such as Willamette Valley), or varietal (such as Pinot Noir). You can do blind tastings if you wish by placing each person’s “pot luck” offering into a paper bag.
12. Vintage matters. Just as with car designs from year to year, your favorite wine one year can thrill you even more the next year, or disappoint you terribly. Keep track of the vintages you like.
13. When you are ready to buy a new-to-you wine, whether it is a new vintage of a wine you loved before or a wine someone else recommended, buy just one bottle, not a case—it’s a lot easier to obtain more wine if you like it, than to return 11 bottles you didn’t care for.