Wine is not normally appreciated all by yourself and most wine lovers relish the opportunity to share a good bottle with others. Because wine is a complex, living thing, it is best to serve it under the best possible conditions.
With light, uncomplicated, early-drinking wines, there is no need to gild the lily. With regard to red wines, simply take them out of the cellar just before the meal and they will be at the right serving temperature.
Serving temperature is very important for this kind of wine. Wine that is too cold numbs the taste buds, and thus loses much of its flavor whereas wine served too warm can be heavy, lacking in character, overwhelmed by the taste of alcohol – and even oxydized in the case of old wines. Served at the right temperature (see below), a wine's taste, and especially its aromas, can develop fabulously.
The ideal cellar temperature is 10-14°C. Serving temperature should be adapted to each individual wine :
Bringing wine to room temperature
These days, many houses are overheated (more than 20°C), so most wines will reach the right serving temperature about half an hour after being brought up from the cellar. Obviously, you need to keep wine away from heat sources such as radiators. Wines benefiting from decanting (see below) also warm up more quickly – 1 or 2 degrees in very little time.
The best way to chill wine is to put the bottle in an ice bucket. Cooling white wines in the fridge is also fine. However, be sure to avoid putting wines in the freezer – temperatures below -5°C are fatal.
The best kind of bottle openers are those with a helix, or screw, which allow you to gently remove the cork. Corks can become very fragile over time. That is why it is advisable to use openers that put the least possible stress on the cork for bottles over 15 years old. This avoids bits of cork falling into the wine. A long, thin screw is best, and allows the wine to be opened by degrees. In dealing with difficult corks, a twin pronged "Ah So" cork puller can be very useful. This consists of two thin shafts that slide between each side of the cork and the bottle. On the other hand, this is not the easiest tool to use.
Choose when to open your wine carefully. With regard to quality wines, the younger they are, the more time they need to breathe. Decanting one hour, two hours, or even longer can be very beneficial, and bring out the wine's aromas. On the other hand, be careful not to decant older wines too far in advance. This can lead to oxidation and completely destroy some wines! In such instances, it is best to pour a glass just after opening (generally 1-2 hours before the meal) and leave the un-decanted wine in the bottle at 15-18°C. Some wines have sediment on the bottom or side of the bottle. For older red wines, this is not at all negative, but can detract from the wine's color and leave a dusty taste on the palate. Up until the 80s, it was common practice to decant wines to separate the sediment. However, many people now advise against this, as it gives the wine a distinctly maderized flavour. The best way to deal with sediment is to stand the wine upright for a few hours, allow the deposit to sink to the bottom, and simply leave the last few drops with the sediment in the bottle.
As has been discussed, decanting wine is also good for bringing it up to room temperature if it starts out too cold. The main reason for doing this, however, is to allow the wine to come into contact with oxygen and open up. The shape of the decanter is very important: those with a wider base will obviously allow the wine to aerate more, and are therefore specially recommended for younger wines or ones that are particularly closed.
Gently pour the wine into the decanter, ensuring that it runs along the sides and not straight to the bottom. It is a good idea to place a light source underneath the neck of the bottle so that you can see the sediment arrive while pouring. The kind of glass the decanter is made from does not matter, but metal parts other than stainless steel are to be avoided, as this can influence the flavour of the wine. Of course, it is best to put the glass stopper back into the decanter if the wine is not finished to keep out flies and dust.
The shape of the wineglass is essential, as this can significantly influence a wine’s smell and flavour. A tulip-shaped glass permits the best concentration. Glasses should be made of crystal, if possible, and always be well cleaned. To avoid musty, cardboard flavours, glasses should be rinsed with lukewarm water, either left to dry naturally or wiped dry with a microfiber cloth, and stored upright.
As a rule, wine should never be served in a glass more than one third full. This makes it easier to swirl the wine, releasing the flavours without spilling it all over yourself! Avoid touching the glass with the neck of the bottle when pouring.
How much wine should you plan on serving? This obviously depends on whether you are having an everyday sort of meal, a business lunch, or a celebration. You should also consider the capacity of your guests!
Most bottles of wine contain the equivalent of 8-10 smallish glasses, and the average guest consumes around 3 in the course of the meal. A fun acitivity is to serve two wines with similar characteristics side by side and challenge your fellow diners to spot the differences. Appreciating fine wines is always a way to spark conversation around the table, but please be sure to drink responsibly!
When hosting a dinner party, it is best to follow a few basic guidelines :
Once wine is exposed to oxygen, it is rapidly altered. The best way to preserve leftover wine is to put it into a smaller container, recap it, and store at 8-10°C. Wines will maintain most of their characteristics for around 24 hours this way. If you wish to keep a wine any longer than that, a system using inert gas (available from all good wine shops) is the best solution.