Serving Wine: 3 Things to Consider
- Know which glassware to use when serving wines
- Know the optimal serving temperature for each varietal (and why serving at the correct temperature is important)
- Learn how to decant and aerate a wine
- Know when NOT to aerate a wine.
- Three ways to increase your appreciation of wine: using the right glassware, serving at the right temperature, and selective aeration / decanting.
- Glassware: Generally, sparklings are served in flutes, white in narrower glassware and red in bigger glassware (see picture below).
- When serving complex vintage champagnes, many sommeliers prefer using vintage champagne glasses or white wine glasses over flutes.
- Temperature: Serving the wine at the the right temperature will allow us to smell and taste the most aroma flavors. Different varietals have different serving temperature (see table below). Do not serve any wines above 18°C (65°F).
- Serving order matters: Start with the fresher, lighter bodied, proceed to the heavier, and finally the sweet ones.
- Though commonly used as meaning the same thing, aerating a wine is different from decanting a wine. "Aerate" is to let a wine breathe or open up. "Decant" is to separate the sediments from the wine. It is generally done by pouring wines into a decanter which then aerate the wine.
- Most fine wines could use a bit of aerating. Avoid aerating budget wines and fully mature wines. Too much exposure to oxygen would accelerate the decline of the wine and the tasting pleasure.
Choosing a Glassware
Why important? Though it is possible to serve a wine in all sorts of glasswares or even paper cups, it has been proven that the use of proper glassware will increase the wine tasting experience.
When choosing a glassware, consider the grape varietal. Riedel, the premium glassware manufacturer, has conducted extensive research and their recommended glassware (figure on the right) illustrates the optimal glassware for each wine / grape varietal.
Where there is choices, always opt for glassware with stems (to avoid warming up the wine unintentionally) and a thinner rim one.
Serving at the Right Temperature
Why important? A bottle of wine only releases its extensive aromas at a particular temperature. Too cold, it would be muted. Too warm, the alcohol would overweight its aroma delicacy.
It is commonly and wrongly believed that red wine should be served at room temperature and white wines served very chilled. Room temperature (when this traditional wisdom was set) used to be several degrees cooler than what is room temperature today. And we just mentioned serving a wine too cold would reduce its aroma (even if it would tone down its feeling of alcohol as well).
I like serving my wine on the slightly cooler end, this way I can let it open up to the optimal temperature in the glass (and not missing the best moment!)
Below is the best serving temperature for each type of wine:
Avoid serving any wine above 18°C (65°F). This will significantly reduce the tasting experience... in other word, it will make the wine seems heavy, highly alcoholic, and you won't be able to smell much of its aroma.
As for serving order, start with the fresher, lighter bodied, proceed to the heavier, and finally the sweet.
Note the below exception to these general rules of serving order:
- Sauternes or a sweet wine is traditionally the best pairing partner with Foie-Gras, which is served before the main course. So there will be times a sweet wine is served before a full-bodied red.
- Prosecco, Champagne, or sparkling is often served at desert or cake cutting. Its acidity will cut through the desert making it a friendly pairing partner. So there will be times when a lighter bodied wine is served after a full-bodied red.
- When there are too many wines for one evening, the host may opt to open the best and often the most complex bottle before all the guests get drunk or lose their palate. So there will be occassions when a deliberate decision is made to serve a complex and fuller bodied red before the simpler ones.
Aerating (Airing or Breathing) a Wine
Aeration (airing or breathing) is to open up a wine via increased interaction with oxygen or air. It is commonly done on young and complex red. Many sommeliers would aerate young, tannic whites as well to accelerate the opening of its extensive aromas.
How: Many thought uncorking a bottle and let it rest for an hour is the same as aerating it. This is inefficient and not effective. The only thing letting an opened bottle rest is to get rid of any volatile odor. It does not aerate the wine beyond the tiny surface area at the bottleneck!
To effectively aerate a wine, most wine lovers use either a glass decanter or an aerating devices:
Glass decanter differs in shape and size. When choosing, consider the aeration time. For wines that requires a long airing time, use a decanter with a larger surface area. There are special glass decanters designed for mature wines.
An aerating device: There are many in the markets, from simple wine funnel to sophisticated vinturi aerator to accelerated metallic disc. Many would use them when pouring wines into the decanter or directly into a glass. [For pros and cons of each, visit our aeration gadgets review, under the exploration topci.]
If you are not in a hurry to drink your bottle, there is always the no-accessory-required wine glass method. Just let the wine aerate slowly in your glass.
Timing: Aeration time differs depends on the strength (body, tannin, fruit intensity) and complexity of the wine. A budget banquet wine should not be decanted; whereas a Bordeaux first growth may need double-decanting the night before.
Prior tasting experience is often required to grasp the perfect breathing time. In general, wine with high tannin and complexity requires more aeration time. Delicate and mature wine requires little (if any) aeration time.
Decanting a Wine:
Decanting and aerating are commonly used to mean the same thing. Technically, decanting a wine is more than aerating or airing a wine. It includes removing the sediments of a wine.
How:It is done by pouring the wine into a glass decanter and in the process, the wine comes into contact with air and becomes decanted.
When to decant a wine: Decanting is a necessity when the wine has sediments. This could be the case of a developing or mature Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux included).
When is a glass aerated and not decanted? When it is poured straight into a glass without going through a decanter.
As per our lesson on tasting, sediments is a natural phenomenon and not a flaw. But for aestheic and practical reasons, sommelier would either decant a developping bottle or leave a small portion of a mature bottle unpoured so that no sediments is poured into the guests' glasses.
When NOT to aerate a Wine:
As aerating a wine accelerate its exposure to oxygen and thus its life joureny, we only want to aerate when we want to open up a wine that has character and substance to be opened.
This means, we do not want to aerate --
i) Very old, fragile bottles: Aroma is usually fleet and volatile. A special decanter is required should decanting be conducted.
A free and natural way: I would recommend standing the mature bottle upright for couple nights prior to serving. This way, you can pour the wine directly into the glass, minimizing exposure to oxygen. You do want to stop pouring when you see sediments at the neck.
ii) Cheap Wines: Despite lloking more presentable in a glass decanter, airing or breathing a cheap wine will only accelerate oxidation and its death.
In summary, to get the most out of your wine, serve it in the right glassware, temperature and aerate / decant appropriately. Just remember, there are special situations when it is better not to aerate / decant a wine.