December 2008                               


Wines of the month - Paul DeRose

Service 101

As the holidays approach, many will be hosting or attending parties and dinners where wine is served. The conditions under which a wine is served can often have a strong influence, positive or negative, on a guest’s impression of the wine. Here are some general rules.

Temperature is the single most important serving condition that can easily be controlled by the server. The temperature of a traditional wine cellar is 55°F, which, if you could only pick one serving temperature for all wines both red and white, is probably the best compromise temperature. Ideally, whites should be served colder and reds warmer, but not too much in either direction. Most refrigerators are at 35-40°, which is fine for serving higher acidity whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and sparkling wines, but even these may benefit from gradual warming in the glass. Full-bodied whites, such as Chardonnay and Viognier, should be served less cold, at about 50°, so take them out of the frig about 15 minutes or so before serving.

You may have heard that reds should be served at room temperature. This idea would be correct if you were living in northern Europe in the 19th century, where room temperature averaged-in at a chilly 60°, but average room temperature today is significantly higher than this, even in winter. Full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah should be served at the higher end of the temperature range, 65-70°. Medium-bodied reds, such as Pinot Noir, Chianti and Merlot, should be served about 5° cooler than this. And light, high-acidity reds, such as Beaujolais Nouveau and inexpensive reds (under $6) in general, should be served “chilled”, 50-55°. So, if a red is sitting in your kitchen rack at 75°+, it may take 15-45 minutes in the frig to reach the desired temperature, depending on the type of red.

An easy rule of thumb is 15 minutes in the frig for reds and 15 minutes out for whites. As for glasses, I like those big enough for your nose to get in on the act and for a half-full pour or less to be a sufficient amount, allowing swirling Also, the thinner the rim the better you’ll taste the wine.

One last subject that deserves mention is decanting. Please don’t be scared, I’ll make it brief and painless. The general idea here is that “breathing” a wine opens up its initially hidden flavors. This is done by pouring the contents of a bottle into a decanter (pouring half the bottle into an empty wine bottle or pitcher also works) and letting it sit for 1-3 hours before serving. Some swear by the technique and decant every bottle they drink. I tend to only favor decanting young, tannic reds, such as Cabernets and Syrahs, but don’t hesitate to experiment for yourself.

So what does all this fuss get you? Well, better tasting wine, you hope, emphasizing desirable characteristics, such as fruit and other nuances, and subduing the undesirables, such as high tannin, high acidity and bitterness.

I hope I’ve encouraged you to think a little bit more about how you serve your wine. Just remember to plan ahead and treat your wine with the same individual attention as your food. If nothing else, it will make you feel a bit more proud of the wines you serve.