Ways to make cheaper wines taste more expensive
For many of us, the world of wine is clearly divided into two camps: "investment opportunity" and "two-buck Chuck." There are formal occasions when purchasing and consuming an expensive wine is the proper course of action, but there's also the everyday world of pasta dinners, informal parties, and end-of-the-day relaxation. A decent and affordable table wine should fit the bill nicely.
But the difference in taste between an inexpensive store-bought wine and a prized vintage bordeaux doesn't have to be so obvious. There are a few ways that wine consumers can improve the flavor and character of less expensive wines without sacrificing affordability. These tips and hacks may not make your favorite sommelier sleep better at night, but they will help make your next wine-tasting experience more satisfying.
Let the wine breathe.
Aeration is an essential step in the wine preparation process, but many people tend to overlook it when drinking cheaper wines. The use of a traditional wine decanter should improve the taste of less expensive wines considerably. There are other products on the market that also introduce more air into the bottle or speed the decanting process. Even swirling the wine glass before drinking should help aerate the contents.
Shake it up.
This might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to improve the taste of wine is to play a little fast and loose with the rules. Many expensive wines should indeed be handled like the precious cargo they are, but regular table wines can take a licking and keep on ticking. Empty a glass of wine from the bottle and recork/recap it. Shake it vigorously and allow some foaming to occur. After the contents have had time to settle down, the taste should be noticeably improved.
Your blender is your friend.
For the ultimate in aeration, consider pouring a bottle of inexpensive table wine into a blender and pulsing it on high for a few seconds. This might sound like extreme cruelty to some oenophiles, but if time is tight and the table or casual wine hasn't been properly decanted, a few seconds of power blending should make a difference.
When life hands you fresh fruit, make sangria.
One popular method for improving the taste of cheap wine is to infuse it with other flavors. Use fresh fruits, melons, cucumbers, and/or fresh herbs to create a sangria-like product from less expensive white dessert wine or a fruity red. You might need to add some simple syrup or other sweetener to balance out the flavor, but guests will notice the bright, refreshing notes of sangria and ignore the screw-top bottle in the kitchen.
A little experimentation rarely hurts.
Smaller grocery stores often display a limited number of wines on their shelves. As a result, many shoppers become accustomed to the taste and price of a specific label or type of wine. You may not be able to improve the taste of a less expensive white zinfandel, but you might consider investing in a different type of dessert wine, such as a moscato, or a wine from a different producer. Some inexpensive table wines actually hold up well in tastings with more expensive offerings, so do some research and read product reviews to find a more palatable wine that is still in your budget.
Spritzers or cocktails, anyone?
Another popular way to improve the taste of cheaper wines is to use them as ingredients in traditional cocktail recipes. Combining a less expensive wine with common cocktail mixers, such as sweet and sour mix or pomegranate-based grenadine, can definitely go a long way. Adding ice in the glass will also improve the flavor of many white wines. The simple act of adding soda water and a fruit garnish to make a wine spritzer also works surprisingly well.
In short, a less expensive table wine doesn't have to be viewed as a second-tier option to more expensive bottles created in the same vineyards by the same producers. While a good boxed white zinfandel or an affordable merlot may not have the same complex flavor profile or the cache of a high-end vintage varietal, it can still be enjoyed with just a few tweaks here and there.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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