Mark Storer: Wine Expert
Mark Storer is a high school English and journalism teacher, freelance writer, and certified sommelier. He has published dozens of articles on topics ranging from education to politics, theology to wine and food. Mark has written for Christianity Today, the English Journal, Today's Dietitian, Wines and Vines, California Wine and Food, Wine Country This Week, Techcentralstation.com and many others. As an amateur wine-maker, he has been involved in at least four different crushes and fermentations resulting in "hundreds of gallons of wine over the years...some of them even good enough to drink."
Mark lives with his wife, daughter and an assortment of pets in Ventura County, CA.
Mark lives with his wife, daughter and an assortment of pets in Ventura County, CA.
Books on or about wine are ubiquitous. You don’t even have to look very hard to find someone somewhere who has penned yet another tome about the pleasures awaiting you in a glass of this or a carafe of that. Some writers just really want to write about certain regions and so you find books on Bordeaux, France, or even just small parts of Bordeaux like St. Emilion.Read More »
But if what you want is to learn about wine, to know a little bit more than the basics, then there are some very fine books indeed that are worth their weight in gold and should be on your shelf. Indeed, my own path to wine writing and learning about wine was essentially a self-study course, guided by a few wonderful people who already had some wine knowledge, and then a two-day seminar and test that led to my certification as a sommelier (not a Master, mind you, just a first level guy). Some of the books listed here are ones I used in my course of study. Others, I’ve read since and found a great deal of information indeed. Whatever your level of understanding, a few good pages of wine writing can really enhance your knowledge and bring you a lot of enjoyment as your pursue your (and my!) favorite passion—fermented grape juice. Oh, by the way, a point of interest for the women out there. If it is true that cooking and the chef world is mostly male-dominated, this particular list of books about wine is not. Eight of these books are either by women or by a man and a woman. Just in case you were wondering…
Wine racks are art. They’re furniture and they’re lovely, even if you don’t like wine. They can start conversations, they can even end them with a fancy change of subject: “Have you seen my wine rack?” What they are not is an alternative to temperature-controlled spaces. In the best of wine keeping worlds, your wine should be kept at between 55 and 60 degrees with high relative humidity.Read More »
But let’s be honest, while there are a lot of people who like wine, not everyone can put in a wine cellar or wants to shell out for a wine refrigerator even. A wine rack, however, is not a serious change to your home, though it will enhance it surely. All that is really required is that your wines stay in a relatively cool place and preferably in a place where the temperature doesn’t swing that much. Many people use closets. I store extra wine (that doesn’t fit in my wine cooler) under the stairs in a dark closet where there are no furnace or air-conditioning vents. If the wine is going to be consumed within about three to six months, that kind of storage will do just fine.
Wine racks are also subjective based on what kind of décor you like. But these days, there are so many good choices that it’s hard to go wrong. There are a few things to consider, though, and like any good shopping experience, knowledge is the key. First, how many bottles do you want to store? Do you go through more than three bottles a week? Then you need volume. Do you prefer wood or metal racks? There is a difference and it’s not to be scoffed at. Metal racks are heavier, sturdier, and therefore harder to move around. Wood racks can be flimsier, but can also be modular (as can some metal racks) allowing you to add more as you build your collection.
Also, consider where your wine rack will be. Tile floors? Wine bottles can break if they fall off. Can you secure the rack to a wall or other piece of furniture? If you have a temperature-controlled area with fairly high humidity, don’t use carpeting, as it will eventually mold from the moisture. Choose flooring that’s easy to clean and build from there.
So, yes, it’s true that optimally, a temperature-controlled area is best for your wine. Those of you with basements or cellars have a natural storage area as long as the ambient temperature stays fairly consistent. Setting up your wine rack in such a space creates an almost natural cellar and is a great added space to your home. But, there is absolutely no need to spend a fortune on cooling or temperature-controlled spaces if what you’re trying to do is house a dozen or even five dozen bottles of wine, which will be consumed within the year. With that in mind, here is a somewhat subjective list:
If you’ve joined the big leagues of wine collecting and consumption, then you already have a wine refrigerator, a few decanters, plenty of stylish openers, and hopefully, some really fine bottles of wine. Probably you’ve got a decent storage and stopper system and you spend a little time thinking about these wines and when and where to pour them.Read More »
But you don’t have everything yet. The fact is, a good bottle of wine, particularly older bottles, require special care. For instance if you have in your collection a few bold red wines, like a 1970s-era Cabernet from Napa and a few Bordeaux from 1960s France, chances are that they’ll need decanting before you serve them. Pouring a bottle of wine into a decanter can be an art form at times and loss of wine at these prices is not an option.
Enter the wine funnel. This seemingly humble device is actually pretty useful for decanting your good bottles of wine. The purpose of the funnel is to provide a more foolproof way of getting your wine from its bottle into a decanter. Most good funnels come with a surface filter to trap sediment that will invariably be in older bottles. They also provide specific spout designs to allow the wine to slowly and carefully move into the decanter by not simply splashing into the opening. Believe it or not, with these wines, there is an effect called “bruising” which can occur in older, more delicate wines. “Bruising” occurs when the wine is simply splashed into the decanter and gets a great big dose of oxygen all at once. This can change the wine’s fundamental characteristics and usually not for the better.
Funnels, then, are useful and simple tools - but don’t be fooled. They come in an assortment of shapes and sizes. What you need will depend upon the quality of the wines you’re pouring. What follows is a list of the best funnels. They don’t cost a fortune, but they can save the one you invested in your wine.
Carrying a bottle of wine is not necessarily an easy task. Unless the wine you’re bringing comes in a box, and I don’t always recommend those - though I’ve nothing against them either - bottles are, well… fragile. Drop a bottle and you’re probably going to spill your wine and it won’t be pretty. It will even be less pretty if it’s a good and perhaps expensive bottle of wine.Read More »
The answer to this quandary is a wine tote. Portable wine transportation is not terribly expensive and is a great way to both transport and protect wine on the go. Since the airlines have fairly well nixed bringing bottles of wine on an airplane, you’ll probably have to ship the wine to distant addresses. Whatever you do, don’t risk putting a bottle of wine into your checked bags. Most airlines do not pressurize the luggage compartments of aircraft and wine bottles have a tendency to break under those conditions leaving you with lovely smelling clothing, albeit not spring fresh. No, this will leave your clothes redolent of cassis, leather, and vanilla with a dark fruit core, and they will most certainly not be the color you want.
However, if you’re transporting to parties, friends’ homes, picnics, or wherever you enjoy a glass of wine, then a sturdy wine tote is the coolest thing in the world. Yes, the bottle you bring will impress your friends. But just like your friends are happy that you came, they’re more impressed if you come in a BMW. So it is true with your wine. They’ll be glad the wine is there, but more impressed with how it arrived.
Wine totes do tend to limit how many bottles you carry simply because wine bottles are heavy, and it’s assumed you aren’t going to bring a case of wine with you to a dinner party. However, you can transport multiple bottles safely and soundly. Here’s a list of the best ride for your wine.
99% of wine consumed in the United States is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. That’s a pretty whopping statistic when one considers that in the past ten years alone, wine has more than tripled (probably a lot more by now) in sales across the country. In the Paso Robles, California growing region alone, the number of wineries has increased from around 60 in the year 2000 to over 170 today. Still, the 99% figure hasn’t changed.Read More »
It’s no wonder then that most people don’t think too often about what to do with a bottle once they’ve opened it, the simple answer is, they drink it. However, almost every wine drinker finds themselves opening a bottle only to have it half finished and wondering how to keep it fresh for the next day. Most folks simply put the cork back in the bottle, albeit usually upside down because the shape of the cork changed when it was released from its narrow and fermented confines. Still, that can be effective for a few hours.
If the goal is to save the bottle until the next day’s dinner - or even the day after that, one needs a different solution, an elegant solution that allows for all those nuances that were present at the de-corking. And if one has thrown a dinner party, opened a few bottles of wine none of which got emptied, now the difficulties are multiplied. Lots of leftover wine and pouring it down the disposal or pouring it into a pan with tomorrow night’s roast just doesn’t seem right.
Enter the humble wine stopper, so called. Certainly, wine stoppers are nothing new. Everyone has seen a bottle of wine with an attractive or artisan stopper in it and that is the beginning of wisdom for keeping wine around. Too many people treat wine like it’s a bottle of soda or sparkling water, simply putting the cork back in and expecting the wine not to change from one day to the next. The best way to think of wine, however, is as produce, like orange juice or lettuce or something along those lines. Oxygen, which is allowed into a bottle in very small amounts by a cork (called micro-oxygenation), will ultimately be the downfall of a good bottle. Once the bottle is exposed to air on a grander scale, its lifespan has been shortened and acting sooner rather than later will allow the consumer to enjoy the wine.
The best wine stoppers, then, are the ones that somehow seek to prevent oxygen from taking over the bottle. Most of these systems, and they are systems, work on a vacuum principal, sucking the air out of the bottle and replacing it with an inert or food grade gas such as argon or nitrogen. The best of these can handle more than one bottle and come with valves to allow consumers to pour a glass at a time for as much as two months without significant changes in the taste, mouth-feel, and aroma of the wine. But even without the inert gasses, a simple vacuum pump system with appropriate rubber stoppers can be just as effective and realistically, a good solid hand-crafted stopper that does not allow oxygen into a bottle can save it for as much as three or four days. The price ranges are vast as are the systems that those prices purchase. So, hold tight, here’s a tour of the best ways to stopper your wine.
Stemware and wine glasses are truly a subjective product. Everyone has their favorite shape or their favorite crystal company, perhaps, but unfortunately, those aren’t the things that should ultimately make your decision. No, the decision on which wine glass to use ultimately comes from your tongue. Yes, your tongue.Read More »
Here’s how it works: Your tongue recognizes four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and acid. The front of the tongue is where sweet is found and the back of the tongue is where bitter is found and acid and sour rest on the sides of your tongue. Wine falls into these categories, as does all food, really, and so the purpose of a wine glass is to direct the wine to that portion of your tongue, or in some cases away from a portion of your tongue, where certain flavors are found. In addition, since wine is also an aromatic, wine glasses are designed to enhance the aromas of wine by either allowing maximum oxygenation, as in the case of a Bordeaux glass, or directing the aromas specifically up and out, such as a Chardonnay glass. So, a Burgundy glass is likely to direct the wine to the front of your tongue to accentuate its mellow flavors while a Bordeaux glass aims more for the middle of the tongue to allow the complexities of the wine to show through.
While crystal is often the best choice for stemware because of its usual thinness and quality, superior glass can also be just as good for wine consumers. Whatever the case, crystal carries with it the typical warning that most quality stemware is leaded crystal and exposing wine to leaded crystal can and will put lead into your system in very trace amounts. How do you avoid trouble? Don’t let the wine sit for long periods of time. If the glass has had wine in it for more than an hour, it’s probably best to dispose of it. (You weren’t really drinking it anyway, were you?) That said, quality crystal is not only an aesthetically pleasing choice, it does enhance the experience of the wine by allowing it to be its natural self as much as possible.
The price ranges are astounding, the highest being in the multiple thousands for a single glass. There’s no need to spend a small fortune, however, and quality can be had for relatively reasonable prices. Still, quality stemware is as important as proper storage of wine or even the wine itself. Riedel is the king of this category as they have produced quality crystal, leaded crystal, handcrafted and superior glass stemware for many years. Almost every restaurant that serves wine, serves it in Riedel glass and many wineries have even turned to Riedel to supply their tasting glasses. Still, names like Baccarat, Tiffany, and Waterford rank at the top and the choices, styles and aesthetics are as varied as the number of wines you can pour in them.
Rather than pick specific glasses, we’ve chosen stemware makers and styles. Now that you have a sense of pouring Chardonnay in a Chardonnay glass and Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a Bordeaux, in a Bordeaux glass, the next step is to choose a stemware maker, style, and pattern and enjoy.
It’s happened to all of us one time or another. You’ve arrived home from work after a long and brutal day. You’re tired, even to the point where you may consider forgoing dinner altogether. But, there on the counter, a bottle catches your eye. You know its charms because you opened one just like it two nights ago and poured a glass for yourself and your spouse, finishing the bottle the next day. The fridge door opens and you spy a little cheese, Gruyere to be exact. On the other counter is half a loaf of bread. Dinner is served!Read More »
Except it’s not. The cork pulled out, the bottle poured into your glass and you’re left wanting to spit it out on your clean white carpet. The flavors, if they can be called that, are nearly gone. There’s sourness, bitterness to the wine. It might even taste like vinegar. Maybe there’s a tepid texture. The wine is warm and it is almost watery. There is no fruit, no earthy charm-just a kind of swill.
It can happen to you and there’s only one way to prepare yourself. Wine is an organic product. As lettuce goes bad, or any other produce you buy, so does wine. True, alcohol can help preservation for a couple of days, but even before the bottle is opened it needs to be stored properly. Too much heat, too much light, too much vibration, a dried out cork from a bottle that is stored upright too long, all of these can kill your wine. Proper storage of wine is a much-overlooked necessity for those who have more than just a couple of bottles lying around. If you consume more than two bottles of wine in a week, it’s time to think about proper storage and that begins with refrigeration.
The very best temperature to keep wine is between 55 and 60 degrees. Contrary to popular belief, this goes for whites and reds. You don’t want to keep white wine chilled the entire time before you drink it. It’s best to keep it at “cellar temperature” and before consumption, put it into the regular refrigerator for about an hour. Red or white, it doesn’t really matter; a wine storage receptacle is in your future.
“So,” you say, “Why not just put the bottles in the regular fridge? Pull them out when you need them?” No, this won’t do. A regular refrigerator is far too cold to keep wine at its best. Red wine especially doesn’t do well in the cold and really neither does white wine for long periods of time. Plus, the vibration from a regular refrigerator’s motor could do some damage to your wine as well by constantly keeping the wine moving, never allowing it to “rest” and the sediments to stay put. Environmental control is the key. If you have a basement in your house, you’re one step ahead. A basement can really behave very well, as long as you don’t heat it for the family. If the cellar is left, well… like a cellar, then you’ll have a great beginning. If you have no cellar, fear not. There are still many options.
While it certainly isn’t an original concept, the plain truth is that if you want to decant wine, the best wine decanter in the world is a bucket. At least, the best decanter is any open-air container that provides maximum oxygenation to the wine. Plastic isn’t all that great for wine nor is the wine good for the plastic. It will stain, so I’m not going to recommend that you get a plastic bucket. But if you have a glass bucket, well now that’s another issue.Read More »
Decanting wine is necessary only on specific occasions. It can add to the aesthetics of wine, particularly if you have a pretty crystal decanter. However, the purpose of decanting is to add oxygen to the wine. This is necessary in very young wines and very old wines. It’s occasionally useful for wines that need to “breathe” some; that is, the wine needs to open up. It’s often described as tight or wound up. Contrary to popular belief, opening a bottle and letting it sit for a bit won’t do anything. A bottle opening is far too narrow and small to allow for real oxygenation to take place. Therefore, impress your friends by not opening a bottle before you pour. Decanting is all about surface area. Containers should allow the liquid to spread out, find its own level, as liquid does, and “breathe”.
Since the science of decanting is fairly simple and basic then, the very best decanter is the one that you like best. It goes with your décor, your wine glasses, or your table. You like the way it feels in your hand or it adds to the collection of other fine glass or crystal - wear you own. A lot of the best decanters, though, are leaded crystal and that’s not necessarily a good thing, especially if you leave the wine in the container for more than a few hours. The wine can and will pick up some of that lead and you may well ingest it. That’s not a good thing. Avoid leaded crystal, and then choose based on your personal tastes.
Opening a bottle of wine is opening up a whole new world. The wine itself is the purpose and getting to the wine as quickly as possible without damaging the bottle, the cork or allowing strange non-wine things to enter your bottle is the goal. Luckily, there are as many ways to open a bottle of wine as there are bottles of wine and they run from elegant, to practical, to just plain fun. The corkscrew, the wing-style, the pump, the two pronged, the machine - all are simple and even attractive implements with different styles. There’s even a way to open a bottle of wine without using any tool at all except your very own hands.Read More »
But if wine is art, and it most assuredly is, at least much of it, then so are wine openers. Like cutlery and cooking utensils, it’s fairly easy to get carried away and spend a great deal of money on an opener. Everyone is different and seeks different ways to pursue the de-corking of their bottles and so the market bears a great many opportunities to express oneself.
Generally, the most extravagant wine openers are the hand-held and portable kind. Made from every material imaginable, corkscrews, as they are commonly called, are handcrafted, designed individually, and even engraved with personal information in some cases. Still, handheld isn’t the only way to go. There are table top openers, machine openers, openers that come with CO2 cartridges and open bottles in a split second, even openers that bear a small resemblance to woodland animals and are thusly named. Which one is best for you? The answer depends on your wine drinking habits. Do you mostly drink wine at home? Do you go portable mostly? Do you open many bottles at one time or just one at a time? The answers to these questions will help you decide which opener you’ll need.
The following is a list of wine openers from extravagant to simple, from practical to fun.