Beginners Corner

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

A few simple pointers for maximizing your enjoyment - Temperature, glassware, and breathing

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 31, 2008.

Serve the wine at the right temperature

One frequently reads that red wines should be served at room temperature. That maxim remains as true as the day it was first written, what has changed however, is room temperature! We tend to think of room temperature as being in the mid 70’s, for wine’s sake it’s better to think of it as the mid 60’s. The cooler temperature keeps the alcohol in check and allows for the slow, sequential release of the volatile compounds that make a wine’s aroma so captivating.

For whites we tend to think straight from the fridge works but frequently wine taken directly from the fridge is just too cold to be expressive. The ideal temperature for most white wines is closer to 50 degrees than the sub 40-degree temperatures one usually finds in the refrigerator. With rich, aged wines, a touch warmer could be even better, allowing for the wine to be more aromatically expressive.

Sparkling wines are also best served in this temperature range but beware, the warmer the bottle of sparkling wine the greater it’s effervescence apon opening. It’s not a bad idea to keep your bubblies cool until they’ve been opened as this lessens the risk of an explosive surprise!

Rose and lighter reds can stand to be served on the cool side. The classic cellar temperature of 55 to 58 degrees works perfectly for these types of wines.

Serve wine in the right glass

There are many shapes of glasses on the market today and it can get confusing which shape is best for which wine. One thing to remember is that the size of the glass is really more important than the shape. A good wine glass holds between
10oz. and 15oz. of wine. Now don’t go filling that up that glass! It’s best if you only fill the glass about a quarter full. This gives you space to swirl the wine in the glass, helping to release the aromas of the wine, yet leaves enough space in the bowl of the glass to capture all those volatile aromatics.

There are two main styles of wine glass shapes, those based on the classic Bordeaux stem and those that are more tulip shaped and based on the classic Burgundy stem. In general the Burgundy style works best with very aromatic reds, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, the Grenache and Syrah based Rhone blends for example while the classic Bordeaux stem is better suited to Cabernet and Bordeaux Varietal based wines, Sangiovese, and Shiraz.

While white wines have traditionally been served in smaller glasses it make sense to serve them in the bigger red wine stems for the same reasons you’re already using them for your reds. Use your burgundy stems for, well, white Burgundy and other Chardonnay based wines while your Bordeaux stem will be best for most other whites such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.

One thing to keep in mind is that soap residue, off odors from the storage cabinet and even heavily chlorinated water from the tap can all have a large impact on your appreciation of a wine. Always check your glasses before using them, and if possible, give them a good rinse right before you taste with them. The best way to rinse your glasses is by “wining” them. That is just a fancy way of saying give them a rinse with a bit of wine. It’s a great way to rid the glass of any debris or odors that may interfere with your enjoyment of the wines to come.

Give it time to breathe

Sometimes a wine may smell funny even though your glasses are spotless. There are several reasons for this beyond the obvious, that the wine is not to your liking.

Often older wines can have a bit of “bottle stink” apon opening. This is easily remedied by allowing the wine to breath either in your glass or in a decanter. I have found that almost all wines, young and old, inexpensive, and not so inexpensive tend to improve with some exposure to oxygen. This “breathing” of the wine allows for off aromas to dissipate while the wine slowly releases it’s good aromas.

In addition, breathing can allow for a wine to improve its mouthfeel by softening some of the tannins and allowing the acidity to integrate into the wine. While red wines benefit most from breathing whites certainly can improve with time in either a decanter or even the open bottle.

When serving wine I like to take a small sample of the wine when I open it. Not only does this allow me to judge the state of the wine but, by reducing the volume of wine a bit and thus lowering it’s level in the bottle, I’m exposing a bit more surface area of the wine to air, allowing it to breath more freely in the bottle.

Well those are just some of the basics to get you started. Don’t be too particular about any of these suggestions for they are just that. Try and remember there are no rules here except for one. Have some fun!

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Reply by oceank8, Nov 1, 2008.

In terms of letting your wine breath... I have recently started pouting my wine through the Venturi into the decanter. It really helps to speed up the aeration process. Any thoughts on if this is too fast? If I have a choice, is it better to just pour it into the decanter and let it sit on its own? And if so, how long would an average young California wine (say a fruity zin) need to sit in the decanter to reach it's full potential

Reply by Philip James, Nov 1, 2008.

Ocean - I think about the Chemistry quite a lot, and basically my take is this: wine is very resilient in the short term. That means you can let your wine sit in your car on a hot day, shake it up via Fedex delivery, expose it to light, or even microwave it briefly to bring the temperature up a little. However, its the prolonged heat/light/vibration that kills it.

So...if you plan on drinking it shortly after, then you can vigorously decant or aerate it.

As for the Cali Zin - not long, i often just pour two glasses and let them sit for 20 minutes and then allow the space in the bottle to aerate the wine, but decanting and 30 minutes should be sufficient to allow the free alcohol to subside and for the wine to open up somewhat.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Nov 3, 2008.

Hey Ocean,

I would generally agree with Philip, though leaving a bottle in a hot car is a bad idea. If you cook a bottle of wine drink it soon. The negative effacts of cooking wine can take a while to reveal themselves.

For young wines a wide bottom decanter works wonders and you often will notice improvement for several hours. The venturi works well for these young wines but older wines want a more gentle decant. A slow period of oxygenation generally works better than something very abrupt that introduces so much oxygen into the wine that certain aspects of the nose, in particular, can be lost in seconds while a more gentle method might preserve them for hours.

It's all trial and error, very enjoyable trial and error!

Reply by Philip James, Nov 3, 2008.

Greg - I didnt mean wine was impervious to heat, just that its surprisingly resilient. A few hours of 90 degree temperatures might be tolerated, but it wont last long as 125F, which is what the inside of a car can reach...

Best not to try this with expensive wine.

Reply by Philip James, Nov 3, 2008.

Flash Pasteurization gets pretty hot i believe...

OK, 90 Centigrade for 30 seconds...

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Nov 3, 2008.

All I can say is beware the Meshuval...

It really all depends on when you enjoy the wine. The effects of heat damage show up after time and even in rather low intensity situations can have a profound affect on the wine.

Where the line is, who knows exactly. I would be hesitant to buy any wine that has seen tempsnorth of 80F for any period of time. Just my cautious rule.

Reply by Daniel Petroski, Nov 5, 2008.

I agree on the have some fun. I am less particular about my glassware and more concerned about how much wine is poured in the glass. Most people over-pour. The glass should only be about 1/3 full to allow for swirling and sniffing. As for decanting, if you are planning to drink that awesome bottle of Napa Cabernet for example, and it is a young wine, don't hesitate to double decant it in the morning or a few hours before hand. Double decanting is just pouring it into a pitcher and then pouring it back into the bottle and corking it. At the winery, a few weeks before releasing a wine, we'll double decant the wine at 9 a.m. and taste it every couple of hours til 9 p.m. to gauge its development. But back to it, it's about having fun and enjoying the wine in good company, whether out of a 8 oz water glass or the bottle directly (just kidding).

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Nov 5, 2008.

Good call Dan,

Double decanting is a great technique. One pointer. I always double decant when bringing wines to dinner. In addition to aerating the wine it prevent the sediment from ruining the wine. I am not a huge fan of decanting to allow wines to breath but it is essential for getting rid of the sediment in older wines, and some not even that old.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Nov 6, 2008.

Dan -- Here here to "out of the bottle directly". Sometimes that's just the ticket, especially when you're on the go.

Reply by cschneider76, Nov 7, 2008.

Working in both the restaurant and wholesale worlds, I am always trying to find ways to serve a wine that is going to show its full potential either by the time a guest is done with dinner or to every account. This leads me to the Venturi. Cool idea if you are at home or a party and you want a quick decant. But, I have found that the wine fades fast. I would double-decant hard French Bordeaux's and Cali Cabs before I left for work in the morning. The first accounts would not get the full potential and had to use a little imagination. But, by the end of the day and into the next day the wines would be show stoppers. Using the Venturi, the morning accounts got the "showstopper" affect and the afternoon accounts would taste a "fading" wine.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Nov 7, 2008.

It's not easy to get a bottle to show well for an extended period of time. Lugging it around all day can't help either, unless of course you pop and pour at your first show of the day, in which case a bit of vigorous aggitation throughout the day seems to have worked well! For wines that I am drinking I prefer slow and easy evolutions, allowing me to enjoy the phases of the wines as they open. It can be tough finding the time in today's busy world but for many wines, it's not only worth it, they deserve it!

Reply by Caprese Peeps, Apr 26, 2009.

Some good pointers here on decanting. I have a question which I think is actually quite related.

My wife is temporarily out of the wine game (we're expecting our first daughter), and this means that for the first time, I find myself faced with leftover wine. If I want to save it, what should I do, and for how long can I expect it to stay good?

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Apr 26, 2009.

Hi Caprese,

well it really depends on the wine.

Young wine is pretty durable and can stay fresh or even improve if left out at room temperature overnight.

For older wines my technique, assuming I know in advance that I want to save half a bottle, is to pour off half the bottle into a 375ml half bottle as soon as I open the wine. i then cork up the half bottle and put it in the fridge until it's needed. I've saved wines for weeks this way with no noticeable deterioration to the saved wine.

If you're just left with some wine and you're going to drink it the following day just corking it up and putting it in the fridge is usually good enough to preserve the wine for a few days.

Basically remember that you have 2 issues working to corrupt the wine: Oxygen and temperature. Reducing both is what will help keep wine fresh.

Alot of people swear by vucuvin or other mechanism for removing oxygen from the bottle. I have never been a fan of vacuming the wine as I think this draws out enough of the volatile aromatic compounds to make the wine less interesting. Using an inert gas blanket to displace the oxygen that is coming in contact with the surface of the wine is very effective but I just don't really see the need as my methods have been successful enough for me.

Congratulation to you and your wife by the way!

Reply by MTB, Apr 26, 2009.

On a separate note, I just want to add my thanks to Greg for pointing out that wine shouldn't be served at refrigerator temperature. I've been having this argument with friends for years and continue to be served white wines that are way too cold ~ letting them sit and warm up always sparks the debate and usually winds up with someone's nose getting out of joint: "you're not drinking, what's wrong the wine?" So I've passively aggressively solved the problem by requesting red if I see the white being poured straight from the fridge.

Reply by RobUncorked, Apr 28, 2009.

Great tips, and I'm glad you pointed out the proper storing temperatures. When my grandfather (a Scotsman) taught me about storing red wine, he said that red wine was meant to be stored at room temperature - however, room temperature in mideval times, which was in an old castle. Everytime I think of where I'm storing a bottle, I always try to picture where in my house most closely represents an old Scottish castle.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 29, 2009.

With cold stone floors, and cracks and gaps between the masonry in the walls and ceilings for the icy winds and damp to rattle and drip through, eh RobR?!

Reply by Gantt Hickman, Apr 29, 2009.

Do we have pictures on Snooth of a Bordeaux stem glass and a Burgundy stem glass. I have many different glasses, but not a clue as to which is which. Also, what is your take on stemless? Other than the fact they are extremely easy to clean.


Reply by Gantt Hickman, Apr 29, 2009.

Nevermind, I have got them now.


Reply by NekotoNikku, Jul 21, 2009.

Thanks as always Greg and the rest of the Snooth community for the tips on things that may not always be given enough prior consideration!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 22, 2009.

Glad to help. More to come in that not too distant future!

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