Guides ... temperature ... order ... decanting and preserving ...
Wine sensory enjoyment increases when the best practices for serving and preserving wine are followed. Wine serving temperature has a dramatic effect on the smell, taste, and texture. Correct serving order (for multiple wine types, styles, and colors) keeps one wine from overpowering another. Wine decanting may improve appearance. Finally, preserving leftover wine can extend its pleasures beyond one meal or occasion.
and the 3 CONNOISSEURS
the basic chemical phenomena involved helps to set some ground rules.
Lower temperatures mean less volatility, therefore weaker aromas,
but also brighter acidity, so colder wines convey a stronger impression of dryness and
astringency and a diminished sense of fruitiness and sweetness. Red wines that are high in tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux will be less flavorful and more puckery served cold. The reverse is true for wines served warmer, so sweet wines will be less crisp and more cloying and wines with more alcohol will seem to burn more when served warm. Carbon dioxide
is also more soluble at lower temperatures, so sparkling wines are
able to take a chilling and keep on thrilling.
It's no fable that serving temperature has a significant bearing on
wine appreciation. Whether served at home or in restaurants, white
wines are commonly presented much too cold and reds commonly much
too warm. While this is somewhat a matter of personal preference,
tepid Syrah or icy Chardonnay is sure to make an experienced wine
drinker growl, if not roar.
Although much ado is often made of wines "improving with breathing" or "aeration", little attribution is given to the changes due to a rise in temperature, which can be demonstrably more organoleptically obvious. Wine that is lower-than-room-temperature begins to match the ambient temperature of the serving environment within a few minutes of being poured.
the thermal scale, big, tannic reds are best served at about 65-70°
F, slightly below room temperature. Syrah and Rhône, Merlot,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, Bordeaux, Nebbiolo, Barolo, Rioja and
Zinfandel could usually use 5 to 8 minutes in the refrigerator. This
is also the right range for Port.
reds, such as Gamay, Valdiguié, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Bourgogne,
Sangiovese and Chianti, will show well even cooler, around 60-65°
F, 10 to 15 minutes in the fridge.
dry whites are often refrigerated too long and served too cold. It
is better to give these wines a timed chill of 15 to 20 minutes, rather
than store them in the typically 45° environment. Chardonnay,
Meursault, Montrachet and Condrieu will display more aroma and have
richer flavor and better mouth feel at 55-60° F. Sherries, sweet
or dry, are also pleasant here.
dry whites, such as Riesling, Rhein and Mosel Qualitätswein and
QBA, Sauvignon Blanc, dry Muscat, dry Chenin Blanc, dry Gewürztraminer,
Viognier, Pinot Gris and Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Bianco, Muscadet,
Trebbiano and dry rosé are crisp and refreshing at 50-55°
dessert and "late harvest" wines, Muscat, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer,
Riesling, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Sauternes,
Tokaj and all sparkling wines will still retain their charms at 45-50°
Since refrigerators and environments vary greatly, its best to experiment with your own circumstances to find the right amount of time for cooling down your bottles. Although less convenient, an ice bucket filled with two-thirds ice and one-third water is a more efficient and controllable manner of chilling wine bottles.
This is how temperature generally relates to wine chemistry, but the bottom line is individual preference. If you're partial to drinking red wines chilly and sweet wines tepid, go for it! To keep things simple and suit most tastes, however, follow the 15-minute rule: about 15 minutes before serving, take refrigerated white or pink wines out and replace them with red wines for a 15-minutes cool-down.
PRIORITIES IN ORDER
Because of the way chemicals affect human senses, there are also some
guidelines to follow in the order of serving different wine
types. Rules of serving order may apply to planning a dinner party
menu or to how wines are selected to taste at a winery tasting room
or in a blind tasting flight.
guidelines have rank and importance. In order of listing, the first
guideline listed usually supersedes the subsequent.
before Sweet. Sweet is a long aftertaste. Dry wines that are drunk
following sweet ones will taste bland, sour, and possibly more astringent.
before Full. Again, full-bodied, full-flavored wines will tend
to cancel out the flavors of more delicate wines. A light, dry rosé
will show better before a big Montrachet than after it. Pinot Noir
is more enjoyable before Cabernet Sauvignon than the reverse.
before Red. Probably the most common mistake made in serving order
is to give this rule the highest priority; don't do it. Keep those
off-dry and sweeter whites for later, after the dry reds, or be certain
to insert a spacer of sorbet or similar suitable palate wash in between
flights. Serving a light Pinot Noir or Beaujolais before a big, full
Chardonnay might even be preferred, on occasion.
before Young. This rule goes against the common wine dogma that
is based on saving the best, the most complex, until last. Every wine
drinking experience I have had where the older wines were served last
says this is bad advice. Young wines are simpler, yes, but also generally
more fruity, more intense, crisper and more tannic than older wines
-- they overpower them. Give maturity the first chance, to be appreciated
for complexity, grace, elegance, softness and length. Then let the
youngsters show off their hard bodies and vigor.
the rules listed first usually supersede the subsequent rules. For
example, a Young Dry Red should be served before an Old Sweet White.
In this case dry before sweet is more important than both old
before young and white before red. There may be mitigating
factors, such as food courses, that occasionally might dictate exceptions.
A Light Sweet White with an appetizer might be served before a Full
Dry Red with a meat course, for example.
Part of the natural process of fermentation and aging is precipitating
or dropping the solids out of the liquid. With the exception of Vintage
Port, most of this happens during the wine making, prior to bottling.
Although the public usually prefers bright, clear wines, getting them
to this sterile state somewhat sacrifices elements of aroma and flavor.
Some wine producers, therefore, prefer less handling and manipulation
and so bottle their wine without filtering or fining.
any case, after some period of aging, wine will sometimes throw a
sediment in the bottle. Although wine sediment is edible and non-toxic,
whether its texture is chewy and chunky or fine and silty, sediment is usually
unappealing to look at and gritty-feeling to the palate, so removing
it before consuming may be desirable.
done effectively, decanting takes some planning. Being careful to
not disturb the sediment by any sudden movement, the suspect bottle
should be stood up in a cool place (not the refrigerator) for a minimum
of 24 hours. This will help move any loose sediment towards the bottom
of the bottle.
ready to serve, the bottle should be carefully transported, maintaining
its upright position to the decanting area. The cork is then removed,
again taking care not to shake or disturb the sediment. A clean cloth
or napkin should be used to remove any sediment or tartrates that
cling inside the bottleneck and to wipe the bottle lip.
should be plenty large enough to hold the entire contents of the bottle.
Few things could be more embarrassing than attempting to decant a
magnum bottle into a single bottle decanter.
light source, either a candle or a light bulb, is needed to guide
the decanting. With a firm grip on the bottle and using one, slow,
deliberate, continuous movement, the wine is poured into the decanter
in front of the light. Do not stop or hesitate or the sediment will
cloud the wine remaining in the bottle.
watch the flow of the wine through the bottleneck and, when the first
trail of sediment begins to trickle through, stop. Usually only an
ounce or two is lost. Diehards may want to use a paper coffee filter
to salvage it, although the alcohol will dissolve some paper flavor
into the wine and the coffee filter is not a shortcut or substitute for a careful decanting ritual.
There are occasions or circumstances when a bottle of wine is not
finished at one sitting. Like an apple that begins to brown when cut
open, once the cork is removed from a bottle of wine, the contents
are exposed to oxygen and begin to deteriorate. (see "Every
Breath You Take")
this exposure leads to spoilage depends upon the age, strength, and
character of the wine, as well as how much wine remains, how and where
this remainder is stored, and the drinker's tolerance for volatile
acidity (vinegar). Depending upon the age and character of the wine, the time window of drinkability can be anywhere
from a few minutes to a few days. Production techniques for wines made in the new millennium has extended this window1.
dark, strong, high-alcohol wines will generally hold up better than
wines that are either old, light-colored, light-flavored, or low-alcohol.
No matter what the flavor characteristics, if a bottle has been poured
from several times and left open at room temperature for several hours,
what's left may not hold much interest a day later. Each pour exposes
more wine to oxygen and mixes more oxygen into the wine, as well as
allowing aroma and flavor elements to escape.
of methods may be used to preserve partial contents for another time.
First is to replace the cork in the bottle after each pouring. Second
is to refrigerate the leftovers (even reds -- just allow them to warm
up for 15 to 30 minutes or so before serving). Make sure to store any
refrigerated partial bottle upright to minimize the amount of surface
area exposed to oxygen.
are several different devices that minimize oxidation by connecting
bottles to a dispensing system using neutral, non-oxygen gases to
displace the wine. Systems that use nitrogen are least costly, but
also least effective. Since air is comprised of 78% nitrogen, 20%
oxygen, and 2% other gasses, 100% nitrogen is not completely "neutral"
in displacing air. Argon is 100% neutral (there are no known compounds
of Argon), but more costly. For most people, such systems are either
prohibitively costly or space-consuming.
the most effective and practical method is to use one of several commercial
products made specifically for preserving wine. Under the brand names
of "Private Preserve" or "Wine Saver", these aerosol cans are filled
with a mixture of neutral gases (typically carbon dioxide, argon,
and nitrogen) which is injected into the partially wine-filled bottle
through a long, thin plastic straw. The bottle is then stored upright,
minimizing the exposed surface area. This
product costs about $9 retail and one can will supply 80-100 applications.
Some 100% argon-gas wine preservation systems and products were introduced for consumers in recent years. Although pure argon systems are more costly intitially, argon is by far the most effective gas in preserving wine.
The relative effectiveness of any gas application depends on two factors: how quickly the
gas is applied and how much wine remains in the bottle at the time. The more wine
has been poured from the bottle, the less time the gas application
will preserve the remains. A treated bottle, half-filled or more with wine, can
remain relatively unchanged for many days, even a few weeks if also
kept under 65°F. Below half-filled however, the risk of spoilage
is exponentially greater, most likely due to oxygen already having
mixed into the wine from several previous pours. Unless applied with timely diligence and discipline, no product will preserve your opened bottles.
What if the wine could be removed from the bottle without removing the cork? There is a device called the Coravin that does exactly that. Conceived, developed and patented by a medical-device-engineer-cum-wine-enthusiast, it displaces the vinous liquid with argon through a precision ultra-thin needle that allows the consumer to sample the content and the cork to seal the extraction wound so that the aging process can continue (indefinitely?).
system is greatly overrated and a complete waste of time and energy,
if not outright at cross-purposes to preservation. The theory may seem logical, but
the plastic pumps only produce a 75-80% vacuum at best and the rubber
seals leak more often than not. The biggest argument against vacuum devices is that, by removing
the oxygen, they also remove the vapor and aroma molecules.
Aren't those the very elements we're trying to preserve? Talk about
throwing the baby out with the bath water ...
1. Jeff Siegel, The Wine Curmudgeon, summarizes in easily-digestable fashion, the science behind why more recent wines generally have expanded windows of drinkability after opening in his post "The New Truth About Oxidized Wine". RETURN
Christopher Null's Wired magazine article We Can Drink the Rest Tomorrow: 5 Wine Preserving Systems Tested rates and reviews wine-saving methods and devices, some seemingly more fanciful than practical.