Thursday, November 19, 2009

Serving Your Holiday Wines

There's really no mystery to serving wine, as most of us can somehow manage to pour the wine out of the bottle and into our glass without too much trouble. But here are a couple of things that may help your holiday wines show their best.

Temperature - I feel temperature is the most important factor in serving fine wine. As a rule, Champagne, white and rosé wines should be served chilled, while red wines should be served at room temperature. For Champagne and white wines, 30 minutes in the fridge will do them just fine. The ideal temperature for pouring our white Rhone wines is at approximately 57 degrees, cellar temperature. If the wine is too cold it will numb your taste buds, so you cannot enjoy the wine’s beautiful flavors. The cold temperature does not allow the wine to show its bouquet until it warms up. For reds, we serve our wines at room temperature, 70 to 72 degrees. We have all had red wines served to warm.

Decanting - It is frequently done with vintage red wines that have spent many years in the cellar. This is the process of pouring off clear wine and leaving any sediment in the bottle that has developed overtime. The vast majority of wines we drink today do not need to be decanted because we are drinking wines younger. If you do need to do it, move the bottle as little as possible so as not to disturb the sediment and pour the wine slowly into a glass decanter keeping an eye on the neck of the bottle. When you see sediment in the neck, it's time to stop. Decanting can also help wines to "breathe".

Breathing - If a wine has spent many years locked up in a bottle, away from the air, it will benefit from a little breathing time. This can take place in your glass or even better in a decanter for an hour or so. Even young wines can benefit from a little breathing time, as it allows the wine to open up and really show what it's made of. Test this by tasting a wine immediately after opening it and then see how your second glass tastes an hour later …if you can wait! There's often quite a difference. That's also why, if you're opening several reds, open them all at once. You give your next bottle a chance to breathe, while you are enjoying the current one. Whites generally don't need to be opened ahead of time, as the goal is usually to retain their freshness.

Glassware - The best glasses for appreciating fine wines are made of crystal. The shape and glass quality do make a difference. We use Riedel’s Ouverture Series in the Tasting Room. Under a microscope, Crystal looks rough and has lots of little crevices that wine can coat when you swirl your glass. Heavy cut/pressed glass is smooth, not allowing the bouquet of the wine to open and show its best. Whatever glass you use, it should have a wide bowl tapering to a narrower opening, tulip shaped. This allows room for the wine to be swirled while concentrating the aromas in the glass. Champagne should be served in tall flutes or tall, thin tulip-shaped glasses. Today there are many specialty glasses designed to be used with different grape varietals, try them, they do make a difference! Also, make sure you wash your crystal under hot water with no detergents or rinse aids. These build up on your glasses and will change your wines bouquet and flavor.

Glass Fill Level - The glass should be filled to the widest part of the bowl, no more than about half full, (unless you’re a good friend of mine who thinks filling to the brim means less trips from his chair…!) This level allows room for swirling the wine in the glass to release its bouquet without splashing it on your shirt or new table cloth. A good technique to achieve proficient swirling is to place the base of the glass on the table, hold the stem and make small, quick circles. Clockwise or counter clockwise, that’s the question…!

If you don't finish the bottle (which is unheard of in our crowd), most wines will keep well for a couple of days by vacuum pumping them to keep air out. You can pick these stoppers and pumps up at any wine shop. We use these in the tasting room and they work well. It's impossible to say exactly how long a wine will keep once you open it because each wine is different, but in general the higher quality the wine, the longer it will keep.

Enjoy your wines this Holiday!