Hope you’re all doing well. I’m writing this in the middle of a good food/good wine/chocolate binge over the Easter weekend so all is definitely good in chateau LTLT. This week I’m going to focus on a couple of things that I constantly get questioned about – serving and storing wine.
First and foremost, there are no defined rules here – only opinions and guidance. Hopefully it’s guidance that can help you get the most out of what you’re drinking, but really; enjoy it how you like it rather than forcing yourself through other people’s rituals and ceremonies. Go ahead, put the ice cube in the riesling on a hot day – just because I choose not to doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it with pride because it meets your needs.
So with that in mind, let’s have a look at a few of the key factors and see where we wind up.
This one can significantly impact on both what you taste and your enjoyment of the wine you drink, kind of like how a can of ice cold VB is passable but soon becomes some sort of sick joke at the expense of your tastebuds once your hand warms it up just a few degrees. As a general rule we drink whites too cold and reds too hot in Australia.
For whites – if a bottle has come straight out of a cold fridge or eski, it may be refreshing but you won’t be tasting much. Sometimes this can be great – crisp, & simple whites (Sauv Blanc being the top example) don’t lose much in the cold – but when you’re drinking something a bit more complex (like a nice focussed Chardonnay, not a big flabby one) then a few degrees warmth can really bring out the aromatics and enhance the wine. How best to do this? Leave the bottle out on the table as you drink it. If it starts to get too warm for your tastes then just chuck it back in an ice bucket (or the freezer) for 5 minutes. This also works a treat with Champagne (real champagne); a bit of warmth and some oxygen can add some incredible depth to the flavours if you don’t mind losing a little bit of fizz.
For reds – never be afraid to put a bottle in the fridge for a while, particularly on a hot day. If red wine gets too hot then it’s like losing the upper and lower registers of your hearing – everything just tastes dull and samey (the tannins and bitterness are also amplified). Red should be served at a temperature such that it is refreshing, even on a hot day, which is roughly 15 degrees (often referred to as ‘cellar temperature’) and significantly lower than the temperature in most Australian lounge rooms for most of the year.
Glass, Glass Sizes & Decanters
If you drink wine often, investing in a few decent wine glasses is both a relatively small cost and will have a huge impact on what you can taste and smell. For a good all-rounder, I like the riedel overture magnum, which you can often get a decent deal on ‘pay 6, get 8’ from places like Peter’s of Kensington or the Chef’s Hat every couple of months so keep your eyes open. Switch to some better glassware and it’s like you’re drinking a different wine, trust me.
With the switch to better glassware comes the temptation to pour more wine per glass – resist it! The less you pour the more you can taste (and it feels like the bottle goes further…!) so stick with volumes around 90mL to give you room to give it a bit of a swirl and open up the flavours. You don’t have to do it so you look like a wanker, but a bit of a swish will help the wine release more of its aromas and the more you do it the less likely you are to spray wine all over the table, your friends and yourself.
‘When should I decant’ is a question that I often get asked, and really there are no hard-and-fast rules but here are my thoughts. For young wines, particularly bigger styles, go your hardest. Particularly if you’re opening a bottle of something decent and have a few people drinking, a quick splash around a decanter can make sure that the wine opens up a bit rather than being finished before it’s had a chance to wake up. This applies for whites too – don’t be afraid to throw your Chardonnay round in the decanter to wake it up a bit before serving. For old wines, tread carefully. Old wines are often fragile, and the aromatics can be lost in the decanter, so I reckon you’re better off just pulling the cork a few hours before you want to drink it, checking it, and leaving the bottle to the side (then pouring small glasses so everyone can give it a swish themselves). If you’re drinking a bottle slowly over a few hours there’s a great pleasure in watching it slowly change in the glass, and this can be lost in a decanter, so take it slow and enjoy it over time!
Cellaring wine is a source of much anxiety for anyone who chooses to start stashing wine away. Whilst there are a number of options if you really get serious (external storage, wine fridges etc), the most important thing is to avoid temperature shocks. Wine stored at higher than optimal temperature will age a bit quicker, wine stored lower will age a bit slower, but rapid changes will destroy it. Wine also likes relatively stable humidity and hates light; so keep it away from the heater, away from the bathroom; somewhere dark where the temperature moves up and down slowly and you’ll be fine. Most importantly, don’t take it too seriously and enjoy tasting your wines as they age!
Hope that helps clear a few things up for y’all.
In the meantime, Happy Drinking!