The Best Gear for Looking Like You Understand Wine

May 3, 2023 Off By Gregory Babcock

For a drink that most associate with exhausted soccer moms and last-minute housewarming gifts, wine is a lot more nuanced, complicated, and, frankly, nerdy than it looks. Sure, most people are happy to max out their vino know-how at “this is a white” levels of detail, but it only takes one wine-obsessed in-law, viewing of Sideways, or snobby dinner party conversation to leave you feeling like you need a WSET certification to truly appreciate something you’ve probably been consuming in one form or another since you were in high school.

Sure, appreciating wine comes with plenty of pretentiousness, but that doesn’t mean you need to fork over several hundred dollars or spent countless hours in tasting classes to showcase the fact that, yes, you do know the best way to serve that bottle of Kirkland Signature Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It might sound obvious, but sometimes the best way to show that you’re interested in, and knowledgeable about, a particular topic is to—simply put—have the right accessories on hand.

If—like us—you love stuff, then the wine world is certainly a great place to be; from fridges and corkscrews to glassware and decanters, there’s no shortage of equipment designed to accentuate the wine drinking experience. Whether you’re kicking off your second act as an amateur somm or just want to impress your friends and family, we’ve pulled a few of our favorite accessories, gear, and gadgets that should let everyone know that you (probably) know a thing or two about a bottle of wine.

(Wine) knowledge is power

There’s nothing like a (visible) stack of books to help you look like you know exactly what you’re talking about. Appearances aside, it doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of light reading before you even head to the wine shop or pop a prospective bottle. Don’t get us wrong—we’re definitely not suggesting that you start a university lecture series, but there are a few books on the market that help connect the dots, answer common questions, and/or distill the wide world of wine down into a few talking points that you can keep on hand in your mind palace.

For something really thorough, Wine Folly’s tome is an excellent resource (and, if you’re asking us, a must) if you’re genuinely interested in learning more about wine, how it’s made, where it comes from, and what to expect in your glass. For something a bit ore conversational and humorous, How to Drink Wine: The Easiest Way to Learn What You Like packs in plenty of wine know-how into a compact package. From its tongue-in-cheek illustrations to its clear, concise definitions, this book is a perfect primer for those thinking more about what they drink. Regardless of which books you buy, being able to recite details (did you know Temperanillo is the most planted grape in Spain?; are you aware that riesling’s propensity for higher sugar content pairs well with spicy food?) from either book is sure to earn you points at your next impromptu wine tasting.

The best corkscrew, is a simple corkscrew

As much as we love a good gadget, this is one place where keeping things simple is the best bet. Used in restaurants around the world, the simple, human-powered double-jointed wine key is ubiquitous for a reason. Sure, it’s not nearly as flashy as an electric Rabbit corkscrew, but when you’re just trying to get into a bottle of wine, chances are you’d rather be enjoying the wine (instead of standing in your kitchen, debating how to actually get the cork out of the bottle). Our favorite wine key is made by Pulltap’s. With a variety of different color options, a sturdy (but not aggressively stiff) double joint, and coated corkscrew, the Pulltap’s models aren’t complicated, intricate or overpriced—they just work.

This bar cart is your wine cave

Unless you’re making Jeff Bezos money, you’re not equipped with anything remotely close to a wine cellar. Assuming that you’re buying more than one bottle of wine at a time, you’re going to need to have some place to store (and possibly showcase) your humble bottle collection. Keeping small spaces and city apartments in mind, one of the easiest ways to neatly organize your bottles (not to mention all the other accessories and glassware) is by investing in a bar cart. While your prospective bar cart can be as ostentatious or understated as you see fit, if we’re thinking about wine storage, we’d recommend going for something that—at the very least—has an integrated rack that can store at least two to four bottles at a time (bonus points if it also has an integrated storage designed for holding stemware). If you’re looking for storage that’s ready to integrate into your thoughtfully curated mid-century-meets-Japandi aesthetic (and makes you feel like you’re Don Draper), we love a good ol’ “bar cabinet.” For something a little bit simpler though, industrial-inspired carts generally fit the bill while blending into most interiors (if you can call your hodge-podge of assorted and inherited living room furniture an intentionally planned-out design aesthetic).

What’s “cellar temperature” anyways?

If you’ve ever thought about storing wine (beyond putting it in a random spot your kitchen or slotted into a rack on your aforementioned bar cart), then investing in a wine fridge is the next best thing to buying space in a remote European wine cave.  Less expensive (and less complicated) than you might think, wine fridges are a great way to keep bottles for the long haul… or at the very least, allow you to keep your fermented grape juice nice and cold without sacrificing real estate in your main kitchen fridge. Whether you’re keeping a bottle for a good time or a long time, “cellar temperature” (in other words, the temperature you should strive to keep wines at—generally speaking—before popping them open) is somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, nearly all wine fridges are also designed to control humidity and prevent light overexposure, both factors that can prematurely age or corrupt what’s in the bottle. In other words: Whether you’re dropping major dough or looking for something that could fit into a dorm room, just the fact that you’ve bought a wine fridge at all is a great first step in protecting your valuable vino from the external factors that could kill its buzz before it even hits the glass.

While many fridges can optimize certain zones for specific temperatures or wine styles, in our experience, most folks are perfectly fine with something that’s simple, slimmed down, and can hold roughly a dozen bottles. While professionals and restaurants will likely opt for something like the Vinotemp Connoisseur Series 46 (which boats multiple zones and can hold a few dozen bottles in its drawers), we can personally vouch for the Ivation 12 Bottle refrigerator. At just under 10 inches deep and 32 inches tall, Ivation’s fridge has a slimmed profile that makes it perfect for setting up under a kitchen countertop or putting in an inconspicuous part of your living room or office.

Let it breathe

We get it: You just opened the bottle, you want to drink your wine. That said, real wine connoisseurs know that decanting a wine isn’t just about pouring your wine into a different container and giving you a reason to stare at the clock; it’s all about taking an extra step to give your wine a fuller, fruiter and/or smoother (depending on the style) profile by the time you actually serve it in a glass. Giving your wine time to “blow off” is—like most things in the wine world—highly dependent on what you’re drinking. As noted in Wine Folly, whites and rosés can usually skip decanting (or decant for no more than 30 minutes), while reds typically require a decanting time anywhere between 30 minutes (for something like lighter pinot noirs or Beaujolais) to a couple hours (usually for bigger cabernet sauvignons or nebbiolos). Effectively, decanting allows for oxygen exposure (aka: oxidation) and evaporation to occur, theoretically “blowing off” reductive odors and volatile acidity (often simply known as “VA”), and giving tannins time to mellow out and become less astringent. Simply put, decanting generally refines the volatile characters of a wine, making it more enjoyable to drink overall.

As for the shape of the decanter, that’s less of a concern. While decanters come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, the average wine drinker or casual wine enthusiast generally needs a comfortably sized bowl at the base, with an opening that’s wider than a typical wine bottle. (For context, I have a decanter with a onion-like base and an opening that’s 2 inches wide—roughly double the size of opening at the top of a standard bottle of wine). While size is a factor, the main goal with a decanter is to have a significant surface area; the higher the surface area in the decanter, the more oxygen can reach the wine—thereby decreasing decanting time. If you’re asking us, though, don’t overcomplicate things; grab a glass decanter for less than $30, and you should be in the clear.

Stop the pop

While we’re definitely the type to finish a bottle the evening we open it, that’s not always going to be the case for every drinker. Even if you’re storing your open bottles somewhere cold, it’s hard not to feel like a wine loses a bit of its luster even after just an overnight stay in the fridge. Instead of trying to just plug the bottle with the leftover cork like you did in college, springing for the right kind of stopper should keep your bottles alive for longer (unless, of course, you finish them of before the end of the evening).

There’s plenty of ways to approach this particular issue, but one favorite method is via the Vacu Vin. Basically a pump for your wine bottles, this method uses a specially designed stopper at the top of the open bottle; the brand’s accompanying pump then pushes air out of the bottle and creates a vacuum seal. As Cote Beverage Director Victoria James told “Their vacuum seal really does help preserve delicate aromatics and flavors that are otherwise lost.”

For something a little bit less complicated, you can’t really go wrong with OXO’s bottle stopper. A brand known for its elegant, simple solutions, OXO’s expanding wine stoppers push down for an instant, (according to the brand) spillproof seal. Removing the stopper is as simple as pulling up on the stainless steel head.

Of course, if you’re looking for an heirloom-quality wine stopper (there’s got to be at least a few folks who are in this hypothetical demographic), then Le Creuset might have the solution. Retailing for a crisp $50, the French brand’s crown sealer is designed specifically for keeping French Champagne bottles bubbly and fresh. We mean that literally, too; French Champagne bottles have a unique shape and set of dimensions, which this stopper is designed to fit. Other types of sparkling wine aren’t necessarily guaranteed to fit those exact shape specifications, so investing in a heavy metal wine stopper like this is only worth it if you’re the type of person who drinks a lot of Champagne. If that’s you, then there’s a good chance that spending $50 on what's basically a metal bottle cap shouldn’t be too much of a bother.

Stay sippin’.

The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.