6 Ways to Maximize Your Enjoyment

Mishandle wine or select the wrong bottle and you’ve wasted your money and undermined your meal. Here are six mistakes that many wine drinkers make…

Mistake: Serving white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Most people serve reds at room temperature and whites at refrigerator temperature—but neither of those temperatures is ideal. Most reds are best consumed at around 64°F, which is cooler than room temperature. Drinking reds too warm means the alcohol covers up the wine flavors in the same way that cold temperatures cover up the flavors in white wine. That’s why most whites are best in the 50s. Fridge temperatures, typically in the high 30s, are too cold.

What to do: Use the 20-minute rule of thumb to serve wine at a good temperature—put reds in the fridge for 20 minutes prior to serving, and remove whites from the fridge 20 minutes before serving. If you’re in a restaurant and the wine is too cold, cup the glass with your hands, which helps to warm the wine.

If you own a wine fridge, chill whites to 48°F and reds to 58°F. This is slightly cooler than ideal drinking temperature because the wine will warm a bit in the minutes between removing it from the wine fridge and then drinking it.

If your wine fridge has only one thermostat, set it at the lower temperature and store the whites on the bottom and the reds on top (since it’s usually warmer at the top).

Mistake: Drinking wine from cheap glassware at home. Savvy restaurants have discovered that high-quality wineglasses are worth their price. People’s opinions of the wines they drink can be significantly influenced by factors outside the quality of the wine, ­including the glasses. A study at the University of Tennessee found that glass shape and quality do make a difference in the enjoyment of wine. Traditional rule of thumb: For every dollar you spend for wine, you should spend $1 for the glass, so a $10 wine works out to a $10 glass. But in my opinion, a $10 glass will work for many more expensive wines.

What to do: Riedel, the leader in high-quality glasses, makes quality crystal stemware for as little as $10 to $12 per glass. Also, the Schott Zwiesel Tritan Forte, a crystal wineglass for about $10 a glass, is unusually difficult to break.

Mistake: Judging a wine by sniffing the cork. When a waiter opens a bottle of wine, he typically hands the cork to the customer to sniff. But smelling the cork won’t tell you what the wine tastes like, only what the cork smells like.

Instead, you should sniff the wine. An odor of wet cardboard or wet dog indicates that the wine has cork taint, which means that a chemical reaction has occurred in the wine and the wine won’t taste the way it should. If the wine smells like brandy, then it has oxidized. You won’t get sick from drinking a spoiled wine, but you won’t have much fun either.

What to do: The proper way to evaluate wine before drinking it is to pour a little into a glass, then position your nose directly above the glass and inhale deeply as you gently swirl the wine. Swirling amplifies the aroma.

If there’s a problem with the wine, point it out to a waiter. If you’re drinking at home, set a bottle that exhibits such a smell aside (and later return it to the wine store) and serve your guests something else instead.

Mistake: Storing wines in the wrong part of the house. Many people store wine in the kitchen on a rack on top of the refrigerator, which often is the warmest part of the house. Or they store wine in a room that gets lots of sunlight, making the room warm. Wine that gets too hot for too long will lose its flavors and even turn to vinegar.

What to do: The wine refrigerator is one option, but a closet works well, too. And you don’t even have to invest in an expensive wine rack. If you’re keeping wine in a closet, use the boxes the wine comes in, stacked on their sides.

Mistake: Drinking the same wine every time. Many people just buy the wine that they like because it’s too much trouble to try something different or they’re afraid they’ll waste money on a wine they don’t like.

What to do: The biggest change in the wine business over the past decade is the increase in quality. It’s almost impossible to buy a flawed bottle of wine—most taste more or less like they’re supposed to taste, even the least expensive. So you aren’t making a big leap of faith when trying something different. If you don’t want to stray too far from the tried-and-true, look for wines made with the same grape as the one you like, but from a different part of the world—so chardonnay from France instead of chardonnay from California. Or try something similar. If you like chardonnay, try viognier. If you like merlot, try malbec.

Mistake: Paying too much attention to wine-reviewer scores. Wines that earn high grades from respected wine reviewers and magazines tend to be priced accordingly. Plus, they reflect the tastes and prejudices of the reviewers—which may not be yours. Many excellent wines receive less impressive scores simply because they happen not to match the preferences of the expert doing the tasting.

What to do: One way to find wine bargains is to ask wine-store staffers and restaurant sommeliers, “Where’s the best value?” Keep track of the success of each of these recommendations, and return to the wine stores and restaurants that consistently seem to hit the mark. A good retailer is a wine drinker’s best friend.