Wine Basics

Opening and Serving Wine at Home

from The Wine Lover's Companion

A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover.
-Clifton Fadiman, American author
Serving wine at home does not need to be difficult nor overly formal. The first thing to consider is a wine’s serving temperature, which depends on the style of the wine as well as your personal preference. Serving wine overly cold can mute its aroma and flavor, while serving it inordinately warm can make the wine seem dull and harshly alcoholic.
Detaching the capsule: The first step in opening most wine is to remove the CAPSULE, a casing (most often made of metal or plastic) that covers the bottle’s lip and cork. Using a sharp knife or special foilcutting tool (available at wine or gourmet shops), cut through the capsule about 1⁄4 inch below the bottle’s lip. Remove the capsule at the point it’s cut. Wipe the rim of the bottle and the top of the cork with a damp towel to remove any residue.
Removing the cork: Most better wines are sealed with a cork (although some producers are exploring alternative closures), so you’ll need a corkscrew or corkpuller.
Position the tip of the corkscrew on the cork, just slightly off center. Slowly spiral the worm (screw) into the cork as far as it will go. Once the worm is firmly seated, gently ease the cork out of the bottle.
Wipe the lip of the bottle again to remove any cork residue. If part of the cork breaks off during opening, carefully reinsert the corkscrew at an angle, gently easing out the cork. Or, use the thin prongs of a corkpuller to capture and remove the remnant. If you mistakenly push the cork end into the wine, try extracting it with a special cork retrieval tool, available at wine and gourmet shops. If the cork can’t be recovered, decant the wine through a fine sieve.
Decanting wine: Red wines over 8 years old often have a natural sediment, which, though harmless, leaves an unpleasant grittiness on the palate. Holding the wine bottle up to or over a strong light will usually reveal this sediment--decanting is a simple way to remove it. Decanting is also done to allow wine to aerate(breathe) before it’s served, a process many believe enhances a wine’s flavor.
When decanting an older wine, try not to disturb the sediment. A wine basket (also called cradle or Burgundy basket) can be used to move the bottle in a horizontal position from where it was stored to where it will be decanted. This position keeps the sediment from disseminating throughout the wine. Or you can stand the bottle upright for an hour so that the sediment can settle to the bottom.
To decant the wine, slowly pour it into a decanter, placing a strong light (a candle is theatrical, a flashlight more practical) behind or below the neck of the bottle so that you can see the wine. The light lets you see the first signs of sediment, at which point you stop pouring.
Glassware: The wineglass you use should have a rim that curves in slightly (some champagne flutes are an exception), which captures the aroma and bouqet and makes it possible to swirl the wine properly in order to release its fragrance. A wineglass should always be made of clear glass so that the wine’s true color and clarity are plainly visible.
Pouring the wine: Fill the glass only about a third to half full, again to leave room for swirling. Just as you finish pouring each glass and are returning the bottle to the upright position, give the bottle a slight twist, which forestalls dripping. All that’s left to serving wine is to savor and enjoy it!
Sparkling Wine should be served quite cold, between 39 and 50°F, depending on the wine’s quality. Cold mutes flavor so a less expensive wine should be served colder than superior sparkler. Conversely, vintage champagnes--with their complexity and delicate balance of flavors-- are much better served at between 45 and 50°F. It’s best not to chill sparkling wines for much more than 2 hours before serving. Longer chilling can dull both flavor and bouquet.
To speed-chill a wine, submerge the bottle in an ice bucket filled with equal amounts of ice and cold water. This procedure chills the wine much faster than ice alone. The first step in opening champagne is to remove the capsule (foil), which sometimes has a “zipper” or perforation to expedite the process. Untwist and remove the wire cage that encloses the cork. Keep the cork covered with your hand--you don’t want it to pop out prematurely (a rare occurrence) and smack someone in the eye.
Holding the bottle at a 45° angle (pointed away from anyone), and with the fingers of one hand over the cork, gently rotate the bottle (not the cork) with your other hand. As you feel the cork begin to loosen and lift, use your thumb to gently ease it from the bottle. If properly handled, the cork should release from the bottle with a muted “poof,” not a loud “POP.”
Although properly opened champagne should never gush from the bottle, it’s a good idea to have a glass standing by, just in case. Sparkling wines should always be served in flutes. These tall, slender glasses have a relatively small surface from which bubbles can escape. Their shape also showcases more of the wine’s bouquet. The old-fashioned shallow, “saucer” champagne glass allows both effervescence and bouquet to escape twice as fast as the flute.

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc.
by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Tags: opening wine, capsule, cork, decanting, glassware, pouring, sparkling wine

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