You’ve learned the “rules” and the five S’s of tasting. Today, you’ll learn how best to serve wine.
At what temperature should wines be served? For reds, the term “au chamber”—meaning at room temperature—is rather misleading. Which room? What temperature? Conditions vary a great deal. A century ago, the chances were that even the wealthiest of wine drinkers lived in homes which were far less warm than our centrally heated cocoons. To them, “room temperature” often meant a few degrees warmer than the cellar. Served too warm, even the finest red wine can seem heavy and rather dull. In fact, some red wines are best drunk slightly chilled.
What about chilling white wine? Many restaurants appear to believe that a Moselle that hasn’t been left in the freezer until icicles form isn’t fit to serve. In fact, the only reason to treat a wine that brutally is to make it more drinkable (or less undrinkable) than it might otherwise be.
There is no absolute rule that covers the precise temperature for each kind of wine; additionally, it depends on your personal taste. So don’t blindly follow the old “painting-by-numbers” pattern of warm reds and cold whites.
The above may sound rather confusing, especially if you’re a beginner. But here are some general guidelines to help you:
Red wines. Chill lightly: Beaujolais Nouveau; Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages—but not the Grands Crus (Fieurie, Morgon, etc.); red Loire (Gamay and Cabernet); any French Vin de Pays; Bardolino, Valpolicella. Room temperature (i.e., 15-16° C or 59-61° F, or rather cooler than most living rooms): most other reds, though some older Bordeaux and Burgundy may be served a trifle warmer. Open an hour or so before serving: Older Burgundy; Rhone; ‘New World’ Cabernet Sauvignon; Rioja. Decant an hour or so before serving: young claret; heavy Portuguese; Italians, like Barolo and Barbaresco. (Older ones should be decanted just before the meal.)
Rosé. Chill, but don’t over-chill. Two hours in an average fridge should do the trick.
Whites. Dessert wines and sparkling wines—two or three hours in the fridge, or around 4° C (39° F) for the technically minded. Most dry and semi-dry whites and Champagne should be drunk a little less cool (8°-10° C or 46-50° F), but richer dry wines such as Burgundy are best at just under 15°C (59° F) after about an hour in the fridge. Served cooler than that, their subtleties of flavor are difficult to appreciate.
Chilling and Decanting
An ice bucket with plenty of water and a generous pile of ice works better than ice cubes by themselves. There are several modern styles of cooler that work well, but most are more successful at keeping the wine chilled than at reducing its original temperature.
Speaking of decanting—for the nervous, muslin or a coffee filter paper will effectively separate sediment from liquid. For the steadier-handed, a candle flame or a piece of white card held just behind the neck of the bottle should enable you to see when the trickle of transparent wine begins to become thicker sludge. Be certain not to shake up the bottle before decanting and pour slowly, keeping the flow constant.
Glasses and Order
If you don’t have the “right” glass, make sure the one you have is smaller at the rim than in the bowl to prevent the bouquet of the wine from escaping. Whatever the wine and whatever the glass, under no circumstances over-pour. A third to a half full is just about right. If you fear appearing mean, simply invest in larger glasses.
There are several traditional rules that dictate the order in which wines should be served. Traditionally, wine is served lightest to darkest and driest to sweetest. These rules should be broken as often as you please.
Now you know how to serve wine to create a great tasting experience. Tomorrow we’ll take things a step further and delve into how to pair wine with food.
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