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13. Serving wine

By Paul Fisher

The way you serve wine can make a vast difference to how much you enjoy it. To put it another way, you can be about to open the greatest bottle of wine man ever made, but there are dozens of ways you can turn this into a great disappointment.

Avoid the following pitfalls and you’ll bring out the best in your wine – great wines will taste great, and indifferent wines perhaps slightly less indifferent.

Don’t get the temperature wrong

More than anything else, serving temperature affects the way a wine smells and tastes. Your expensive white Burgundy, if over-chilled, will have the flavour strangled out of it, while your venerable St-Emilion served too warm will become indistinguishable from every Cabernet Sauvignon down the local offie.

Aim for the following:

  • Well-structured, tannic reds – below modern room temperature, about 16-18°C.
  • Light reds, such as Pinot Noir or Gamay – a little cooler, say 15°C, but in summer as low as 10°C.
  • Complex, rich whites and vintage Champagne – above fridge temperature, say 10-14°C
  • Sweet wines, other sparkling wines, other whites and rosé – fridge temperature, 7-10°C.

Don’t destroy the cork

Corkscrews do not need to be fancy, a simple Waiter’s Friend costing less than a fiver can do the job perfectly well. But just make sure you don’t hang on to it too long – it needs to be sharp or you could end up having to push the cork into the bottle. For old and delicate corks I highly recommend the Butler’s Friend – an out-of-fashion device with two prongs for inserting down the sides of a cork.

Don’t decant if it’s unnecessary

Before you go pouring the wine into your prized decanter let’s bear in mind the words of the late Prof. Emile Peynaud, head of Oenology at Bordeaux University and one of the greatest tasters and teachers on the subject of wine. Prof. Peynaud believed that is was very rare that a wine needed to be decanted – only if there was likely to be a lot of sediment, otherwise the moment the cork is pulled the wine starts to evolve, and each moment of that progression should be enjoyed and savoured.

On the other hand, I imagine the Prof.’s everyday drinking wine was of the quality most of us can only dream of, and getting air into a lesser wine, or a fine wine that’s very young, can definitely help to open it up.

Don’t use the wrong glasses

The other day I took a particularly nice bottle of red Burgundy to a friend’s house. His wife insisted that we should drink my “wonderfully generous gift” from the Edwardian wine glasses her grandmother had left her. And there they were, small bowled, long stemmed and, quelle horreur, red coloured glass! OK, so I am being a bit over dramatic here, but it was with huge gratitude that I heard my friend, who also works in the wine business, persuade his wife to get the 95p IKEA glasses out. They fitted the bill perfectly; decent sized, tulip-shaped bowl; enough space to be able to give the wine a good swirl and relish the aroma before tasting; clear glass so that the beautiful hue of the wine could be enjoyed.

The lady of the house had been persuaded that Grandma’s glasses were too precious for even such a special bottle, the wine was poured into the IKEAS, and a fun evening was had by all, but it had been a close run thing.

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