Having made your purchase or after taking the bottle from your home cellar, you should open the bottle and allow the wine to breathe for a time before pouring. Aeration enhances the opening out of the wine and the release of complex characters that have evolved with time in the bottle. Take your time and savour it.
It is always good practice to sniff the wine in the glass before you drink it. The aromatics of a wine are an important component and usually a strong indicator of what is to follow on the palate. As described by John Saker in his excellent companion book How to Drink a Glass of Wine: “A wine’s smells are a window to its soul.” Snifﬁng before drinking allows you to better appreciate the complexity of the particular wine: woody spicy notes, where oak has been used; different aromas and scents, particularly with the aromatic white wines, which occur quite naturally for each individual variety.
Swirling the glass can seem pretentious to some people, but it does have a legitimate purpose: it allows oxygen into the wine by increasing its surface area, and helps release the wine’s rich, mature aroma. You can also get an indication of the alcoholic strength of the wine from the “legs” that form on the inside of the glass. The glass should be ﬁlled to the point of the widest diameter of the bowl. This will ensure maximum development of the wine’s bouquet, and also provides the most elegant table setting.
On the palate the wine needs to be allowed to wash over and around your tongue’s taste buds, churned around inside your mouth for a while, before swallowing. You can then draw all these elements together to fully appreciate and understand the wine you are drinking. Above all else, I suggest that the essential elements to be discerned in a really good wine are balance, elegance and palate weight. When a wine writer, in this case Michael Cooper, describes a pinot noir wine as “an iron ﬁst in a velvet glove”, I believe he has all these elements in mind. Correct temperature is also important. For pinot noir I would recommend a serving temperature of around 160 C.
Glass shape also plays a part. It is asserted that the ﬁnest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. Robert M. Parker Jnr, the acclaimed US wine writer, is reported as saying that he cannot emphasise enough what a difference these glasses make in their effect on ﬁne wine. Riedel claims to produce the largest range of high-quality glasses, speciﬁcally ﬁne-tuned to ﬁt the predominant wine varieties available in the ﬁne wine market. Since 1986 they have been producing a machine-made series of glasses based exclusively on the characteristics of the different grape varieties available. This in turn determines the shape, size and rim diameter of the bowl.
Spiegelau is another highly regarded wine glass brand, which since 2006 has been part of the Riedel glassware group. The Spiegelau glasses undergo a platinum glass process to eliminate any impurities and remove all imperfections and inconsistencies that might otherwise exist in the glass. The result is a high-performance wine glass that combines elegance, functionality and durability. Again, there is a range of stemware, tumblers and ﬂutes with specially designed shapes for different wine varieties. It is now established practice for the main wine shows in New Zealand, speciﬁcally, to use only premium-quality wine glasses in the judging process. Examples of this are the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, the Spiegelau International Wine Competition, The Royal Easter Show Wine Awards and the New Zealand International Wine Show.