How to Serve Wine

It’s possible to get a college degree in wine. However, absent from most college curricula is a course on how to correctly serve wine.

All wines (including sparkling wines) have different optimal storage methods, serving temperatures, and opening and pouring procedures — even different ideal drinking glasses.

Reds, it’s often said, should be served room temperature — but that refers to a room a bit cooler than the average Mediterranean villa in summer. Start at 65F (18C) and adjust to taste. Red wines should generally not be stored in a refrigerator. Apart from being too cold, if the bottle is corked, food flavors can seep into the bottle. Wherever the red wine is stored, be sure to keep the bottle on its side, in an area with 80 percent humidity if possible.

Whites, as well as some fruitier reds, should usually be served substantially cooler. Cooler … not cold. A range of 52-55F (11-13C) is a good beginning. Colder and you will start to mask the flavors. The average refrigerator is around 40F (4C), so if you store your white wines there, remember not to serve immediately after opening. Let the wine sit for 15-20 minutes.

If you need to achieve the proper temperature in a hurry and you don’t have a wine cooling cabinet, a large serving bucket with both water and ice will do. The addition of water helps to keep the ice close to the bottle and also to conduct heat away more effectively. Fifteen to thirty minutes is usually enough.

While the wine is reaching its optimal serving temperature, you can prepare the glasses. The ideal glass for a red wine will have a thin rim, a largish bowl, and a stem with a wide base for holding and stability. Whites are better experienced from a slightly narrower bowled glass. Avoid heavy cut glasses, so that clarity and color can be viewed well.

Of course, glasses should be clean. If they have been sitting in your cupboard for awhile, be sure to wash them to remove any dust that may have collected around the rim. Dust will alter the perceived taste. And remember to keep fingerprints away from the rim by holding the glass by the stem. This also prevents the warmth of your hand from changing the temperature of the wine.

While not the most important aspect of wine serving, using the proper shape and size of the wine glass helps to convey the wine to the optimal areas of the tongue and palette for the different types (see this article).

Now you are ready to start pouring.

Using a corkscrew that fits your hand well, try to insert it into the cork at a slight angle to get more pulling leverage. Once the spiral is fully inserted, give the handles or the corkscrew a little jerk — dynamic friction is less than static. Be careful not to splinter the cork into the bottle.

Decant any heavier reds (port or older wines) that show evidence of sediment by allowing them to settle, then pour carefully. You may even wish to use a cheesecloth. Allow these wines, as well as most red wines, to breathe (i.e. remain open to air) for several minutes.

Pour no more than one third to half a glass to leave plenty of room for swirling and sniffing.

Then it’s time for the most important step: taste!

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