CORKING-POURING-STORING: SERVING A WINE LIKE A PRO

Barbara Fassio

vino e cavatappi

We certainly don’t want a good bottle of wine to be ruined by clumsy service, so we decided to help you with some tips to follow for opening and serving wine, almost like real sommeliers. We don’t want to go overboard with formality and rules; wine drunk at home is first and foremost a pleasure, and serving it should remain so as well. But just as there are small rules for tasting it at its best so can we learn to impress our diners with impeccable service.

If you want to avoid mistakes and distractions, whether you are at a dinner with friends or at a gallant gathering, then as a first step you must learn the art of waiting: a bottle of wine needs time to be enjoyed and appreciated until the last sip.

THE ONLY WEAPON I TOLERATE IS A CORKSCREW (J.CAMET)

If you want to start off on the right foot, you have to play it by ear: choosing the perfect bottle, it should be left upright for at least 24 hours before opening it. This advice applies to both young and aged wines, because in either case it will allow sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle. 

While waiting to serve, then, you can decide whether and how much to tell your tablemates about your choice: perhaps you have some curiosity about the varietal, you know the producer or want to recall the occasion when you came into possession of the bottle. Explaining why you chose a particular wine to pair with the dishes, in fact, is a welcome gesture, but we recommend that you don’t go too far: notions and technicalities bore, even more so at the table.

To open a still wine, you must have the right tool; design and emblazoned brands are not needed, it must be functional and made of a durable material. 

The only alternative that is becoming increasingly popular is the screw cap: in this case with less elbow grease than expected you will open your wine. In any case, you need a firm wrist movement, so as not to rotate the bottle, but always keep the label in clear view.

Using the corkscrew knife, cut the bottle capsule under the rim and proceed to screw the worm into the cork. This step is particularly delicate because you must not let the tip come out on the opposite side of the cork, which would cause cork fragments to fall into the wine. Place the notch of the corkscrew on the edge of the bottle and then pry out the cork gently. With a cork stopper, it is important to get your nose close and check that it does not release a pungent musty odor. This would be due to a faulty cork that has let air into the wine; if you want to brush up on all the faults in wine, don’t miss this article.

Slightly different is the opening of bottles of sparkling wine or Champagne, closed with a mushroom cork. In the case of large celebrations, it is customary to “make a bang” and let the cork explode in the air or, even more scenic, to resort to opening by sabrage. Perhaps, however, a good amount of showmanship is not always required, what do you think? The “flying” cap could cause damage to furniture, or worse to some of the guests: shall we try a more harmless method? 

Removed the capsule and metal cage, use your thumb to hold the cork in place with one hand, and with the other, rotate the bottle gently and release the cork; try to hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, to reduce pressure and prevent spillage of sparkling wine.

cameriere che sciabola

TO EVERY WINE ITS DOSE OF OXYGEN

Decanting means pouring the wine from the bottle to another container to allow it to oxygenate. The wine “breathes,” lessening the intensity of tannins and softening. Decanting often helps to eliminate possible unpleasant sulfur odors. It is not possible to precisely define the ideal oxygenation time for every wine: it depends on the grape variety, vintage, temperature or its type. Generally, the more full-bodied and tannic a wine is, the longer the decanting time. For wines aged for a long time, more attention is needed; they are much more delicate and therefore the time must be controlled with greater precision.

Decanting is useful for almost all red wines, especially if they are very tannic and have pronounced or spicy overtones. For young red wines, it is recommended for the purpose of improving taste. However, not only reds can benefit from a time of oxygenation: some full-bodied whites and oranges take advantage from this process, in this case decanting is shorter, about twenty to forty minutes.

But where should this wine be rested? Etiquette would want each wine to have its own decanter, but we know that having a whole set of decanters of various shapes and sizes in the house is unlikely. So choose a decanter made of an inert material (whether crystal, glass or porcelain) and that you like, after all, it is also an object that will decorate your table. A practicality tip? Let it be easy to clean so that it will not release odors the next time you use it!

One parameter of choice is the surface area of contact with the air: for younger wines, a container with a large surface area is the best choice; for mature wines, however, a bowl with a smaller capacity that slows oxygenation is better. 

If space is lacking, there are aerators: small instruments that mix oxygen into the wine, speeding up the process that would take place in the decanter.

decanter

SERVICE TO PERFECTION

Perhaps there are not as ancestral and codified rituals as for other products (have you read about the wonderful arts of making tea, for example?), but good service even at home gets noticed.

The bottle should be brought to the table unopened, with an ice bucket to keep the whites or bubbles fresh. One of the most important parameters to control is the serving temperature: from a minimum of 6-8 degrees for sparkling wines, between 10 and 14 degrees for aromatic whites and rosés while reds should be served at slightly higher temperatures. Lighter wines are perfect at cellar temperature (13-16 degrees), while full-bodied and dessert wines are best enjoyed between 18 and 20 degrees. Of course, we’re not talking mulled wine here: this red wine and Christmas spice delight can only be served piping hot, preferably outdoors when white snowflakes are falling all around us!

Remember that the bottle should never be taken by the neck, but should be held from the bottom so as not to cover the label, and that the wine is poured by standing to the right of the diner. 

But, where do we pour this wine? Each type of wine has its own glass, and if the dinner involves opening several bottles of different wines, glasses should be replaced from time to time. This is recommended not only because different shapes serve to facilitate tasting, but especially so that there is no contamination between one wine and another. We know that it is not always possible to have a full set of glasses at home, so we suggest that you choose one or two sizes that are quite versatile and, most importantly, have enough for all your friends: after all, sharing is the most interesting and beautiful aspect of wine drinking!

Trying also to take into account what your preferences are, we recommend a goblet with a round cup of medium width that will suit both the more refined and complex whites and the reds, whose aromas they do well to concentrate. In addition to this, a long, narrow flûte for your toasts: the thinner the glass, the longer your bubbles will last.

The order of service is important: wines should be drunk starting with the least intense and structured and then growing. Simple in the case of a tasting, a little less so sometimes if we are at the table; in this case the accompaniment to the food is a priority: the wine should neither overpower nor be cancelled out by the aromas of the dishes. The wine should therefore be chosen according to the dish, following the rules of pairing.

What if there is ever any wine left over? Close the bottle tightly, in case of bubbles if you can with the special sparkling wine stopper. Try to keep it at the optimum temperature depending on the type (from the refrigerator for white wines to a cool, dark place for reds) and do not extend the opening time beyond 3-5 days. Only fortified wines are not in too much of a hurry; you can sip them longer, for about a month or so.

A very valid alternative…great wine recipes: indulge in braised meats, risottos and reductions.

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