Every month I curse myself for naming this recurring feature “A Few of My Favorite Things.” And I curse the wonderful Julie Andrews for singing such a memorable version of the song that it’s stuck in my head for the rest of the day. C’est la vie.
This month I thought I would talk about my favorite wine accessories. When you drink as much wine as I do, accessories matter.
These became popular a few years ago, and now you can find them almost anywhere. My in-laws (before they were my in-laws) bought me a set several years ago, and they’ve really come in handy. There are separate models for red wine and white. The white aerator filters the wine at a different flow speed, which Vinturi seems to think is important. We drink far more red wine, so we use that one much more frequently. So frequently, that it actually sits out on our kitchen counter. (We have a tiny kitchen and almost no kitchen counter real estate, so only the essentials go on the counter.)
Aeration is the process of allowing air to circulate through the wine. You may have heard it referred to as letting the wine “breathe.” Aeration begins as soon as a bottle is uncorked (the goal of the cork and wrapper is to keep out air, thus preserving the wine). Basically, you can aerate a wine in one of four ways: (1) open the bottle a few hours before you drink it and let it sit, (2) open the bottle an hour or so before you want to drink it and pour it into a decanter (a large, generally wide-bottomed, glass carafe with no lid), (3) pour wine into your glass and vigorously swirl it, then let it sit a bit, or (4) use an aeration device. The first two, and the third to a lesser extent, obviously require time and forethought. The beauty of the fourth option is that it requires neither.
The Vinturi website would have you believe that you should aerate every wine you drink. I disagree (as do most people not making money selling aeration devices). There is really only one type of wine that benefits from aeration. Very young wines (those of very recent vintage, say, going back three years from the current year) can be what is referred to as “tight.” The liquid molecules of the wine are packed very densely together because there are no gaseous oxygen molecules between them. A tight wine can taste overly acidic or tannic, and its “bouquet” or “nose” (its aroma) may not be giving off everything it could or should. The Vinturi device forces air to circulate with the wine, opening it up and allowing it to show its best characteristics immediately.
You simply hold the aerator above a wine glass and pour wine through it. There are two channels in the aerator that allow the air to flow into the barrel as the wine passes through from above. (Note, you have to make sure you’re holding the aerator so that your fingers are not covering the holes.) A gurgling sound as the wine passes through tells you that air is being mixed with wine. Vinturi does make a somewhat ridiculous device that will hold the aerator for you, but it’s a huge waste of space. The aerators come with a small base to rest in, a mesh filter to strain out sediment if you’re drinking an old wine, and a carrying pouch.
Speaking of old wines, you may get mixed signals as to whether they need to be aerated. The confusion stems from an important difference between decanting and using an aerator like the Vinturi. As wines age in the bottle over a decade or more, certain elements in the wine can turn into sediment. You want to avoid drinking sediment, and decanting is one way to get to the wine while leaving behind the sediment. Bottles should be stored on their side, which keeps the cork moist and prevents it from drying out, which would let in too much oxygen. Some oxygen gets in through the cork regardless, which is why older wines are mellower than new wines–they’ve spent years with tiny amounts of oxygen gradually seeping in to open up the wine.
In order to remove sediment from an old bottle of wine, it needs to stand up on its end for a day or so before opening, so the sediment sinks to the bottom. Then you pour the wine into a decanter while holding a candle or flashlight up to the neck of the bottle. When you start to see sediment, you stop pouring. Then you let the wine rest in the decanter for a short period of time so that any sediment that sneaked through can settle to the bottom of the decanter. The purpose of decanting the wine is to remove the sediment, not to circulate oxygen. The wine probably already has enough oxygen from years of cellaring. Aerating an older wine just hastens its demise. Therefore, I don’t use my Vinturi devices on older wines, but I do sometimes use just the filter without the aerator because it’s easier than the decanter/flashlight method. Here are more tips for decanting/aerating.
OXO Wine Pourer/Stopper
I’ll be honest with you, when my husband put this on our wedding registry, I rolled my eyes a little because we already owned about a dozen wine stoppers, and at least three wine collars. (A wine collar is a metal ring that fits over the neck of the bottle and is lined in felt so that it can catch drips rolling down the bottle after pouring a glass.) But one of our friends bought it for us, and I love it!
The pourer feature really does prevent drips, and it’s better than a wine collar because I don’t have to worry that the collar is going to slide off the bottle and smash my wine glass. (It’s a legit fear. Some wine collars are quite heavy, and depending on the bottle, sometimes they fit loosely.) And the stopper feature is operated by a simple lever on the side. It’s nice to have both features in one device so I don’t have to dig out a bottle stopper and have it rolling around on the table.
We use the OXO pourer/stopper while we are actively drinking wine during the evening. But we almost never drink an entire bottle of wine in one evening, so we like to save it for the next night, or maybe even the night after that. As I mentioned above, wine begins to aerate as soon as it is uncorked. Some air is good; too much, however, will spoil the wine and cause it to go stale. Leaving a bottle open will surely ruin it by the next day. Putting a stopper in it is good, but you’ve still trapped whatever air is already inside the bottle. The next step up from a stopper is a vacuum seal.
When I turned 30, a wine connoisseur friend gave me six bottles of fine Napa reds, a rack to hold them, and a Vacu-Vin wine seal kit. Eleven years later, the wines are long gone, and I’ve graduated to racks that hold far more than six bottles, but the Vacu-Vin kit is still in heavy use. The kit consists of four rubber seals and a hand pump. You put a seal into the bottle, fit the pump over it, and pump 15-20 times to extract the air in the bottle. (Apparently the newer version makes a “click” sound when you’ve achieved optimum air removal.) When you’re ready to drink the wine again, you squeeze the rubber seal to release the pressure, and it glides right out. We’ve successfully saved wine for 3-4 days with our Vacu-Vin pump.
There are naysayers who insist that vacuum sealing a wine bottle doesn’t work, but we tested it, and I can tell you that Vacu-Vin works for us. We filled an empty wine bottle halfway with mini marshmallows, then put in a rubber stopper and pumped out all the air. The marshmallows expanded to fill the bottle as air was removed. Then we let it sit for a week. If the Vacu-Vin didn’t work, air would have slowly seeped back into the bottle, and the marshmallows would have gone back to their normal size. After a week of sitting, they still filled the bottle. I unsealed the bottle and let it sit open for a few hours, and the marshmallows all shrunk back to normal. Science. (And we ate the marshmallows. They tasted fine.)
Nothing I’ve discussed thus far applies to Champagne or sparkling wine. You can’t use a regular stopper in a bottle of sparkling wine because the pressure in the bottle from the carbon dioxide will force the stopper out, perhaps violently. The solution is a special, locking stopper. We picked up one of these stoppers at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley when we visited the winery the weekend we got engaged. It wasn’t cheap – I think we paid $22 for it – but it’s worth every penny to us because we drink a lot of sparkling wine and generally do not finish the bottle in one sitting.
Sparkling wine bottles are made of thicker, heavier glass than regular wine bottles, and the neck has a lip on it. The Champagne stopper has two wings that lock into place under that lip. It can be tricky to use the first few times–you secure one wing, then the other, and you really have to use some elbow grease to get that second wing secured. But once the stopper is locked, you can be assured that your wine will live to see another day. (Please note that when you release the wings, you have to hold in the stopper and gently release it, just like when removing the cork from a bottle of sparkling wine. Otherwise, the stopper will shoot out.)
I will warn you though, the wine will only last until the next day, and even then, the bubbles will not be as active as upon first opening the bottle. When we drink a special or expensive bottle of Champagne, we try to finish it in one night to truly get the full appreciation of it. But when we’re having a bottle of California sparkling with dinner on a Tuesday, it’s nice to have the option to save the rest for the next night.
Oenophilia Label Lift
Okay, so this one is only necessary if you’re a serious wine geek like me. In addition to cataloguing all the wine I buy (where and when I bought it and how much I paid) and drink (when, with whom, and with what food), I also remove the labels from the bottles and paste them into a notebook. I used to do it by soaking the bottles in warm water and Castile soap for several hours and then scraping off the labels with a razor blade. It was messy, time-consuming, and a huge pain in the ass. Then, a few years ago, I discovered Oenophilia Label Lift at a random shop in Boulder called Peppercorn. At $10 for 10 label removers, I figured it was an inexpensive test to see if there could be a less onerous way to remove labels.
There’s still some work involved in removing the labels. The removers are basically just adhesive sheets of plastic. You pull off the backing, apply the adhesive side to the bottle, and then rub the label with the back of a spoon or other object to really get it to adhere (that’s where the work comes into play). The instructions indicate that you only have to wait a few minutes before removing the label, but I always let my bottles sit overnight before removal. Once the label is off, you trim the edges of the adhesive sheet, leaving a margin of adhesive, and then you can paste it right into your notebook. Voila!
I will say that the label removers don’t work on every label. Anything with a metallic sheen is out–the adhesive won’t stick to it. The same goes for foil labels. But they work for about 90% of my labels. And the removed labels are usually in much better shape than they were after my old scraping method. Amazon sells the removers in packs of 50 for about $20.
Let me know if you have a favorite wine accessory…