How to enhance your wine drinking experience
You’ve gone through all the effort to plan the meal and carefully select the best wine to accompany the food. Don’t spoil it by serving lukewarm Sauvignon Blanc in a paper cup. Bearing a few things in mind can make a big difference in your wine drinking experience.
A touch of class in glass
Let’s start with wine glasses. One of my pet hates is cheap glasses – you know those small, thick glasses that look like mini fish bowls and that one often finds in franchised restaurants. You don’t have to break the bank and buy Riedel crystal glasses; beautiful wine glasses are available at affordable prices. The rule of thumb is to use smaller glasses for white wine, taller glasses for red wine and special small glasses for dessert wine.
Even though I prefer a white wine glass for white wine and a red wine glass for red wine, I’m not too fussy. I am happy to use the same glass for white and red, as long as it is a decent glass and it gets rinsed between white wine and red wine. Personally, I’m not particularly keen on coloured or stained glasses. I know it is trendy and looks great with your crockery or table cloth, but for me the colour of a wine is the first contact and part of the wine drinking experience.
Also, check that your wine glasses are odour free. Wine glasses pick up strange odours – like furniture polish – standing in a cabinet for a long time. Glass can even pick up the smell of fabric softener from the dish towel.
Hot or cold?
Temperature is very important, and probably the reason why I’m writing this article in the first place. I think many people serve white wine too cold and red wine too warm. I suppose Sauvignon Blanc and unwooded Chenin are fine at 7° Celsius, straight from the fridge, but wooded Chardonnay and white blends definitely show better at a slightly higher temperature. Red wine from your wine rack in the height of summer is probably too warm. At 20° Celsius or more, the alcohol becomes very volatile and your precious bottle of Cabernet will smell more like gluwein than anything else. Pop it into the fridge for an hour before you open it – it makes a huge difference. I would rather drink red wine a degree or two too cold than too warm. Sparkling wine I’d serve as cold as possible.
Or ice cold?
This brings us to the next topic: Ice in wine. I can see a few pseudo-connoisseurs pulling up their noses at the mere thought. I would prefer not to dilute a really good wine with ice. As a winemaker I should probably not preach the practise but I do see the merit in some cases. Whether your wine is heating up too quickly on warm days or whether you want to dilute the alcohol in the event of a long boozy afternoon, I don’t really have a problem with ice in wine. It might sound silly, but if you do add ice to wine, make sure the ice is clean. Ice in trays can absorb flavours from the freezer.
Another tricky subject is when to decant red wine. The late South African wine legend Tony Mossop did his Cape Wine master’s thesis on this topic and I remember him saying to me that after his studies he was still not convinced whether there is any merit in decanting wine. If you want to let a young red wine breathe before serving, it is no use pulling the cork and leaving the wine in the bottle for a few hours. The small exposed surface area in the bottle neck will not make a difference. Decant the wine in a flat-based decanter for an hour or so before serving.
A final check
A last comment on the subject is about checking a bottle of wine before serving it to your guests. The most obvious reason why we check a bottle of wine is for cork taint. So do you have to check a bottle with screw cap? Screw cap has its limitations and can also be spoilt. I think it is good protocol to check every bottle – cork or screw cap – before you serve it to your guests. Even if you are not sure what you are looking for, you will know if you find something very strange or offensive.