Selecting the perfect wine is only part of the process—you also need to know how to store and serve it.
Whenever I participate in a wine event at a home or restaurant I try to be as prepared as I can on the wines being served. Still, I’m often surprised to hear questions like: at what temperature should red wine be served? Is this the right glass? How long should the wine breathe? It never hurts to refresh ourselves on the basics.
Serving temperature is one area that still throws many of us off. Imagine you are a duke or duchess in 18th-century Europe, and you are, of course, a wine drinker with your own castle. What temperature do you think your dining room is? What temperature is your cellar? The maximum room temperature in those days was 18˚ Celsius. The cellars would be 13˚ Celsius. Both of these were ideal temperatures for serving and storing wines.
It’s only in the last 50 years or so that the average temperatures in our homes has creeped up to 20˚ Celcius. So picture when you are out to dinner in a nice restaurant, where the wine is stored near the kitchen, what is the temperature of the wine being poured?
So here we have the biggest problem in wines being served today: reds are too warm from our hot houses or whites from our sub-zero refrigerators are too cold.
Whites benefit from being taken out of the fridge for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. You can also warm up the glass with your hands. Notice the difference as a wine stored at four to five degrees warms up to 8˚ to 10˚. The aromas increase and the flavours intensify.
I would bet that more than 80 per cent of the reds served today are too warm. Unless you have a wine fridge or a wine cellar, room temperature is too warm to store and serve wine. Since most of us drink our wine within 48 hours of purchase storing is not an issue. But serving a red wine at anything above 18 degrees means that you are losing the subtleties of flavor. And, in many cases, it’s accentuating the alcohol or “heat” of the wine.
A simple solution is to put your red wines stored at room temperature into the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. If you are in a restaurant and are served a warm red please ask for a bucket and ice, and ignore the expression on the server’s face, because you’re the one paying for the wine. Red served at the right temperature will express the fruit flavours, lessen the taste of alcohol, and make your food taste much better.
Decanting wine and letting it breathe is also tricky territory. When oxygen hits wine it allows the wine to breathe or open up some of the flavours that have been trapped by the bottle. Opening a bottle and letting it breathe before serving really does not let a significant amount of oxygen to get to the wine, and has little affect. Most wines we purchase today are designed for easy consumption. In other words, the flavours are fruity and there are no hard edges. So, the best way to let our wines breathe is to pour into a glass, swirl around for a few moments, and then taste. As oxygen hits the wine in the glass the flavours and aromas will release.
Decanting is another method to allow a wine to open up. Although it doesn’t hurt any red wine to decant it, the wines we definitely should decant are those that have the tightest tannins, and are extremely dry. These tend to be pricier wines like Bordeaux, California Cabernet, and Barolos and Brunellos from Italy. Older wines also benefit from decanting and this allows any sediment in the wine to be filtered out.
The glass makes a difference as well. Crystal stemware will make your wine taste better. And yes, the glassware designed for particular grapes does work. However, as a general rule you need only two types of wines glasses in your home: a white-wine glass and a red-wine glass.
The white wine glass should be narrower and taller and hold eight to 12 ounces. The red wine glass should have a bigger bowl and hold from 10 to 20 ounces. Buy the best you can afford, and most importantly make sure that the glasses are clean, but without any soap residue.
The under-$25 wine review
The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2011
Central Coast, California, $19.99, NSLC
I am always hesitant to try a wine with a celebrity endorsement, as most celebrities don’t know much about wine. This one references lyrics from the Dave Matthews Band, and has a catchy label. It has those tropical, toasted and vanilla notes that are typical for California Chardonnays. Rich, buttery flavours hit the taste buds right away. There is a lot of fruit but oak is the dominant player. If you like a richer style chardonnay with a nice spicy finish to go with your pasta carbonara or lobster risotto, this is your wine. 88/100
Novas Gran Reserva Syrah/Mouvedre 2010
Chile, $15.99, NSLC
Thanks to the knowledgeable staff at the NSLC on Young Street I found this little organic gem. A blend of Mouvedre and Syrah, this wine has a bit of weight and alcohol (chill for 15 minutes). Rich flavours with some delicious dark berry notes that stand out nicely. The tannins are evident but soft, adding to the long peppery finish. Great value. Serve with a glazed pork tenderloin. 91/100
Finca Las Palmas Gran Reserva Malbec 2010
Fantastic nose of rich vanilla and blackberries; more typical of a cabernet than a malbec. 91/100
Chateau Ollieux Romanis Cuvee Classique
France, Cristall Wine, $19.99
This medium bodied blend is full of plummy, berry fruit; slightly herbal, spicy finish. 91/100