In order to get the best out of any wine, it is important that wines are stored correctly and served at the correct temperature. It may not be necessary to invest in expensive storage units and elaborate devices: simple common sense and standard equipment that is widely available are often enough to ensure that wines are enjoyed at their best.
STORAGE OF WINE
If a wine is incorrectly stored it can affect the flavour and, in severe cases, the wine will become faulty. The following general points should be followed when storing wine:
- For long-term storage, the temperature for all wines should be cool and constant, preferably between 10°C—15°C (50°F—59°F), as extremes of cold and heat can cause damage. One of the worst places for long-term storage is in a kitchen, due to the wide fluctuations in temperature. Extended periods of refrigeration can cause corks to harden and lose their elasticity, with the result that the seal fails and air can attack the wine causing it to become stale. Sparkling wines lose their fizz.
- Store wine that is sealed with a cork on its side to ensure the cork remains in contact with the wine. If the cork dries out it can let in air, and the air will oxidise the wine. Wines that are sealed with a screw-cap can be stored standing up without any risk.
- Keep wines away from strong light. Natural sunshine or artificial light will heat the wine and it will become stale and old before its time. Artificial light can cause unpleasant flavours to develop in some wines. Keep wine away from vibrations, in order for it to lie undisturbed.
SERVICE OF WINE
Room temperature is often the recommended temperature for full-bodied red wine. However, with the widespread use of air-conditioning and central heating, rooms can often be either too hot or too cold. If reds are too cold, they will taste thin and harsh. The most gentle way to warm them is to allow the bottle to warm up slowly or by holding the bowl of the glass in your hands. Red wines that gradually reach temperatures in excess of 18°C (64°F) will appear to lose their freshness and the flavours will become muddled. Once they are cooled down they regain their balance.
Ice buckets or wine coolers are often used to keep white, rosé, and sparkling wines cold. An ice bucket should be filled three-quarters full with equal quantities of ice and water so that the bottle is fully surrounded by iced water. The water is then able to transfer the heat from the bottle to melt the ice. Air acts as an insulator and a bottle in ice alone will chill very slowly until some of the ice has melted.
- Sweet wines (Sauternes, Sweet Muscats) Well chilled 6°-8°C (43°-45°F)
Sparkling wines (Champagne, Cava, Asti) Well chilled 6°-10°C (43°-50°F)
- Light/medium-bodied white (Muscadet, Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Fino Sherry) Chilled 7°-10aC (45°-50°F)
- Medium/full-bodied, oaked white (White Burgundy, Fumé Blanc) Lightly chilled 10°-13°C (50°-55°F)
- Light-bodied red (Beaujolais, Valpolicella) Lightly chilled 13°C (55°F)
- Medium/full-bodied red (Red Bordeaux, Red Burgundy, Rioja, Australian Shiraz, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo, Amarone della Valpolicella, Vintage Port) Room temperature 15°-18°C (59°-64°F)
An enormous range of glass shapes and sizes is used for the service of wine, each designed to emphasise a particular wine’s characteristics. The use of the correct glass will enhance the drinking experience.
- Red wines are best served in larger-sized glasses. This will allow air to come into contact with a large wine surface and develop the aromas and flavours.
- White and rosé wines require medium-sized glasses so that the fresh, fruit characteristics are gathered and directed towards the top of the glass.
- Sparkling wines are best served in flute glasses. This shape enhances the effect of the bubbles (and thus the wine’s aroma), allowing them to travel through a larger volume of the wine before bursting at the top of the glass. For this reason the old-style, saucer-shaped glasses are completely inappropriate, as the bubbles are very quickly lost.
- Fortified wines should be served in small glasses to emphasise the fruit characteristics rather than the alcohol. However, the glass should be large enough to allow swirling and nosing.
Clean glassware is of utmost importance, as even the slightest taint can ruin the flavour of the wine. This can also apply to ‘clean’ glasses from a dishwasher; it is worth checking the glasses to make sure no detergent or salt residue remains in the glass as this can give strange flavours to wines. In the case of sparkling wine, it will make it lose its sparkle more quickly. The best way to prepare glasses is to polish them before each use. This will make sure the glasses are clean and free of finger marks and dust. The best cloth to use is a linen one, as this will not leave small pieces of fluff in the glass.
Opening a Bottle of Still Wine
- Remove the top of the capsule, by cutting round below the lip of the bottle. This can be done with a capsule remover or knife.
- Wipe the neck of the bottle with a clean cloth.
- Draw the cork as gently and cleanly as possible using your selected corkscrew.
- Give the neck of the bottle a final clean inside and out.
- Pour a sample into a glass to check the wine’s condition.
Opening a Bottle of Sparkling Wine
There is considerable pressure in a bottle of sparkling wine. Chilling to the correct temperature helps to reduce this. Even when the wine is chilled, it is possible for the cork to spring violently from the bottle and injure someone.
- Remove the foil and loosen the wire cage.
- The cork must be held securely in place from the moment the wire cage is loosened.
- Tilt the bottle at an angle of about 30°, gripping the cork, and use the other hand to grip the base of the bottle.
- Turn the bottle, not the cork.
- Hold the cork steady, resisting its tendency to fly out, and ease it slowly out of the bottle.
- The gas pressure should be released with a quiet ‘phut’, not an explosion and a flying cork.
Wines with a heavy deposit need to be decanted. This deposit is quite natural and is formed during the ageing process of many good red wines. Some young wines benefit from the aeration that occurs by being decanted, although this can be done easily by swirling the wine in a glass. Note that ‘airing’ a wine by opening a bottle some time before service does absolutely no good at all. Too little of the wine is in contact with the air for it to have any effect.
- First remove the bottle horizontally from its rack and place in a decanting basket if available. Alternatively, hold carefully, making sure the deposit is not agitated.
- Very gently remove the top of the capsule and clean the shoulder and neck of the bottle. Very gently remove the cork.
- Remove the bottle from the basket, being careful not to disturb the deposit. Holding the bottle in front of a light, pour the wine carefully into the decanter until the deposit can be seen near the neck. At this point stop pouring.
It is useful to know how many measures you can get from a standard 75 cl. bottle. This will help you work out how many bottles you would need for an order.
- 6 x 125 ml glasses
- 4 x 175 ml glasses
- 3 x 250 ml glasses
METHODS USED TO PRESERVE WINE
If wine is not consumed as soon as it is opened it will lose its aromatic intensity in a matter of days and after that it will oxidise and develop vinegar aromas. The simplest way to extend a wine’s life is to replace the closure and store the wine in a fridge. This will only extend the life of the wine by a few days. There are other methods that can be used to extend a wine’s life for a greater period of time:
- Vacuum systems — These new systems where the oxygen is removed from the bottle and the bottle is sealed. These are unsuitable for sparkling wines (which will lose their bubbles).
- Blanket systems — These systems work on the principle of blanketing the wine with a gas heavier than oxygen to form a protective layer between the wine and air.
Inexpensive devices that work using either of these principles are widely available.