Proper Wine Service and breaking the rules!

Wine service in our house is really simple: Pop, Pour, Sniff, Sip, Gurgle, Swallow and simply enjoy the hell out of it. We aren’t snobbish, or pretentious about our wine at all, we live by the philosophy that it’s intended for merriment and amusement and stick to that concept. We do however, being in the wine business have those we encounter who tend to get the cranial rectal thing going on about wine and have discovered that there are a few basic (not rules, but) thoughts that are nice to adhere to making the experience more heightened. And if you’re entertaining and one of your friends happens to be a bit of a snot when it comes to wine and presentation, these simple thoughts may make it easier and less stressful for you.

Thought 1: Wine prices. If your guest(s) fall into the wine snob category and shop for more expensive wines than you’re comfortable paying for, don’t buy the expensive stuff. Serve red wines and pour them into a decanter before the guest(s) arrive, choosing a wine with your small wine merchant that fits the bill for the occasion. Invariably, the classic wine snob is going to inquire as you serve the first glass- be strong and tell them it is a classic (whatever varietal or blend you chose) as recommended by the sommelier at this little place down the street.  Never tell them the brand or details before service of dinner, that is something to give them ONLY if they insist as they are leaving for the evening. And make sure and make them compliment it prior to revealing that they enjoyed inexpensive wine! (I love torturing the wine snobs of the world!)

Thought 2: Glassware should compliment the wine and the table setting. Not everyone can afford exquisite wine glassware, and have a different setting for every type of wine that may be served in life. Have a good thin glass that is designed for cabernet sauvignon, simple flutes for bubbles, and another for chardonnay- these two glass styles tend to be versatile enough for most occasions and wines.  Anyone that desires a specialty glass that can’t handle your service ware, remind them they are welcomed to bring glasses for everyone next time they come over. In the end, it is your table, your wine, and your party- if you’re happy with it then let your happy smile show!

Thought 3: Wine Temperatures for service. Most of the world laughs at Americans for serving white wines too cold and red wines too warm, and rightfully so. The basic thinking for myself for getting wine to the best temperatures are as follows:

Champagne and other sparkling wines should start out totally chilled. Put them in the refrigerator an hour and half before serving or in an ice bucket with an ice-water mixture at least 20 minutes before serving. For vintage-dated Champagne and other high-quality bubbly, however, you should let the bottle then warm up a bit if you don’t want to miss out on the mature character for which you’re probably paying extra.

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, white Zinfandel and other refreshing white wines should also be chilled to refrigerator temperature (usually 35 to 40 degrees) for an hour and a half before serving. But the better examples, such as barrel-aged wines like Fume Blanc (made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes) will improve if brought out 20 minutes early or allowed to warm up slightly during hors d’ouevres or dinner.

Chardonnay, white Burgundy and other rich, full-bodied and barrel-fermented white wines of high quality taste their best at classic “cellar temperature,” or 55 degrees. Winemakers in France’s Burgundy region know what they’re doing when they offer tastes to visiting journalists and wine buyers directly from the barrels of Chardonnay in their cool, humid underground cellars. So put these into the fridge an hour and half before serving, but bring them out 20 minutes early to warm a bit.

Sweet dessert wines need the same treatment as Sauvignon Blanc, above, with the exception of fortified dessert wines like Port and sweet Sherry, which are better at cellar temperature or warmer. Treat dry Sherry like Sauvignon Blanc, too.

Almost all red wines show their best stuff when served at about 65 degrees—cool, but warmer than cellar temperature. This is not room temperature, unless you happen to live in a Scottish castle or in San Francisco during July. So if you don’t keep your red wine in a cool cellar or cooled storage unit, you will enjoy it more if you chill it for 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.

Thought 4: life’s too short to worry about the rules; drink, eat, be merry and leave a wrinkled, old, shriveled up carcass behind with tales of how much you loved life!


3 Responses to “Proper Wine Service and breaking the rules!”

  1. March 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Goodness, I completely agree in regards to wine temperatures. I learned this in Italy and France at the age of 21 and never looked back. People here give me odd looks when I talk of chilling my reds but the difference in enjoyment is astounding to me. Any idea what the history is behind Americans drinking hot reds?

    • 2 Christopher
      March 1, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      The most logical explanation I’ve heard to date is a shift in the definition of “Room Temperature”. In the old world, houses were (and for the most part continue to be) thick stone walls that maintain the temperature closer to ^) degrees instead of the balmy 70-80 degree American home. Taking things at face value, “room temperature” is dependent upon the room you’re in, and American homes typically are too warm for red wines.

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