Lately, I've been writing a lot of “how to” entries and I know these can be semi-mundane, but hopefully they're creating a solid foundation for further knowledge. If you belong to a wine community like Snooth, chances are you already know the very basics of wine, but for those of you that I forced into joining just to read my blog (you know who you are); I'm now going to give you some hints on how to serve me wine the next time we're in each other's company. I understand that in order to learn, practice makes perfect and in this case the ‘practicing' is the best part.
So let's say you've got some friends over with a nice bottle of wine chilled and you're ready to tear into it… not so fast buddy. Corking the bottle requires more than just muscle. You'll need some tools and first off I recommend the waiter's corkscrew. It's light, easy to carry and doesn't have those fancy wings. Wing type corkscrews tend to have a really short screw and usually demolish the wine cork. Now let's say, god forbid, you do end up breaking the cork in the bottle. An easy remedy is to go back in with your waiter's cork screw at an angle and try, try, again.
After you've opened your bottle, in many cases especially if you've opened an old red wine or even a very young and tannic wine, you'll want to let the wine breathe for a bit. Oxygen chemically changes a wine's balance, therefore by letting the wine breathe it may improve the aromas and tannins. You can do one of two things here. One, pour the entire contents of the bottle into a decanter and let it sit… or two, pour the wine into individual wine glasses (preferably large) with big bulbs at least 10 minutes before you're ready to drink.
Of course, not all wines need to decant before drinking. Steer clear with light to medium bodied red wines that are less tannic, for example; Pinot Noirs, Dolcettos, lighter Zinfandels, Burgundies etc. You can also skip this step with inexpensive, ready to drink wines, as they are generally less tannic and ready to go right away.
Now we come to the issue of glassware. If you're just hanging out for the night casually, then by all means use your favorite plastic Yankees beer cup. However, if your girlfriend is coming over for your anniversary dinner and she knows a bit about wine, bust out the stemware (glasses with stems). This isn't because you have to impress her with your fancy style, it's because good wine tastes better out of the proper glassware as it appreciates the wine's value. Glassware has the ability to create a certain mood, and as I mentioned before, it helps aerate the wine, bringing out the smaller nuances and complexities of your juice. This will obviously make the entire experience that much more enjoyable and unique. My glass of choice is the Spiegelau brand. They're clear, understated and elegant without breaking the bank. Use larger stemware for your more tannic, heavier bodied reds, while lighter wines and white wines can be poured in the smaller glasses. Fortunately, many companies make glasses that can cross over between white and red.
When pouring wine properly, this isn't a case of more is more. Fill up the glass to about half way so that you can stick your nose in it without getting wine up your nostrils. You'll also want to be able to swirl your glass without spilling. Again, this isn't so that you can look like a snob. It's so you can smell the different aromas and oxygenate the wine so that it will inevitably taste better.
General rules when serving multiple wines at a dinner party include:
- Serve white before red. White wine generally doesn't stick to the palate like red wine does, therefore this order won't confuse your taste buds as much.
- If you're having a course dinner, try serving your wines lightest to heaviest bodied (for the same reason as above)
- Dry wine before sweet wine. The taste of sweet generally has a long aftertaste, therefore if you drink a dry wine after, the taste can get lost.
- Simple, straightforward wines before complex wines, so that you won't tire out your taste buds. (It's the same concept as smelling too much perfume at once).
It's a common misconception that if you're tasting many different wines, you'll need a new glass for each wine. I'm not really a huge follower of this method unless I'm at a really formal dinner. If you're following a format where wine is being served lightest to fullest bodied, I wouldn't worry about reusing your glass too much. Although if you're switching back and forth, I recommend trying out a new glass so that the wines don't become polluted.
I understand it's a holiday so you all should be outside enjoying your last days of summer, perhaps with a plastic cup in hand! Here we come fall, my favorite wine-drinking season! Cheers!
New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!