You’ve chosen your wine for the evening; now it’s time to open it. If your bottle has a screw cap, twist and pour. Bonus! You get your first sip a few seconds earlier. If you have a traditional cork closure, take your wine key — that souvenir you bought at a winery — and use its small blade to cut around the metal or plastic foil that protects the cork. You can cut along the top or the bottom of the bottle’s lip, it doesn’t really matter. If your blade is dull (most are), it’s fine to pry up the very bottom of the foil and remove the whole thing. You might lose style points at a sommelier competition, but the object here is to get to the wine.

Now place the tip of the coiled corkscrew part of your wine key (also called the worm) in the center of the cork, at about a 30 or 45 degree angle. Push in and twist, while bringing the worm straight up, pointing down into the bottle. Keep pushing the worm into the cork (this is the “eek eek eek” part for Hitchcock movie fans) until the last part of the coil remains above the cork. If your wine key’s lever has two parts, use the middle one for leverage and pull the cork far enough out so that you can switch to the end of the lever. If your lever has only one segment, you may need to twist the worm out of the cork a little bit to get a grip, as it were. The two-part lever offers more stability and is less likely to break the cork as you pull it out of the bottle.

For a humorous video tutorial on opening wine bottles, including sabering sparkling wines, check out the second episode of Laurentine, a fledgling wine appreciation series by Lauren Gay, sommelier of Tender Mercy, a Dayton, Ohio, cocktail bar that was supposed to open in April.

Pour some wine into your glass. Not too much — no more than a quarter of the glass, preferably less for a first sip. Holding your glass by the stem, raise it so that a light shines through the wine. Or hold your glass over a white surface and tilt it away from you so that the wine moves up the side toward the glass’s edge. This way, you will have your first real visual clues about the wine and what it is saying to you.

Your visual clues are the wine’s color, intensity and viscosity.

White wines range from nearly clear to straw to gold. Darker color suggests oxidation, so a golden chardonnay is likely to have been aged in oak, rather than stainless steel, which doesn’t let air in. A hazy white wine may have been fermented and aged on its skins as “orange wine,” an ancient winemaking method that has been trendy of late.

Tilting the glass over a white background (even your computer or phone screen will suffice) also gives you a clue to the wine’s age. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: White wines get darker as they age, while red wines get lighter. Both eventually turn brown.

This is easier to demonstrate with red wines. Reds range in color from purple to ruby to brick to tawny. Purple suggests a young wine, perhaps very fruity, while brick and tawny suggest age. As you tilt your glass, can you see through the wine? This intensity can be a clue to the grape variety. Cabernet sauvignon, for example, is more intense in color than pinot noir and nebbiolo. It may also be a clue that the winemaker took care to extract as much color and tannin as possible from the grapes during fermentation. This intensity is not an intrinsic virtue, just a characteristic. You decide whether you like it.

Now, swirl your glass. When you stop, observe how the wine settles in the bowl. If you can see strands of liquid slowly descending along the side of the glass, the wine is said to have “good legs,” or “tears.” This viscosity indicates a full-bodied wine, perhaps with higher alcohol than one that slides quickly to the bottom.

That swirl also released the wine’s aromas, but we will wait until next week to take a sniff. Meanwhile, enjoy the wine in your glass.


Some Virginia wineries are reopening to visitors as the commonwealth relaxes covid-19 restrictions. Wine blogger Nancy Bauer has compiled a list of wineries opening, with tips on what you can expect — and what will be expected of you — as you venture out. Several Virginia wineries were hit hard by frost on April 19 and May 10; they need our support now more than ever.

Also, Lenn Thompson, publisher of the Cork Report website, is promoting May 22 as #openlocalwine night, another chance to show our support of local wineries around the country.

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