Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

WINE: How to Serve Wine

Wow you guys, it's been forever and a day since I posted something here. I am not abandoning my blog! But June is not only the month of dads and grads for me (of which I have both), but weddings and birthdays as well. Not to mention job stress and life stress and it has been all I can do to fulfill my actual obligations, let alone do fun things. Plus, I actually have been working on the blog, it's just that this post took me FOREVER. But I have several more already lined up and waiting so hopefully it won't be too long until the next one.

In addition to being too long since I posted at all, it's been too long since I furthered my wine edumacation. I finally pulled out my wine book, which was gathering dust on the shelf, while I spent my time actually drinking the stuff, rather than bothering to learn anything new.

Now it's time to get back to it. Since you and I have learned such fancy knowledge about our wine, we probably want to be able to also impress our friends with our expertise. However, it's not just a matter of drinking and talking about the wine. You also have to open the darn thing, figure out whether to drink it right away, or let it breathe, what kind of glass to pour it in, and what to do if you leave a half-bottle or so unfinished. So let's go through the basics, so that we can maybe get through the night without a cork in the eye or other blunders.

How to Open the Wine: There are several types of devices you could use to help you open the wine. The most common are:

The Screwpull: The screwpull is probably the easiest corkscrew to use. Which is why we don't have one. We like to challenge ourselves, and are way too cool for the easiest thing. But if you're afraid of looking like a fool trying to get the darn cork out, this may be your best bet. To use it, you just stick the two side prongs over the top of the bottle and lower the screw part until it touches the cork, then turn the handle at the top clockwise until the cork comes out. Voila! Virtually foolproof.

The Ah-So: This is a good backup corkscrew to have around, no matter what you normally use. Apparently it gets its name because when people finally figure out how to use it, they say "Ah, so that's how it works!" To use this one, you just slide the two prongs down into the space between the cork and the bottle until the bottom of the handle hits the cork. Then you pry out the cork. This is one that comes in really handy if you have a stubborn or crumbly cork that your other corkscrew isn't working on.

The Waiter's Corkscrew: And then there is the corkscrew you use if you want to look like a pro. It's the waiter's corkscrew, named so for obvious reasons. One cool feature is that it comes with a knife for cutting away the outer foil. This is also a harder one to use. I am not the greatest at it, although I can always manage to get the cork out, and I am getting better. This one's pretty easy to figure out anyway. You just lower the screw part and put it so that it touches the center of the cork, hold onto the handle and then start screwing it down slowly, making sure to stay on center (harder than it seems!). Once the screw is into the cork, you bend down the side lever until the notched part of it fits over the lip of the bottle and then push against that lever while lifting the cork out. If you've done the first part right, getting the cork out shouldn't be too hard.

Let it Breathe or Serve Right Away?: Now that you've got the thing open, you would like to serve it to yout guests. But some wines benefit from a little breathing room before drinking, while others can be drunk right way. If your wine is a breathing wine, you will want to pour it into a decanter first, or let it rest in the glass for ten minutes before drinking it.

Wines to Let Breathe:

  • Young tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux. You'll want to decant these an hour before drinking if you can.
  • Aged wines with sediment--you'll want to decant these mostly to keep out the sediment. It won't need to breathe long unless it's still harsh.
  • Full-bodied, dry white wines like white Burgundy and white Bordeaux.
  • Vintage port
Wines that Don't Need to Breathe
  • Light and medium-bodied reds
  • Reds that cost less than $12
  • Tawny port

Which Glass to Use?: You may have noticed that there are more than one kind of wine glass floating around out there. But does it really matter what you drink out of? A lot of the time, no. I drink out of whatever glass when I'm just having wine with my dinner at home. But it helps to know a little about glasses, because certain wines on certain occasions with certain people deserve the right glass.

Color: Okay, the glass has got to be clear. Colored glasses won't really do anything bad to the wine, but they will distort the color and make it look ugly. And as we have previously learned, color is an important part of the whole wine tasting experience.

Size: It is hard to believe, but wine will taste different in different-sized glasses. Weird, I know, but true. If you'd like to match your wine to the size of glass, these are the rules:

  • Red wine = big glass. You want at least 12 ounces. More if you can.
  • White wine = medium glass. Here you want 10-12 ounces.
  • Sparkling wine = smaller glass or flute - 8 to 12 ounces.
Thickness: Thickness is mainly a function of price and while drinking out of very thin crystal is more enjoyable for unknown reasons, it's also expensive, so this one is at the glass-buyer's discretion.

Shape: Shape is the most interesting thing to think about. For sparkling wine, you want a special shape. According to Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, the best shape is actually not the flute, but the tulip, which is more bulbous than a flute. The flute is still good, but less so than the tulip because it does not narrow at the mouth of the glass. The third type of champagne glass, the trumpet is rarely good, because the wine often goes down far enough to where your hand will warm it. Blech.

The only other specific shape to keep in mind is that some red wines do best in an oval glass that is narrower at the mouth (Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chianti, Zinfandel) while others are best in wider, rounder glasses (Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Barolo).

You really have to experiment if you want to fine-tune your shapes, but for those of us with limited time, money and space, just try to get the best material (crystal) that you can in a general wine glass shape and expand later if you want to get fancy.

What to do With the Leftovers: When we have people over to drink wine, there's rarely anything left over. But it does happen. More often it happens as we drink wine with dinner during the week. We always use an awesome device called the Vac-U-Vin, which is a rubber plug that comes with a pump that you use to pump the oxygen out. You can reseal your wine and keep it pretty well for at least a few days.

A sciency method you can use it to buy inert gas in a can and squirt it into the bottle and then put the cork back in. the gas replaces the oxygen in the bottle so the wine doesn't oxidize and it doesn't affect the wine.

There's also something called the WineSavor, which apaprently is a disk that you stick down the bottleneck until it falls in the bottle, then it opens up and floats to the top, blocking the wine from the oxygen.

With any method it's still better to drink the wine as quickly as you can, as nothing will save it forever.


"With any method it's still better to drink the wine as quickly as you can, as nothing will save it forever."

Amen! No wiser words have ever been blogged. Thanks for making the world a better place to drink in.

said by Acme Instant Food at 11:26 AM Delete

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