We Show You How To Serve Wine Correctly

If we want to taste wine at its best, to enjoy all its aromas and flavours and to admire its texture and colours, we need to show it a little bit of respect. This means opening it carefully, serving it at the right temperature, and using wine glasses designed for the purpose.

In this section, you’ll find some tips and information on how to do just that, as well as offering advice on decanting and pouring wine.


Opening & Pouring Wine

The only requirements for the seal on a bottle of wine are that it should be:

  • airtight,
  • hygienic,
  • long-lasting,
  • removable.

Unfortunately, cork is prone to infection and shrinkage, and although modern alternatives such as plastic or screwtops lack cork’s cachet, they can give you a fresher wine.

Using a Corkscrew

Although the method for opening wine may depend on the type of corkscrew you are using, the general technique is as follows:

  1. First remove the plastic seal or metal foil around the top of the bottle (known as the capsule). You can do this by tearing or cutting it away, or by using a foil cutter. You can buy these separately, or some corkscrews may include one in the handle.
  2. If there is any dirt or mould around the top of the cork, wipe the lip of the bottle.
  3. Press the point of the corkscrew gently into the centre of the cork, then turn the corkscrew slowly and steadily. Try to drive it in absolutely straight. If it begins to veer off-course, it is better to unwind it and start again than to carry on and risk breaking the cork.
  4. Some corkscrews (such as the Screwpull) remove the cork by driving straight through it. However, for others, you will need to stop turning as the point emerges at the bottom of the cork, and then ease the cork out gently.

How to Open Champagne

A sparkling wine or Champagne bottle does not require any type of corkscrew to remove its cork; the pressure in the bottle does the work – all you have to do is control it. These bottles should be opened with the same caution used in handling a dangerous weapon, and you should always keep a thumb or finger over the cork.

  1. Tear off the foil to reveal the wire cage that restrains the cork.
  2. Place one thumb over the top of the cork and undo the cage. From this moment on, there is a chance that the cork could shoot off, so point the bottle at a 45° angle away from people and breakables.
  3. Grip the cork with one hand and hold the base of the bottle firmly with the other. Now pull and turn the bottle slowly (NOT the cork). The cork should ease out gently. If done correctly, you will hear a gentle “sigh” rather than a loud “pop”.
  4. Hold the bottle at an angle of 45° for a few moments to calm the initial rush of foam, and then pour small amount in each glass.
  5. As the initial mousse subsides, top up each glass.

Bear in mind that a cold bottle will open with a less dramatic burst than a warm one.

Broken Corks

To remove a broken cork that is still wedged into the bottle neck, drive the corkscrew in at the sharpest available angle and press the cork fragment against the side of the neck as you work it gently upwards.

However, if this technique doesn’t work, simply push the cork down into the wine. You will probably get bits of cork in your glass – just fish them out.

If a sparkling wine cork breaks in the bottle, then your only option will be to resort to a corkscrew. However, take great care in doing so – always remember that you’re dealing with a pressurised bottle.


Decanting

Decanting is not an everyday necessity for any wine drinker, and many wine drinkers will go a lifetime without needing to decant any wine.

Put simply, decanting is merely the process of pouring wine from its original bottle into a carafe or a decanter, and may be carried out for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. To separate it from sediment that has formed in the bottle.
  2. To let the wine breathe.
  3. To present the wine in an attractive way.

Removing Sediment from Wine

Wine sediment is the solid material that settles to the bottom of a wine bottle, and usually means that the wine is of a mature vintage or that it was hand crafted and possibly not filtered. Although these sediment particles – tannins, yeast cells and microscopic pieces of organic matter – are entirely harmless, you should avoid drinking them, as the taste can be very harsh.

The best way to remove sediment is to let the wine stand upright for a day or two to let the solid material settle to the bottom of the bottle. At this point you could serve the wine straight from the bottle (if you pour it carefully), but it’s safer to decant it.

To do this, you will need to place a lamp or a candle beside the decanter. Then, as you pour the wine, stand so that you can see the light shining through the neck of the bottle so that you can monitor the sediment as it drifts toward the neck of the bottle. Pour the wine out of the bottle slowly, in one steady motion, so as not to disturb the sediment that has settled to the bottom. Stop pouring when you see the sediment, or cloudy, unclear wine, rushing into the neck.

A quick method of decanting wine is to filter it through cheesecloth, a coffee filter or a funnel and mesh. This technique is foolproof, although some people may argue that this may alter the wine’s flavour, particularly when filtered through paper.

Aerating Wine

You may also want to decant the wine in order to aerate it, especially if you have a young wine. This should be done quickly, almost violently, to expose as much wine to as much air as possible. You should then let the wine rest for about an hour before serving. This method will make young reds, especially New World Cabernet Sauvignons, more enjoyable, as the oxygen will soften the tannins and push the fruit forward to intensify the bouquet.

However, if you are serving a mature red wine, bear in mind that some older wines won’t last long after opening before their fragile components begin to fade. Decant these wines at the very last minute before you intend to serve them. As a general rule, the older a wine is, the sooner it should be served from decanter.


Letting Wine Breathe

Letting a wine breathe exposes the wine to air, aerating it. This contact with the oxygen in the air makes the flavours more open. Without sufficient exposure to oxygen, wines can taste harsh – but on contact with oxygen the tannins and acids fade, the fruit begins to exert itself and the wine’s components become more balanced. However, if the wine is left exposed for too long, you may find the flavours will go flat and dull from excessive oxidation. Very old wines can lose all their flavour if they are exposed to the air for too long.

Most wines do not need to be opened early in order to let the wine breathe. A few fine red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah or Nebbiolo may need to breathe for an hour or more, depending on how the wine was made and how mature it is. Wines that are still before their peak when the cork is removed may taste much better after half an hour or more in a glass. However, almost all inexpensive reds, and all white wines, can simply be opened and drunk.

Having said that, most red wines will taste better ten minutes after you pour it into the glass. Simply uncorking the bottle and leaving it to stand will have little or no effect, as only a small surface area is exposed. Pouring off a small amount will help, but decanting will expose the wine to far more air. If you want an instant result with a wine that has just been uncorked, a quick swirl of your glass will work wonders.

If you are sampling a bottle of wine that is 15 or more years old, don’t let it breathe for too long before you drink it. Much of its mellowing will have already taken place in the bottle over the years, and it will not develop for much longer than an hour after it has been opened. However, in that hour of development, these wines can change drastically from minute to minute.


Pouring Wine

When you pour wine, avoid tilting the bottle in an up and down motion. This motion increases the chance that the bottle will hit the rim of the glass, and may also make the wine shoot out of the bottle missing the glass altogether. It will also allow wine to drip down the front and sides of the bottle. Instead, after gently pouring the wine into a glass with one smooth motion, gently twist your wrist with an inward movement, whilst tilting the neck of the bottle upward. This will help you avoid dripping wine on the tablecloth or your guests.

Sparkling wines should always be poured against the side to preserve bubbles, whilst still wines should be poured towards the centre of the glass. To control drips, twist the bottle slightly as you tilt it upright.

Never fill the glass more than one-third to half-full. This will allow your guests to swirl the wine, smell the bouquet and see the wine’s “legs”. You can always top the glass up when needed.

At a dinner party, serve wine to the women and older guests first, then the men, finally finishing up with your own glass.