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Opening and Serving Wine



 
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We all know that white wine is served cold and red wine at room temperature, but there are many subtleties to serving wine.

Temperature

 

If your purpose in serving white wine is only to provide refreshment for food on a hot day, then by all means serve your white wine super-cold (a few hours in a chilly box or 30 minutes in the freezer). Extreme cold kills subtlety, so no need to choose a wine that's much beyond wet. If you want to taste more of the white wine, serve it cool, but not icy cold.

 

Some wine-lovers serve their best whites—like aged, subtle white Burgundies—fairly warm, at a temperature not much below room temperature. This gives you maximum perception of the wine's charms. It doesn't, however, supply the conventional refreshment of white wine.

 

Red, of course, is another story. Too cold, and a lot of the flavor and aroma is suppressed. Too warm, say, 75 degrees, and the wine's alcohol is unpleasantly dominant. Even at 68 degrees, or room temperature, red wine is a little warm—for when the old Europeans said room temperature, they meant their chilly rooms of about 60 to 65 degrees.

 

Most reds are best when they are basically room temperature but the slightest bit cool. An exception is fruity, young and simple red, like Beaujolais, which benefits from a little chill (this knocks down the excessive fruit a bit). Give these 15 minutes in the fridge.

 

Glasses

 

There are only two principles to live by: Make sure the glasses are large, and make sure to fill them not more than a third of the way up. This enables swirling and maximizes the amount of oxygen you'll be able to drive into your wine at drinking time—which will maximize your olfactory pleasure.

 

Broken Corks

 

If your cork breaks while you're opening a bottle, do not panic! The worst that can happen is that a little cork will get into your wine. First, try to save the day by attacking the remaining cork from odd angles with your corkscrew. If that doesn't work, simply push what's left of the cork into the full bottle of wine, then strain the wine into a decanter.

 

Oxygen

 

Do wines need to breathe? Most don't. If you're serving an expensive, top-level red wine that is meant to age, and if you're serving it young, giving it some air will accelerate the aging process by oxidizing it. This will bring it a bit closer to what it might be ten years down the road.

This is one of the main reasons why people decant red wine, spilling the wine out of its bottle and into a glass pitcher (usually a very tasteful cut-glass pitcher). Pouring exposes the wine to maximum oxygen; some servers even pour it back and forth between two decanters, thereby increasing the oxygen exposure. You may want to try this if you have a very young, very tannic red—say a Cabernet from Bordeaux or California that's not more than one to two years old.

 

Pouring Technique

It's a jungle of stemware out there, with many manufacturers making claims for the scientifically engineered appropriateness of their glasses. There's no question that the shape and dimensions of glasses changes the way wine tastes—it's just unpredictable how any glass is going to interact with any wine.

 

Sediment

 

As red wine ages, it throws a sediment—a murky, muddy substance that's not pretty to see and not pleasant to taste. The solution: Decant the wine. If your red wine has been lying on its side in storage—as it should—and if you decide to serve it at the last minute, you cannot remove the sediment by decanting; the sediment is mixed in with the wine. You can use a filter, but many traditionalists object to that.

 

If you're on top of things, stand the wine up for a few days before serving so the sediment falls to the bottom of the bottle. At serving time, stand a candle or flashlight next to the decanter. Pour the wine into the decanter so that the light is below the neck of the bottle as you pour. You will be able to see the wine flowing into the decanter and observe the exact moment when a little sediment begins to mix with the wine. At that moment, cease pouring. It is important to pour the wine into the decanter in a steady stream—stopping would wash the wine back into the bottle and mix it with the sediment. When you're done, you should have about a half-inch of muddy wine in the bottom of the bottle.

 

You're on your own here. But one little trick can prevent a lot of stained tablecloths: As you're about to stop pouring into a glass, give the bottle a sharp little twist (only about 20 degrees). Immediately return the bottle to a vertical position. This helps you make a dripless pour.

 


 

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