1. After you bring your wines home, let them (especially the reds) rest for a few days. Keep them in a cool, dark place. This brings out the best in wine.
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, or rent a Goin’ Postal type box that is open during business hours so your shipment can be received and kept in a temperature-controlled environment rather than on your front porch until you get home.
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! And once at a major international tasting, our first delicate white turned up with an aroma of soap. I duly wrote it in my notebook as a tasting note, but was dismayed when the second and third wines had the same taste. Obviously all of the glasses were tainted. Too bad! 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 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 out the aromas and tastes. Next, be sure to take several long, earnest whiffs. Stick your nose right into the glass and really take in the aroma (“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, acidity, freshness, mouthfeel (sensations such as “velvety”), emotional responses, and more.
7. Allow yourself to experience the “finish,” or how long the taste and sensation 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 surpass 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, an iPod or spiral notebook works just fine.
9. Do attend wine tastings. The best way to find new great wines is to go to tastings. Forget about online stores’ descriptions, wine shops’ hang-tags, and even 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. 2014), appellation (i.e. Willamette Valley), or varietal (i.e. 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.