Beginners Corner

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

A few simple pointers for maximizing your enjoyment - Temperature, glassware, and breathing

Original post by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 31, 2008.

Serve the wine at the right temperature

One frequently reads that red wines should be served at room temperature. That maxim remains as true as the day it was first written, what has changed however, is room temperature! We tend to think of room temperature as being in the mid 70’s, for wine’s sake it’s better to think of it as the mid 60’s. The cooler temperature keeps the alcohol in check and allows for the slow, sequential release of the volatile compounds that make a wine’s aroma so captivating.

For whites we tend to think straight from the fridge works but frequently wine taken directly from the fridge is just too cold to be expressive. The ideal temperature for most white wines is closer to 50 degrees than the sub 40-degree temperatures one usually finds in the refrigerator. With rich, aged wines, a touch warmer could be even better, allowing for the wine to be more aromatically expressive.

Sparkling wines are also best served in this temperature range but beware, the warmer the bottle of sparkling wine the greater it’s effervescence apon opening. It’s not a bad idea to keep your bubblies cool until they’ve been opened as this lessens the risk of an explosive surprise!

Rose and lighter reds can stand to be served on the cool side. The classic cellar temperature of 55 to 58 degrees works perfectly for these types of wines.

Serve wine in the right glass

There are many shapes of glasses on the market today and it can get confusing which shape is best for which wine. One thing to remember is that the size of the glass is really more important than the shape. A good wine glass holds between
10oz. and 15oz. of wine. Now don’t go filling that up that glass! It’s best if you only fill the glass about a quarter full. This gives you space to swirl the wine in the glass, helping to release the aromas of the wine, yet leaves enough space in the bowl of the glass to capture all those volatile aromatics.

There are two main styles of wine glass shapes, those based on the classic Bordeaux stem and those that are more tulip shaped and based on the classic Burgundy stem. In general the Burgundy style works best with very aromatic reds, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, the Grenache and Syrah based Rhone blends for example while the classic Bordeaux stem is better suited to Cabernet and Bordeaux Varietal based wines, Sangiovese, and Shiraz.

While white wines have traditionally been served in smaller glasses it make sense to serve them in the bigger red wine stems for the same reasons you’re already using them for your reds. Use your burgundy stems for, well, white Burgundy and other Chardonnay based wines while your Bordeaux stem will be best for most other whites such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.

One thing to keep in mind is that soap residue, off odors from the storage cabinet and even heavily chlorinated water from the tap can all have a large impact on your appreciation of a wine. Always check your glasses before using them, and if possible, give them a good rinse right before you taste with them. The best way to rinse your glasses is by “wining” them. That is just a fancy way of saying give them a rinse with a bit of wine. It’s a great way to rid the glass of any debris or odors that may interfere with your enjoyment of the wines to come.

Give it time to breathe

Sometimes a wine may smell funny even though your glasses are spotless. There are several reasons for this beyond the obvious, that the wine is not to your liking.

Often older wines can have a bit of “bottle stink” apon opening. This is easily remedied by allowing the wine to breath either in your glass or in a decanter. I have found that almost all wines, young and old, inexpensive, and not so inexpensive tend to improve with some exposure to oxygen. This “breathing” of the wine allows for off aromas to dissipate while the wine slowly releases it’s good aromas.

In addition, breathing can allow for a wine to improve its mouthfeel by softening some of the tannins and allowing the acidity to integrate into the wine. While red wines benefit most from breathing whites certainly can improve with time in either a decanter or even the open bottle.

When serving wine I like to take a small sample of the wine when I open it. Not only does this allow me to judge the state of the wine but, by reducing the volume of wine a bit and thus lowering it’s level in the bottle, I’m exposing a bit more surface area of the wine to air, allowing it to breath more freely in the bottle.

Well those are just some of the basics to get you started. Don’t be too particular about any of these suggestions for they are just that. Try and remember there are no rules here except for one. Have some fun!

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Reply by HS Law, Jul 22, 2009.

Yes, thanks Greg!

Reply by GregT, Jul 23, 2009.

First time I looked at this thread and it's over half a year old.

Thank you Greg for pointing out that one doesn't need a specific glass for a specific wine. And for pointing out that there really is no reason not to have your whites in the same size glass as reds.

As far as temperatures go, I have no problem at all if someone pours a white straight from the fridge. My hot little hands will warm it fast enough. Too cold is almost never a problem for me because it warms fast. Too hot is a problem and you can't cool the wine once it's in your glass unless you drop ice into it and I'm not about to do that.

Reply by lingprof, Jul 26, 2009.

Great thread! I have always heard that reds should be at room temperature, but that "room" is supposed to be the wine cellar. But I like the idea of a creepy Scottish castle better.

Somewhere on the web I saw a post by a guy who had actually done an experiment storing wine with just a cork, vacuvin, or inert gas. He found that for just a few days, all the methods were fine, and for a week or longer, the inert gas was best. I don't know myself, because I've never had a wine that I liked around for a whole week. ;-)

Reply by joss, Oct 20, 2009.

great article. and thanks for trying to spread the "red at room temp" knowledge. i can't tell you how many times i've had to debate or try to persuade otherwise knowledgeable wine lovers that the red they're serving is too warm. the fact that i live in LA, where the average room temp is even warmer, makes it even more imperative. if it didn't come out of a wine fridge, i usually try to convince them to bring the bottle temp down to the low 60's by putting it in the refrigerator for a bit. what blows me away is how few restaurants, even the haute cusines ones, seem to know either. they have massive wine inventory, sometimes sitting in grand display cases under hot lights! omg!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 20, 2009.

O M G is right!

One trick I use to get a wine to the correct temperature is to quickly chill the glass, or decanter even but that's another story.

Simply fill the glass with ice and water, let it rest for a minute or two, dump the ice water and pour in a suitable amount of wine. Then the bottle, "room temperature" reds is what I am referring to, can go in the fridge for awhile while I enjoy my first glass.

Reply by joss, Oct 21, 2009.

yep! :), i've used that ice water in the wine glass trick, too! but man!, i sometimes get the funniest looks (you, too?), like i'm some sort of fool or neophyte, especially if i'm at a 'wine bar' (someone explain to me how a "wine establishment" doesn't know this basic thing?) but i can't help but do it when i'm out: if i'm gonna pay 2-4 times retail for wine, i gotta have it the way i want it...

my gf laughingly remarks that it's getting harder n harder for me to go out on the town as time goes on. the more n more i learn n accumulate experience in wine (and cocktail-making), the more n more i'd rather stay home, invite friends over, or go over to friends, n do it in the way i consider to be best (i guess i got too many taste buds on my tongue). it may come off snobby, but it truly is not my intention n certainly doesn't feel that way from my perspective.

naturally, it all depends upon the where you're going and the appropriate expectations for that setting. but if i'm at a nice restaurant/wine establishment where wine is a definite component of the evening at hand, and given the choice between spending in public $50 - $100+ on a bottle that often isn't even that good for $10- $20 retail, having it served at a temp of high 70's to sometimes even the low 80's, then having to play dodge-ball w/ your wineglass because yr server, meaning perfectly well, wants to top yr wine glass off every few minutes (ok, i exaggerate a bit fr effect, but at least around or past half full every 10-15 mins ;p)...
i can spend the time and money (think of just how ridiculously good a wine you can buy nowadays for $50-$100), serve it properly at the right temp, in the appropriate glassware, with enough time to breath ahead of time, and languidly enjoy n savor it at home or at friends'. it's a no brainer for me, at least. it's that or i have to bring my own bottle everywhere i go!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 21, 2009.

I am an avid BYOBer. Almost every meal out is taken at a restaurant that will allow BYOb with a reasonable corkage. A few restaurants do have amazing lists, I will avail myself of the occasional well priced bottle from one of these but in general I have given up on wine service in Restaurants.

Reply by dmcker, Oct 21, 2009.

Joss, I'm in the club with you and GregDP, too. You seem to be describing an experiential curve that many of us go through, and I'll even extend it to cooking at home, which can often be better than at even famous restaurants. Though of course it's also nice to be served good food and wine at a restaurant that has the service right, when there's no stress but only enjoyment with friends.

Does get humorous sometimes when I BYOB a wine that the maitre d'/sommelier/owner grumpily informs me is on their wine list....

Reply by plaintiger, Jan 14, 2010.

btw, you don't let a wine "breath" - you let it *breathe.* "breath" rhymes with "death."

Reply by joss, Jan 14, 2010.

yes, i know, plaintiger. 'twas a simple typo. but you seem to have missed the forest for the tree... :)

Reply by plaintiger, Jan 14, 2010.

oh - i thought i'd seen "breath" used incorrectly several times, which would refute the argument that it's a typo, but it appears i did not; i guess i'm just so accustomed to modern illiterates getting it wrong that i assumed Greg was doing the same thing. my bad.

and yes, also my bad for not acknowledging that it's a great little article. thank you, Greg, and in particular for the bit at the end: "Don’t be too particular about any of these suggestions for they are just that. Try and remember there are no rules here except for one. Have some fun!"

that's very nice to read, especially since i've never heard anyone say that with regard to wine before. i was starting to think the world of wine was a lot more militant than that. thanks!

Reply by dmcker, Jan 15, 2010.

What's the point if you can't enjoy what you're doing, especially something as sensual and personal as enjoying a complexly delicious glass of wine? ;-)

Reply by Charles Emilio, Jan 15, 2010.

When double decantering, do you use a funnel to get the wine back in the bottle?

Also, what about those people who's decanter is broken..could they use an ordinary plastic jug for the purpose of double-decantering?

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