After last week’s introductory Wine 101 email, I thought the logical next step would be tips on serving wine. Now, I know you’d all rather dive right in to the wine once it's open, but the truth is that there are several factors worth exploring to make sure you get the most out of your bottle.
There are three main points I will be covering in the next few installments: Decanting wine, the serving temperatures for different wine types, and how to select your wine glasses, each of which can have a major impact on how a wine shows. Unfortunately, even if you get everything right there are still a slew of things that can go wrong – over which we have sadly little say.
Since things like the quality of the cork (or alternate closure), barometric pressure, and winemaking faults are beyond our control, we might as well focus on what we can do to make each wine show us all its got!
Gregory Dal Piaz is a proponent and admirer of a broad range of wines and styles. During his decades of collecting and tasting he has discovered that a wine need not cost a fortune to drink well. Feel free to ask him questions at the Snooth Forums where he regularly engages with beginners and experts alike.
So, this is the point when I realize how much more there is to cover in an intro to serving wine. The first topic really should be on corks, alternate closures and corkscrews, but I think that one will have to wait awhile. I’m going to be including some videos (illustrating the use of the different types of corkscrews) while discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each, so look for that soon, but in the meantime, back to the topic at hand.
We'll start with decanting, since that’s the first thing you might want to do once you get the bottle open. Notice I said might -- I know what you really want to do, but just go with me on this one.
Decanting is simply pouring wine from the bottle into another container. There are two reasons to decant a wine: To separate the wine from any sediment it may have deposited, or to expose the wine to more oxygen in order to get it to “open up” or become more expressive.
With older wines that have thrown significant sediment I almost always decant the wine, though I frequently do what is called a double decant, which simply means pouring the wine off the sediment, then rinsing the bottle clean before returning to the wine to its original bottle.
While this sounds like a lot of work for little gain, there are 2 good reasons for returning the wine to its original bottle. The first is so you know which wine is which. Sounds pretty obvious, I know, but the truth is if you’ve decanted several wines, and then consumed half of them, knowing what is where can get, shall we say, a little foggy!
The second reason to return the wine to its original bottle it to limit the amount of air a wine encounters. While allowing a wine to breathe can greatly enhance its perfumes, regulating the rate at which the wine breathes helps to make sure that the wine doesn’t give its all in a matter of minutes.
You’ll find that many decanters are quite wide, providing for a large surface area that exposes the wine to a lot of oxygen. This is particularly good for quickening up the process that allows a young wine to breathe, but it’s not so good for older wines that also need oxygen, but at a much slower rate. The rather narrow and even sides of a wine bottle happen to be perfect for the slow oxygenation that allows older wines to slowly reach their apogee.
In fact, many wine geeks today swear by the slow oxygenation method of allowing a wine to breath for hours without decanting it. The technique revolves around popping the cork on a bottle, then pouring off a bit of wine to help increase the surface area of wine exposed to air a bit, then letting the bottle sit and wait 6, 10, even 12 hours or longer.
I’m not entirely convinced by the slow oxygenation method, I think that, at times, one sacrifices some aromatic complexity for improvements in a wine’s texture as a result of the overuse of this method. After all, some of the fun of drinking wine is watching it open in the glass and transform from a hard, tough old bird into a majestic wine that soars.
Well, that’s my position, but the truth is there is no absolute right or wrong here. Whatever works for you is the right method, just take some time and play around with your options. You never know, you might be very pleasantly surprised!
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