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Serving Wine

Correctly serving wine is simple and will allow for the maximum enjoyment of the wine for you and your guests.


The most important factor in serving a wine is the temperature of the wine. Generally, white wines are served at cooler temperatures and red wines are served from cool to room temperature. Sparkling wines are served the coolest of all wines. The table below lists the optimal temperatures of serving most California wines. Wine that is served too cold will have a decreased bouquet and wine that is too warm will taste dull and harsh. Hint: The quickest way to chill a bottle of wine is to immerse the bottle in a bucket filled with equal amounts of ice and water.

Opening the Bottle

Most wines are sealed with a natural cork although many bottlers are now choosing an artificial cork due to some advantages that they offer. If the bottle has a foil capsule covering the lip, a knife or foil cutter should be used to cut the foil about 1/4 inch below the lip of the bottle and then the top portion removed. If the bottle has a wax seal at the top of the cork in lieu of a foil capsule (now frequently found on white wines), the seal does not need to be removed. A corkscrew, cork puller or air injection device must be used to remove the cork. The simplest device is a corkscrew with some mechanism for leverage. A two-pronged cork puller may take some practice, as the prongs are inserted between the cork and bottle and then an upward twisting motion is used to remove the cork. Care must be taken to not damage the cork or to push the cork into the bottle during the insertion stage. Some devices consist of a hypodermic needle connected to an air pump in which the needle is pushed through the cork and air pressure is used to raise the cork. After the cork is removed the lip of the bottle should be wiped to remove any residue or cork pieces.

Sparkling wines usually have a natural or artificial cork which is held tight against the bottle by a wire cage. After removing the outer foil, the cage may be removed by twisting the looped tab at the bottom of the cage. Sparkling wines are under pressure so care must be taken so that the cork does not pop out and hit someone. Holding the bottle at a 45 degree angle with one hand holding the neck of the bottle (with the thumb over the top of the cork), gently rotate the bottle with the other hand. As the cork loostens, slowly guide the cork out of the bottle. You should hear a muted "poof" sound. Hint: before rotating the bottle, hold your hand around the neck of the bottle for about ten seconds to warm the seal between the bottle and the cork. The cork should remove a little easier.

Pouring and Serving

Clear wine glasses should always be used so that the color and clarity of the wine are easily seen. Most wine glasses curve inward toward the top so that the aroma and bouquet of the wine is enhanced and gentle swirling (to increase the surface area of the wine) is possible. The wine glass should be filled no more than half-way to allow for swirling.

Wine glasses used for white wine are usually tall and oval shaped while glasses used for red wines are usually rounder. Glasses used for sparkling wines, called flutes, are usually slender and narrow which decreases the area for bubbles to escape. Holding the flute at an angle while slowly pouring the sparkling wine will decrease the amount of "foam" that appears in the glass.

Many wine experts prefer to decant red wines before serving to allow them to "breathe" in order to enhance their bouquet. This process is also used to separate the sediment that is sometimes found in older (aged) red wines.

Storing Open Wines

A wine's flavor will rapidly degrade with prolonged contact with air, therefore the storage of wine after it is opened must be accomplished by limiting air contact. The most effective way is to transfer the wine to a smaller bottle. Most premium wine bottles contain 750 ml of wine whereas many dessert wines are sold in 375 ml bottles. Transferring a half-bottle of open wine to a clean 375 ml bottle (filling as much as possible) is the preferred method. Vacuum wine savers are available that consist of a vacuum pump and bottle cap with a valve. Placing the cap on the bottle and removing the air from the bottle will minimize air contact. Other devices are available that will pump gas from a cartridge into the bottle and force the air from the bottle.

 Proper Temperatures for Serving Wines

The temperature at which wine is served can greatly affect the taste of the wine, due to the way in which esters react to temperature. Wine is generally aged at approximately 55 degrees Farenheit and many will agree that this is the proper temperature to drink wine, both white and red. In general terms, I would agree to this. White wines stored in a refrigerator are too cold and should sit at room temperature before being consumed and red wines are best at slightly cooler than room temperature. Below are some guggested serving temperatures, although your tastes may vary.

Type of Wine

Degrees Farenheit

Cabernet Sauvignon
Zinfandel (Heavy)
Vintage Port

62 to 67

Pinot Noir

58 to 63

Zinfandel (Light)

57 to 62

Tawny Port (Older)

55 to 60

Chardonnay (Premium)
Tawny Port (Younger)

50 to 55

Chardonnay (Average)
Pinot Gris
Dessert Wines
Sparkling Wines (Best)

45 to 50

Chenin Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc

43 to 48

Sparkling WInes (Better)

42 to 47

Sparkling Wines (Inexpensive)
Blush Wines (Rose)

40 to 44

Next in this series: Tasting Wines   

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