There is no mystery to this but it’s amazing how some of the old rituals have intimidated us all. Here are a few pointers that will help you serve wine:
Temperature: Truth is that we often serve red wine too warm and white wine too cold. First reds – the old adage is to serve at room temperature.That’s all well and good but depending on where you live and the time of year, room temperatures can vary widely. When reds get too warm above 76 degrees or so the alcohol begins to volatilize or evaporate. This can do funny things to the flavor and aromas of wine and cause the wine to be unbalanced. Ideal serving temperature is in the 66 to 72 degree range. It’s perfectly acceptable to stick a red wine in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so to get it to this temperature. For whites we often take them right out of the refrigerator which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 38 degrees. At this temperature the wine is completely “closed” and you can’t taste or smell very much at all. Unscrupulous restaurants will sometimes take advantage of this in their wines by the glass. If they’ve got a white that isn’t very good, they’ll serve it to you very cold so that you can’t taste how poor it is! Best to serve most whites in the 45 to 55-degree range so they flavors and aromas can emerge. This means take them out of the fridge at least 20 minutes or so before serving.
Letting Red Wines “Breathe”: One of the oldest myths that still hangs on is that wine, reds especially should be opened ahead of time to let them “breathe” (it always conjured up for me little lungs in the bottle!). The reason given for this is that airing will help the wine to open up and develop flavor. If you think about it very little air is going to get to the wine through the narrow opening of the bottle neck. If you want the wine to “breathe”, the best way is to splash it into a glass and swirl it around vigorously as you enjoy it. The only exception is with old, fragile wines where opening too early can actually diminish the flavor.
In recent years we’ve seen the development of a whole host of wine aerators built into pourers, spouts and more. The idea is that wine (either white or red) is improved by vigorous swirling, even more than you can do when poured in a glass. Turns out that this is in fact, true. Next time you open a bottle of wine, pour a glass and take the rest and actively splash it back and forth between a couple of decanters for at least a couple of minutes. Pour a glass of the “agitated” wine and compare it to the one straight from the bottle. I’ll bet you’ll prefer that which has been actively aerated.
Decanting Red Wines: It’s a charming practice but unless you have some old trophy wines it’s not necessary. Most red wines made today have been filtered to remove sediments and, although there is a school that believes that this diminishes the flavor, most of us will rarely encounter a wine that needs decanting.
If you do have a wine that is labeled “unfiltered” my advice is to stand the bottle upright and undisturbed for a day or two and then open it carefully making sure not to disturb the sediment on the bottom. You can then slowly and carefully pour it into a decanter or pitcher in one pouring until you begin to see sediment in the neck of the bottle. If the bottle is dark glass, do it over a lit candle or flashlight so that you can see the liquid. Stop at that point and if you’ve done it properly you should only have an ounce of so of cloudy wine left in the bottle.
Choice of a wine glass: Most people know that it is traditional to serve different wines in different glasses – at least to the extent of having different styles of glasses for red wine, white wine, and champagne or other sparkling wines. But did you know that there are particular styles of glasses for Chardonnay or Cabernet?
Here are my suggestions. It’s really not so terribly important which glass you use unless you’re a serious traditionalist. The single exception is the glass you choose for sparkling wines like Cavas or Champagne. For these you want a tall, narrow, flute-shaped glass, which encourages and shows off the bubbles. Never, never use the flat, round, saucer-shaped glass. For still wines choose a glass that allows you to perform the three S’s easily: that is, Swirl, Sniff, and Sip. You want a good-sized bowl on the glass so that when you swirl you won’t spill wine all over you, and swirling helps develop the aroma. Finally, the bowl needs to be big enough for even the largest nose to fit in, to enjoy the liberated aromas while you sip which means that you shouldn’t fill it more than half full. Also choose glasses that are perfectly clear, so you can enjoy the color of the wine. Finally for sweet wines like ports, sherries and late harvest varietals, don’t use those little dessert wine glasses. Sweet, rich dessert wines have lots of amazing aromatics so pour them into a glass that allows your nose plenty of room to enjoy them