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Oct 19, 2017

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The Big Ask
by Andrea Frost
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue Two

It's more awkward than introducing someone whose name you've forgotten but whose son you live with, more embarrassing than placing the happy birthday call three days early and just as humiliating as being busted for anything. Feeling like the only one in the world who doesn't know about wine can almost drive one off the drink, so we've come up with the answers to a few wine curlies to help you walk tall in the next wine bar.


Yes. The reason this is even an issue is that the temperature you serve wine at affects how it tastes. Red wine is best served at room temperature, because the warmer temperature encourages all the special flavour smells into the air for you to smell. When it's cooler, red wine is like a cold muscle -- all tight and restrained. The more the smells are released, the more of an experience you can get from the wine. These go up the nose, into the smelling bulb at the back of your nose which then transmits them to the brain telling it things about what you're smelling.

When red wine is cold the acidic and tannic flavours come out more, while all the fruit flavours kinda get hidden. As tannins and acid are characteristic of most red wines, it's best you serve it at a temperature that encourages a balance between the amount of fruit you can taste with the amount of tannins and acid you have to deal with.

Now you know why red wine should be served at room temperature, the problem here is that using room temperature as a guide is all well and good if every room in the world hung around the same temperature. But they do not. Serving red wine in a room on the equator may be a sniff warmer than if you were in a wood cabin in Alaska. Bring it home and you'll find extreme differences here as well.

So, to get a red wine to its ideal serving temperature, you may in fact need to lay it in the fridge for a while. More tannic reds like cabernet sauvignon and shiraz need to be served a little warmer (15-18 degrees) than softer, lighter red wines such as pinot noir and merlot which should be served more for refreshment (10-12 degrees). Also, as wine will usually warm up slightly in your hand, you should serve it at the lower end of this temperature guide.


This is about the changes that occur over time and start to affect the flavour of the wine, as opposed to when the Wine Storage Police will thunder into your kitchen and charge you with drinking stale wine.

The reason there is a limit on how long you can keep open wine has to do with oxygen. With open wine, oxygen is both friend and foe. Immediately prior to, or soon before drinking, encouraging the wine to come in contact with oxygen is welcomed. This is called aeration and happens in many forms -- swirling the glass before tasting, burbling the wine around in the mouth and pouring the contents of a bottle into a decanter. All of these techniques encourage the things that give a wine its smells (and as far as the brain is concerned, much of its flavour).

This is all well and good for a wine that's about to have your laughing gear wrapped around it. But leave the wine exposed to the oxygen for any length of time and what was once aeration, soon becomes oxidation and damn it, your wine is oxidised. The fruit tastes disappear, it'll start to taste stale and eventually, will turn to vinegar. It's this excessive exposure to oxygen that limits how long you can keep a wine.

Here're some fairly general rules to use as a guide and save your guests from having to drink vinegar.

  • Colour matters: Red wine lasts longer because of the higher presence of acid and tannins in the wine which act as a natural preserve. So reds with higher levels of tannin, such as big cabernets and shiraz, will last longer than lighter styles such as pinot noir and merlot. White wine, which is devoid of any of these natural preserves will only last about a day.
  • Age matters: The younger the wine the longer it will last. When red wines age, the tannin softens, rounds off and disappears. So, when an old wine is left standing all naked surrounded by nothing but air, it starts to deteriorate quite rapidly as it is no longer protected by the tannins and acid. Younger wines that're full of this tannin, stand a much greater chance of being drinkable for a longer period.

    A tip for keeping leftovers

    If you know you're going to have some wine leftover, the best thing is to store what would be the leftover stuff straight away. Try and get your hands on a half bottle of wine (good excuse to hook into a bottle of dessert wine) or one of those bottles with the swing top lids that you often get salad dressing in. Decant half of the big bottle into the little bottle straight away. Fill it right to the top so that when you put the lid on or push the cork in, a little bit spills over. This way, there is no oxygen in the bottle making it virtually impossible for the wine to oxidise. This way, the wine will easily last a few weeks.


    Like the Bay City Rollers, the Hills Hoist and the TV show Sylvania Waters, Australia really has been at the cutting edge of inventiveness and creativity, leaving many other countries by the side of the ingenious road. The bag in a box is one such example. Invented in the 1970s it was a new way of being able to buy wine and keep leftovers all in a handy unbreakable carry pack where the only waiter's friend you needed was your fingers. All these advantages and it is even given credit for starting a wine revolution in Oz. Without it, some say, we would all still be sucking back tubes of VB. As a kid, I loved the things. We used to fill them with air, throw them in the pool and have a new floaty. Sure if you hugged them too hard they'd burp nasty puffs of stale wine breath at you, but they worked.

    But even still, there's a stigma attached to buying cask wine, especially as you get older and are supposed to be a little more wine savvy. Problem is, many couldn't tell the difference between most cask wine and most of the ten buck bottles you buy anyway. Not to worry, neither it would appear can most wine buyers. Over 50 percent of all wine sales in Australia are of cask wine.

    The myth that it is all bad has probably filtered down from the upper ranks of the wine hierarchy because, relatively speaking, it is made of cheaper product. (Why else would four times as much wine be half the price?). Often the wine is made from grapes that are grown on monstrous blocks so that all the minerals and goodness from the soil are dispersed thinly throughout the harvest, making the grapes lower grade. (Premium grapes come from small blocks with fewer vines so the grapes are all spoilt, you know, get everything they need to be the best). Also, the actual wine itself might be made of grapes from all over the country and from blends that didn't work in other capacities and so thrown in the cask blends and "blended away". The wine is also made for immediate drinking which is usually an indication of cheaper product.

    Then there're aesthetics, which for many people is the deal here. In a world where accessorising is just as important as dressing and almost as important as deodorant -- you carry the cask, you carry the associated image.

    Some wine manufacturers are aware however that it is a frightfully convenient way to drink wine, hell, for many people, it's the only way to drink wine, and have made some decent stuff. These include: Yalumba premium casks, Banrock Station and Morris of Rutherglen.

    Whatever your stance, it all comes back to drinking what you like, not what you look like. The choice is yours.

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