Serious Grape: Serving Wine at Special Meals
On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, serving wine 101.
A lot of wine will be served at dinners all over America in the next week. There will be family dinners, pre-family dinners, Turkey Day dinners, and “We Survived!” dinners.
Naturally, a lot of people are wondering how to serve wine to maximize its flavor.
Here's a handy primer on how to serve wine, including how to chill wine quickly, proper serving temperatures for a range of popular wines, and whether or not you should let red wine breathe. You can use this advice all year around—but it's especially nice during the holidays to cross one worry off your list.
At what temperature should I chill my wine?
I've received this question several times from Serious Grape readers. Basically, we drink our white wines too cold (which blunts the flavors) and our red wines too warm (which amplifies the alcohol sensation).
So what is the right temperature?
That depends on the wine. Here are some guidelines:
Most white wines, ice wine, or other white dessert wines and sparkling wines: 45 to 50 degrees
Sauternes, White Burgundy: 50 to 55 degrees
Beaujolais, Rosé: 55 degrees
Tawny and NV Ports, Madeira: 57 degrees
Red wines: 60 to 65 degrees
Vintage Port: 65 degrees
What's the best way to chill wine?
The fastest way to chill wine is to put it in a bucket or the sink with a mixture of half ice and half water. Ice alone is not as fast. If you put the wine in a mix of water and ice, you will lower the temperature of a wine that’s about 68 degrees to around 48 degrees in 20 to 30 minutes. It would take you two to three hours in a refrigerator to achieve this level of coolness.
The sink is full of dirty dishes and I can’t find a bucket. What do I do now?
If there's room in your fridge, you can put white or sparkling wine in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours and red wine in the fridge for one hour. That should take your wine to the right temperature, if your house or apartment is around 68 degrees.
Should I let my red wine breathe?
Though most wine is drinkable straight from the bottle, if you are serving a young red wine (that is, with a vintage designation on it within the past 2 to 3 years) then it will benefit from getting some air before you drink it. You may find the wine is softer, smoother, and has less of a sense of puckery tannins if you let it breathe. You can give wine some air one of two ways. You can decant the wine, which involves pouring the wine from the bottle into a pitcher or decanter 30-60 minutes before you want to drink it. Don’t have a decanter, or can’t bear to wash it afterward? You can get the same benefit from pouring the wine into the glasses 30 minutes before you sit down to eat. Just pulling the cork does not really help wine to breathe, given the small amount of air that can get into the bottle, so don’t bother! Wines that benefit most from breathing include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other full-bodied reds. If you are drinking Beaujolais and Pinot Noir, you may find that the difference is negligible.
I'm serving an older red wine. Should I let that breathe, too?No. The aromas and flavors of older red wines can fade quickly once they’re exposed to the air. The only reason to decant an older red wine is to capture any sediment—natural particles that gather on the sides and bottom of old wine bottles. If you don’t want to decant, then set your bottle upright for 6 to 7 hours before serving to led the sediment settle to the bottom and then pour carefully, leaving the last one-fourth to half-inch of wine in the bottle. If you're careful, that's where all the sediment will be.
Do I need special glasses for my wine?Not really, although if you are really into wine you may find that specially-shaped glassware can help you to enjoy particular grape varieties. The only exception I’ve found is with sparkling wine. The shape of a champagne flute helps keep the wine bubbly to the last drop.
Did I forget something? If you have a question about how to serve wine that I didn’t include here, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to give you an answer.