Most Frequently Asked Wine Questions, Part 2

Keep the wine knowledge flowing! More answers to the most common wine questions I receive.

Answers to the most common wine questions I receive! I recently shared the first five questions in this post, and the next round of questions and answers is below. Keep the wine knowledge flowing!

How do I know what wine to buy? 

When buying wine, you should leverage experts where you can—they are there to help find the right wine within the right price point. When you are shopping in a local wine store, know your budget, and mention if the bottle is for a particular menu. At restaurants, ask the sommelier for advice. Here also, be clear about your budget. In either case, it’s always helpful to mention what wines you do like—a tip here is to keep a note on your phone of a few bottles you’ve tried and liked, and mention what those are. That said, it’s fun to be open to new regions, varietals or styles—the discovery is one of the best parts of drinking wine!

If you are not consulting an expert, I recently shared this article in one of my Sunday Seven posts—I think it does a good job of walking you through a decision tree for buying wine.

I mentioned local wine stores and restaurants above, but left out grocery stores. I would try and avoid buying wine in the grocery store if at all possible. There are a few exceptions, but most wine in grocery stores is manufactured by giant alcoholic beverage companies focusing on quantity. The bottles are stored upright, which tends to dry out the cork if there is one. The intense fluorescent light can impair flavors and aromas. The wine can remain on the shelves until it is past its prime. These mass-produced wines can be adequate for drinking in their youth and usually represent the region they came from and the grapes used, which means you at least know what you’re getting. The wines will suffice but aren’t going to be special, if that’s what you’re after.

What makes a wine buttery, and how do I avoid it?

The “buttery” sensation you get in your wine is likely one of two things:

  1. Oak aging—Oak aging in wine can impart a soft, creamy sensation to a wine, similar to that of butter. Oak is more often associated with vanilla and spice flavors, but some people attribute butter to oak.
  2. Malolactic fermentation (ML)—Buttery taste also comes from diacetyl, a byproduct of malolactic fermentation, which is the process of introducing lactic bacteria to a wine to make it less acidic and creamier.

Many wines check the box of of oak aging or ML, but I have noticed the term buttery is most commonly associated with Chardonnay.

If you cringe at buttery chardonnay, the good news is that there’s a whole world of chardonnays out there that don’t rely on oak or malolactic fermentation, or that use them sparingly and with nuanced balance. 

Chardonnay from Burgundy (“White Burgundy”) is a good place to start. White Burgundy is easy-drinking with fresh apple and lemon citrus notes, and is almost never aged in oak. Also, check out unoaked wine from the U.S and other places. When Chardonnay is aged in stainless steel, it’s fresh and lean and will most likely taste much more refreshing and clean, without the butter.

How much wine should I pour?

It’s universally agreed upon that there are five servings of wine in a bottle. Most people tend to overfill their glasses when pouring. Instead, you should fill the glass only about a third, which allows aromas to fill the bowl and offers room in the glass to swirl and release aromas. 

To get more specific, most wine glasses hold eight to 12 ounces. The widest point of a glass tends to coincide with the five- to six-ounce mark, which is a standard serving. So, that’s the trick: fill your glass only to the widest part of the bowl, and you should be good!

Do wine legs mean a better wine?

If you swirl wine in a glass and then set it down for a few seconds, you’ll see the liquid trail back down in streaks that form a sort of collar around the inside. These are the often-discussed wine “legs,” or “tears.” 

Despite what you may have heard, wine legs or wine tears are not an indication of quality of wine. Instead, they are an indicator of key information about the alcohol level in wine; wines with higher alcohol content will form legs more easily. Wines that contain a larger number of heavier molecules—such as tannins and sugar—will also form legs more easily, which explains why legs are more likely to be seen in heavy reds and/or sweet wines. 

What is the right way to hold my wine glass?

You’ll notice many people holding a wine glass by the bowl of the glass. When holding wine by the glass bowl rather than the stem, you’re warming the wine with your hands inadvertently, and detracting from the experience. Instead, hold all stemmed wine glasses (red, white, etc) towards the base of the stem between your thumb, forefinger and middle finger. You’ll find that your other fingers will just rest on the base naturally.

Knowledge is power—cheers!

1 comment on “Most Frequently Asked Wine Questions, Part 2

  1. Whits A.

    I feel like I have asked all of these questions! Thanks for putting them forth.

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