Kicking back with a glass of wine after a long day is one of life’s many pleasures. Luckily for wine-lovers, studies have repeatedly linked moderate consumption of wine to lower risks of heart disease, depression, dementia, diabetes, and more. The key word here is moderation. Heavier drinking increases your risk of high blood pressure, certain cancers, liver disease, and even brain damage.
To reap the benefits of wine, women should stick to no more than one drink per day, and men no more than two drinks per day (and no, you can’t save them all up for Friday night). One drink is equivalent to five ounces of wine, or just over half a cup.
If you’re regularly imbibing, but are unsure what a varietal is, or if you should be swirling your wine glass, here is a little wine 101 to get you started.
HOW TO CHOOSE A WINE
If walking into a wine store with hundreds of labels staring back at you fills you with dread, you’re not alone. Instead of choosing a bottle based on its colorful label or cool name (ahem, guilty), a good first step is to ask a sales clerk to point you towards a few bottles in your price range. From there, follow these three steps to pick a good bottle of wine.
Know what you’re eating. In general, light wines pair well with lighter foods, like chicken, fish, or cream-based pasta dishes, while darker, full-bodied wines go best with heavier, bolder foods such as beef or tomato-based pasta. This has been simplified into “white wines with fish and chicken” and “red wines with beef”. While this is a good rule of thumb to follow when you are first starting to drink wine, you can step outside these boundaries a bit. Light-bodied red wine, like Pinot Noir, go well with fish and chicken dishes, and sweeter wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling pair nicely with spicy dishes. If you’re looking for a wine to sip on sans food, try a Cabernet or a Pinot Noir.
Understand basic wine varieties. A quick glossary:
- Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red with a smooth texture. A versatile wine, it pairs well with nearly anything.
- Merlot is a medium-bodied red, with a fruity taste often described as “jammy”. It goes well with lamb, red meat, and pasta.
- Cabernet Sauvignon is a fuller bodied, rich wine that goes well with heavier foods like red meat or tomato-based sauces.
- Chardonnay is a rich, full-bodied white wine with a buttery taste. It pairs well with chicken, white fish, and risotto.
- Riesling is a fruity wine that is often sweet, with dry varieties available as well. Pairs best with spicy food like Indian, Chinese, or Thai cuisines.
- Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp white wine that pairs well with fish and seafood dishes, goat cheese, and fresh herbs.
- Pinot Grigio is a light, crisp wine that is easy to sip. Try it with heavier fish like tuna or salmon, chicken, and pasta dishes.
Don’t pick based on price. Just because a bottle costs $25 doesn’t mean that it is twice as good as a $12 bottle. Many high-priced wines are more of acquired tastes, while lower-priced bottles tend to appeal to more people. And don’t worry about looking cheap for picking a bottle with a twist-off top. These screwcaps are gaining ground as it’s the best way to seal wine that doesn’t need to be aged (plus it comes in handy for picnics).
HOW TO STORE WINE
- Whether your collection consists of two bottles or two dozen bottles, keep your wine tasting good with these simple tips.
- Store the bottle sideways. This allows the cork to stay in constant contact with the wine, keeping it moist and preventing cracking or drying.
- Keep away from light. If wine is stored for too long in bright light, it will taste dull. Keep bottles out of direct sunlight and store your wine in a cabinet or lower to the ground to prevent overhead lights from reaching it.
- Monitor the temperature. While the ideal temperature for wine storage is 45°F for whites and 55°F for reds, if you’ll be opening the bottle within six months then a warmer storage temperature is ok. Just make sure the wine is stored in a stable temperature, so keep it away from areas of temperature fluctuation such as next to the stove or on top of the refrigerator.
- Preserve the leftovers. When wine comes into contact with air, it can quickly spoil. Re-cork (or re-screw) the wine after use, making sure the same end of the cork goes back into the bottle. Opened wine should be stored in the refrigerator, as the cold temperature will help retain the taste. White wines last about three days, while red wines should be drunk within a day or too. Devices that vacuum seal the wine bottle will help make your wine last closer to a week.
HOW TO SERVE AND DRINK WINE
- Serve it at the right temperature. Most whites taste best between 41°F to 48°F, while reds taste best at 55°F to 65°F. Keep white wines in the refrigerator, and remove it about 20 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, cool red wines in an ice bucket or the door of the fridge for ten minutes. Too-cold whites aren’t as flavorful, and too-warm reds can taste bitter.
- Let it breathe. Some wines, especially complex reds like Merlot, Cabernet or Syrah, can taste harsh if drank right out of the bottle. Letting them breathe for ten to 15 minutes can help the taste mellow and will boost the flavor. Pour the wine into a decanter or carafe and let it sit before drinking.
- The right way to hold a wine glass. Holding the wine glass by the stem prevents your hands from warming the wine. It also helps you avoid leaving smudged fingerprints on the glass (because who wants that?).
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By: Alissa Rumsey