Rules and leisure rarely go hand-in-hand, but when it comes to the world of wine, following a few guidelines can not only enhance the drink, but entirely reshape the experience.
The winemaking tradition dates back thousands of years, and throughout its storied history, oenophiles have perfected the art of selecting, consuming, and storing delicious bottles of wine through trial and error. In other words, taking advice from wine drinkers who came before you doesn't mean you're ascribing to snobbery—it simply ensures you're enjoying your glass to the fullest degree possible.
Ahead, hear from winemakers, sommeliers, and other industry experts on the wine rules they always follow for the best sipping experience.
Add Some Terms to Your Vocab
No, you don’t need to comment on the terroir or the residual sugar of a wine, but it’s definitely helpful to know a few key terms so you can use them when describing what you want out of a glass. In Jon Bonné’s popular 2017 guide The New Wine Rules, he outlines the following as all you need to know with regards to wine terms: fruity, herbal, spicy, dry, mineral, animal, tannic, and rustic.
Store at the Right Temperatures
If you’re not drinking your bottle right away and plan to store it, avoid compromising the wine by keeping it at the right temperature. “Between 52°F to 64°F is the best temperature to store them for several years evolving nicely and smoothly,” Lilia Perez, RGNY's resident winemaker, tells MyDomaine. “Try to avoid extreme temperature variations.”
Drink at the Right Temperatures
If you can’t fit a wine fridge in your home, the next best thing is to keep them in the refrigerator—both red and white. Bonné explains in his book that when a wine is too cold, it restricts the wine’s aromas, and when served too warm, it lacks focus.
His solution? Put your wine in the fridge and take it out in advance to warm up. “A half hour should be plenty for most red wines," he notes. The proper temperature for champagnes is 46-50 degrees, 47-53 degrees for fresh white wines, 50-57 for richer white wines, 59-65 for delicate red wines, 62-67 for bolder red wines, and 47-55 for rosé.
Though you may be inclined to opt for a standard 750-ml bottle, Ashley Hepworth of Joseph Phelps Vineyards has a different idea. “I always recommend investing in magnums,” she says. “A large format bottle of wine ages gracefully and provides a great way to celebrate a milestone, like an anniversary or the birth of a child.”
A large format bottle of wine ages gracefully and provides a great way to celebrate a milestone, like an anniversary or the birth of a child.
Seek Balance With Pairings
You already know that wine is especially delightful when paired with specific foods, but remember to keep things balanced. “Have in mind that a good pairing is always when the wine and food taste better together than when tasting them separately,” Perez explains. “One shouldn’t cover the taste of the other.”
Try to Buy as Specifically as Possible
Bonné recommends buying bottles that are direct about where their wine is from. General terms, like the Central Coast (referring to California) can be too vague.
“The less specific the place, the more likely the wine was assembled, not grown in one particular spot—which is to say, more likely that it’s the wine equivalent of fast food,” he explains in his book.
Choose for the Occasion
“A good rule of thumb that has always helped me when buying wine is letting the occasion and the audience you’re buying for guide the purchase,” Deb Juergenson, a winemaker at Apothic, tells MyDomaine.
Perez agrees: “Fruity and soft tannin reds (like Gamay or Pinot Noir) could pair well for a picnic afternoon with friends, while a bold, tannic and high alcohol red (like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec) could pair well with a steak and formal dinner with friends or your partner.”
Don’t Get Stuck in Your Ways
It can be great to know which varietals you love and which ones you love less, but the most important thing to remember is to just keep tasting. “Never stop exploring. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try new wines from new regions, or revisit wines that you previously thought weren’t your style,” Benjamin Wasby, owner and winemaker at Mylan Wines, tells MyDomaine. “You never know when a wine can sneak up and surprise you.”
Never stop exploring. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and try new wines from new regions, or revisit wines that you previously thought weren’t your style.
Invest in a Stopper
A champagne stopper keeps your bottle fresh and ready to revisit. “The difference between a champagne stopper and a regular wine stopper is the push bottle seal and lever function, which will maintain the effervescence and freshness for at least another day or so in the refrigerator,” Krug Brand Director Jamie Soriano tells MyDomaine.
Ditch the Champagne Flutes
When it comes to champagne, it's actually best to skip the flutes. “We encourage drinking champagne in a glass that is wide enough to enable the expression of aromas, such as a white wine glass,” Soriano shares. “Krug Grande Cuvee in particular has so much to offer with its aromas and flavors, and narrow flutes will stifle its expression.”
Pour Your Wine Correctly
Bonné offers up four simple tips to pouring a glass of wine like the pros. Don’t splash the wine when pouring, pour “softly but not timidly,” stop pouring once it reaches the middle of the glass, and give the bottle a quick twist as you’re lifting it away from the glass (this prevents the wine from dripping).
Even though winemaking is very much an old-world art, there are ways to translate the experience to the modern age. “For many, buying wine is often based on guesswork and label art,” Courtney Quattrini, head of global communications at Vivino tells MyDomaine. “And without the in-person experience and help of specialists at a retail store or restaurant, buying wine online may feel even more intimidating.”
The Vivino app uses technology to create custom flavor profiles and offers search features that aid the custom wine buying experience. Download the app and sip with confidence.
Open Champagne Safely
There are few more festive sounds than a champagne bottle popping, but make sure you’re doing it safely to avoid injury. “When you’re ready to open your bottle of champagne, keep a tight grip on the top while you carefully unwind the cage (six twists),” Soriano advises. “Then, hold the base of the bottle as you twist the cork to remove it slowly. Serve the champagne by holding the bottle at the bottom and, of course, the label side showing to your guest.”
Remember That Bubbly Is Always a Good Idea
Most people associate champagne with grand celebration, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be reserved for a special moment. “A Brut Champagne is always great, and tiny bubbles make you happy,” Tonya Pitts, an experienced wine and food consultant, speaker, and writer, tells MyDomaine. “It’s not just for special occasions, but to be enjoyed with life in general.”
Stop Worrying About Sulfites
Bonné makes the case for an end to the war on sulfites in The New Wine Rules. His reasoning? “They’re naturally occurring and often a byproduct of the winemaking process.”
He explains that only around 1% of the U.S. population has true allergies or sensitivities to sulfites. and usually those bad reactions you’re having are from the histamines or alcohol (AKA, a hangover).
Experiment With Comparisons
If you’re looking for a more advanced wine rule, why not dive into the world of rare wines? “Working with the most extensive inventory of fine and rare wines, I like to find a current vintage of a wine from a winery and then find a back-vintage wine from the same producer in our inventory,” Mikaela Haynes, the vice president of operations at Benchmark Wine Group, says. “It is fascinating to see the progression of the wine side by side.”
Pick Versatile Wines
If you’re picking up a bottle of wine for a party and don’t know what will be served, reach for versatile wines. “Chablis is the perfect wine to bring to a dinner because you know it will pair with at least one course,” Cristie Norman, the CEO of Cristie Norman, Inc. and sommelier at Spago Beverly Hills, tells MyDomaine.
Recreate Popular Pairings
If you’ve yet to establish your favorite food and wine pairings, Jen Saxby, sommelier and marketing manager at Benchmark Wine Group, suggests checking your local sources. “Especially now with the holidays upon us, there are many online retail companies putting up blogs with their favorite holiday pairings," she says.
Find Fine Wines With Affordable Price Tags
You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle to drink a quality wine. Bonné asserts that, “Few places in the world can justify a wine over $100, but it’s hard to find wines under $15 that are distinctive and made with care.”
Need an idea to get you started? “I highly recommend Post & Beam Cabernet Sauvignon to those who don't want to spend $200 on a Cabernet, but still want something that tastes like it,” Erik Segelbaum, the vice president of the United Sommeliers Foundation, suggests.