One of the coolest aspects of wine (aside from helping us feel classy as we get buzzed) is that it draws from a history rich in tradition and historical significance (hell, some historians even think that fermentation might have been one of the factors contributing to the advent of civilization in the first place).
But not all traditions and customs are built to last forever, and wine has its fair share of those that have probably outlived their usefulness (kind of like the Iowa Straw Poll). Here are a few of those wine traditions that need to die, along with smarter alternatives to follow instead.
Smelling the Cork
You can glean a surprising amount of information from a wine cork, but not much from sniffing it. Corks are traditionally presented so that you can examine them for branding, helping to guard against fraud. Do you know anyone who can sniff out a brand? Probably not. And while a cork sniffy-sniff may tell you if a wine has succumbed to some sort of fault, you’ll smell the same stuff anyway once you get your nose in the glass (which looks way less douchebaggy).
Smarter alternative: Look at the cork instead of shoving it up your nostril; if it shows clear signs of leakage or compromise, then you might have a bad bottle on your hands. Also, you can play some nifty bar tricks with it.
Examining a Wine’s “Legs”
A wine’s “legs” (called “tears” by the French, presumably because that made them feel more effete) are the rivulets or streaks of liquid that run down the inside of the glass after you’ve swirled the wine or taken a sip. A lot of people like to hold a glass of wine up to the light and look at those legs as if they’re examining a medical X-ray, but the only thing they actually tell you about a wine is how much alcohol it might contain (and they tell you way more about the physics of evaporation than they do a wine’s quality).
Smarter alternative: Sip the wine to find out how good (or boozy) it is, and pay more attention to your date’s legs instead.
No one wants to be skimpy, but when it comes to pouring a glass of wine, giving is overrated. The majority of enjoyment from wine comes via your olfactory senses, because wine is full of volatile aromatic compounds, all of which need air to show off. To get air, you need to be able to swirl that vino around in the glass. Fill that glass to the brim and you’ve got no room for swirling (well, not without dousing everyone within a three-foot radius, that is), so your wine will taste flat. Put another way, the overpour is the wine equivalent of making love with your socks on—good, but not as good as it should be.
Smarter alternative: Go with a tulip-shaped glass and don’t go past one-third full. Your nose (and anyone within splashing distance) will thank you.
Loud Champagne/Sparkling Wine “Pops”
Granted, there’s a little fun—okay, a lot of fun—in showing off to everybody that you’re cracking open the bubbly to celebrate something. A loud pop of that cork is a like a devil-may-care middle finger extension to the crushing oppression of your own mortality. But…that loud pop is also letting out a great deal of carbonation and bubbles, which in the best sparklers is the result of secondary fermentation that you’re actually paying extra for, big spender.
Smarter alternative: Be gentle when you open that sparkler, like it’s her first time. Many sommeliers will tell you that the ideal sparkling wine opening ceremony ends not with a pop but with the quiet sound of “a nun’s fart” (not sure I want to know where they got that firsthand info), preserving the bubbles so that they stay in your glass instead. To achieve it, carefully unwrap and remove the foil and cage on that bubbly bottle, grasp the exposed cork with a towel on one hand and gently twist the bottle with the opposite hand, applying pressure on the cork side to counteract the six atmospheres of pressure that are trying to send the cork into the ceiling. Then bask in the glow of the slight “pfffft” that results.
About the Author:
Want to learn more about maximizing your wine pleasure? Visit Joe Roberts’ award-winning website 1WineDude.com, where you can find him regularly roasting wine's sacred cow (and pairing it with robust, obscure red). Joe is a certified wine geek and has been called "an original" by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, "provocative" by the Seattle Times and "a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings" by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, Mutineer Magazine, PalatePress.com and Washington Post.