Wine FAQ's: Serving Wine

Articles
April 30, 2002

Wine FAQ's: Serving Wine

Information about aging wine, opening wine and opening Champagne or sparkling wine, dealing with cork breakage, buying wine, wine glasses and more.

Should wine be aged in the bottle before it is drunk?

What is the easiest way to open a bottle of wine?

How do you open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine?

What do I do if the cork breaks while I'm opening a bottle of wine?

If the cork falls into the bottle while I'm trying to open it, how do I get it out?

Is the wine ruined if pieces of cork get in it?

Why do some people smell the cork after it is extracted from a bottle of wine? Is this necessary?

How can you tell if a wine has gone bad?

How much wine should I buy for a party? For a dinner party? Cocktail party?

What kind of glass should wine be served in?

Why are red and white wines served in different sized glasses?

Should I let wine breathe after it's been opened?

What does it mean if a wine is "corked"?

What can I do with leftover wine?

What is decanting? Why would you decant a bottle of wine?

What is the sediment I sometimes find in a bottle of wine?

Is there a certain temperature at which I should serve wine?

What do I do if I forget to chill the wine and I need to serve it immediately?

Which varietals are considered light and which are considered full-bodied?


 
QUESTION ANSWER

Should wine be aged in the bottle before it is drunk?

Most wines on the market today are designed to be ready to drink when you purchase them and do not need to be aged. There are wines that are designed to be aged, and if you are interested in these wines ask your local wine merchant for suggestions of wine that will benefit from aging. These are typically red wines with a high level of tannins (such as Cabernet Sauvignon), and a few white wines that are very concentrated and intensely flavored. Serious wine collectors store their wines in wine cellars or use special home storage systems for wines they buy specifically to age.

What is the easiest way to open a bottle of wine?

The easiest way to open a bottle of wine is the method easiest for you. Most bottles of wine are stopped with a cork or a material simulating cork. This requires a wine opener of some kind to remove it. There are many "cork screws" on the market. The key is to find the one that works best for you.

Before using your opener of choice, remove the capsule (the material covering the top of the bottle, also called the foil) to expose the cork. If there isn't a capsule, remove any wax from the top of the cork.

Here is a rundown on some basic wine openers and how they work:

--The waiter's friend. This is a basic corkscrew that is screwed into the cork and then manually pulled from the bottle. It looks like a pocket knife with a folding knife, screw (called the auger or worm) and a lever. The knife is used to cut the capsule. Then the auger is screwed into the cork. Next, a notch on the lever is positioned on the lip of the bottle. As the lever is lifted up, the

How do you open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine?

Hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle pointing the cork away from people or things that could be injured by a flying cork. Remove the wire muzzle. Hold the cork in place with one hand while you gently twist the bottle with the other. The cork should be released slowly.

What do I do if the cork breaks while I'm opening a bottle of wine?

If the cork breaks in half but is still stuck in the neck of the bottle, screw a corkscrew into it at an angle and pull it out. If you get the cork out but pieces of cork are left in the wine, you can pour the wine through a cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove the cork. If the cork becomes completely mutilated, the easiest thing to do is push it in, and then pour the wine through a cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove the pieces of cork.

If the cork falls into the bottle while I'm trying to open it, how do I get it out?

The easiest thing to do when a cork gets pushed into the bottle is not to worry about it. The wine is fine. You can simply use a long thin stick of some sort (a chopstick or handle of a wooden spoon) to hold the cork aside while you pour the wine into another container or into glasses. Then drink the wine as you usually would.

Is the wine ruined if pieces of cork get in it?

No, the wine is fine. Simply remove the pieces of cork from the wine glasses after you pour it and drink as usual. If there is too much cork in the wine to remove easily, decant the wine into another container through a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter.

Why do some people smell the cork after it is extracted from a bottle of wine? Is this necessary?

The reason some wine drinkers smell and examine the cork after it has been pulled from the bottle is to gather information. It is not at all necessary to engage in this ritual, but if you do, you are simply trying to assure that the bottom of the cork smells like the wine which has been in contact with it, and does not have the moldy smell associated with 'corked' wine. Crystals which look like salt clinging to the bottom of the cork are merely tartaric acid which has come out of solution and are quite tasteless and harmless.

Keep in mind the state of the cork is not always an accurate indicator of the quality of a wine.

How can you tell if a wine has gone bad?

By the way it smells and tastes. A wine has gone bad when it is "corked" or oxidized. This is evident by a pungent corky or moldy smell (sometimes associated with wet cardboard) in the case of being corked, or an unpleasant aroma and flavor reminiscent of Madeira or other fortified wine if it has oxidized. An oxidized wine also will turn brownish in color.

How much wine should I buy for a party? For a dinner party? Cocktail party?

Here's how to calculate how much wine you will need for an event. Keep in mind that a regular sized bottle of wine holds 750 milliliters or 25.4 ounces, which give you five, 5-ounce glasses of wine. For a dinner party plan on about two glasses of wine per person.

To determine how much wine you will need for a two-hour cocktail party, first determine what other beverages will be served, then figure out how many people will be drinking wine. Let's assume you will serve 5-ounce glasses of wine.

If you are only serving wine, the calculations are easy: estimate that each guest will consume one to two glasses in the first hour and perhaps one glass in the second hour. Then, divide the number of glasses you estimate your guests will drink by five to determine the number of bottles of wine you will need. If your party will last longer than two hours, add enough wine to offer each of your guests one glass of wine for each additional hour.

If a full bar is available at the cocktail

What kind of glass should wine be served in?

Wine can be drunk out of any vessel you like, so don’t let the lack of a special glass stop you. Glass is preferred because it is completely inert and doesn’t impart any off flavors to the wine and is clear so the wine’s color can be appreciated. Professionals and dedicated amateurs value glasses with stems to hold on to so the temperature is not altered by the temperature of the drinker’s hands. Wine glasses narrow toward the rim so wine can be swirled (to maximize aroma) without spilling out of the glass. Traditionally, red wine glasses are bigger than white wine glasses.

If you are planning on purchasing wine glasses and are either on a budget and/or don’t have a lot of room to store separate wine glasses for red and white wines, buy an all-purpose 10 ounce wine glass and use it for both red and white wines.

Why are red and white wines served in different sized glasses?

Red and white wines do not need to be drunk out of different sized glasses. In fact, you can drink wine out of any glass you want. Traditionally, white wines are served in smaller wine glasses than red wines, which are often thought to give off their richer aromas more easily in larger glasses. Champagne or sparkling wines are often served in elongated glasses that narrow at the top called flutes that preserve the wine's fizziness. Dessert wines are served in smaller glasses because these wines are served in smaller portions than table wines.

Should I let wine breathe after it's been opened?

This is a much debated issue. Many believe that few wines greatly benefit from "breathing" (i.e., opening the bottle of wine and letting it stand a while before being drunk) because the wine's surface area exposed to air is minimal. But many believe that few wines will be hurt by giving it a chance to breathe.

The argument for letting the wine breathe (especially older red wine designed to be aged) is that the wine can benefit from the exposure to air just as it may benefit from the oxidation that occurs during the aging process. On the other hand, an older red wine may begin to break down when exposed to air for an extended period of time.

If you are drinking a wine you feel needs time to breathe, most likely a young tannic red wine, try letting it breathe in the glass rather than in the bottle. More of the wine will be exposed to the air that way. Let your personal taste dictate how you like your wine, whether you prefer it fresh from the bottle or after it has had tim

What does it mean if a wine is "corked"?

A corked wine is a wine with a moldy, chemical-like smell (sometimes associated with wet cardboard) that is due to cork taint. Cork taint stems from the widely used process of bleaching corks with a chlorine solution. A small proportion of wines are found to be corked (2% - 5%). Cork producers are replacing chlorine with other substances used for bleaching to avoid cork taint. In some cases, wine makers are using alternative closures made of synthetic materials. A wine with crumbled cork in it is not corked.

What can I do with leftover wine?

Drink it. A leftover bottle of red or white wine can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 — 5 days. In addition, leftover wine can be used in cooking. But remember, do not use a wine for cooking that you do not consider fit to drink.

What is decanting? Why would you decant a bottle of wine?

Decanting is the process of slowly pouring the contents of a bottle of wine into another vessel leaving any sediment behind. This process is only necessary if the wine you are drinking has any sediment, usually an aged bottle of red wine or Port. Sediment is rare in a bottle of wine you buy that is designed to be ready to drink.

What is the sediment I sometimes find in a bottle of wine?

Sediment is made up of solid particles that are a byproduct of wine-making, such as dead yeast cell or fragments of grape seeds or skins. They are harmless if consumed, but the wine drinking experience can be more enjoyable if you decant a wine to remove the sediment.

Is there a certain temperature at which I should serve wine?

Wines should be served at temperatures they taste best. More specifically, wine should be served at the temperature you enjoy it. Usually white wines, rosés, Champagnes/sparkling wines taste best chilled because they are most refreshing served that way. Red wines are typically served at room temperature. But, room temperature is relative as we all live in different climates. Here are some more detailed guidelines:

--White wines and rosés are best served between 45 and 55 degrees. Serve lighter white/rosé wines and Champagnes/sparkling wines closer to 45 degrees. You can achieve these temperatures by chilling the wine in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. If you find the wine is too cold, drink it after it has been out of the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

--Red wines taste best served between 55 and 65 degrees. Serve lighter red wines closer to 55 degrees. If your home runs hot, keep your wine in a cool spot like a basement or garage. Alternatively, chill your reds in the refriger

What do I do if I forget to chill the wine and I need to serve it immediately?

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to chill wine quickly, put the wine in a container filled with water and ice and it will cut your chilling time down to half an hour. Otherwise, if you have time, chilling wine in the refrigerator takes about two hours.

Which varietals are considered light and which are considered full-bodied?

The following white wines/rosés are listed from lightest to fullest-bodied:

White Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc/Fumé Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Sémillon, Viognier, Chardonnay

The following red wines are listed from lightest to fullest-bodied:

Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel