There are all sorts of paraphernalia to be bought to help you serve wine, but at Tanners we have a slightly more pragmatic approach.
The key thing is not to worry too much about kit; with the advent of screw caps you don’t even need a corkscrew to enjoy plenty of great wines! People also get worked up about perfect serving temperatures and ideal glassware, but in reality a good wine is hard to really spoil that much. That said, a little guidance might help you get the most out of the wines you buy from Tanners.
Aromatic Whites & Crisp Whites
Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, in fact many white wines, tend to work better colder and are served happily from the fridge, after all they are made to be refreshing. If you need to chill wine quickly a chiller sleeve is useful or 15 minutes in the freezer is fine, but it’s all too easy to forget the bottle is in there and when it gets too cold the aromas and flavours are squashed. For chilling larger quantities see the section on Champagne. Screw caps are so practical in the fridge and our aim is to have all fresh white wines under screw caps - although the producers or their governing bodies don’t always agree! If you don’t finish a bottle, experiments have shown that a Vacuvin - which creates a vacuum in the bottle - will keep a bottle fresher over a few days. A nice bowl-shaped glass with a narrow opening will help to concentrate the aromas.
Chardonnay, Viognier and fuller styles of Chenin Blanc - in fact any wine that has seen any oak ageing whatsoever - is best served at ‘cellar temperature’ ie 12 to 15ºc. This is on the cool side of modern room temperature but warmer than the fridge and is difficult to achieve in many houses, but the back doorstep in winter is as good a place as any. Removing a wine from the fridge 15 minutes before serving and letting it warm up a bit will have much the same effect. If you really want to splash out, a wine cabinet with temperature settings is an ideal substitute for a cellar. Such fuller whites benefit from being opened a little earlier to introduce a bit of air to ‘open’ them out, as the first glass can taste a bit ‘taut’ when first poured. Any good tulip-shaped glass will suffice as this shape allows the wine to coat the sides easily when you swirl it, releasing more molecules into the air – and up your nose!
Some reds such as Beaujolais, and other simple, young reds, show their best fruity character on the cool side. You can drink very fruity reds, and sparkling reds, chilled down but if in doubt modern room temperature from the rack is fine. A more bowl-shaped glass will allow the wine to be swirled round and the wonderful aromas of say, Pinot Noir, will be concentrated.
Beefy and more powerful reds, particularly from the New World and southern Europe, get going with a bit more warmth and agitation – but they don’t need cooking so keep them off the Aga unless you really like your reds ‘chambré’, as a Frenchman would say somewhat dismissively! Too much heat and the fruit will taste baked, the alcohol coming to the fore (even evaporating) and dominating the flavours. You also might lose the fresh fruit character that you would expect. With fuller reds, oxygen will really help to soften those tannins, so either a quick decant into a jug and back into the bottle, or really swirl the wine round in the glass. For wines with sediment, see our separate piece on decanting. A slightly larger, tulip-shaped glass is ideal for these wines. Beware of over-filling the glass: just above the widest point is about right, so that you can swirl, smell the evolution, enjoy a couple of mouthfuls and then refill.
Most like their rosés well chilled from the fridge particularly when it’s boiling hot outside. However when there is more depth of flavour to them, this needs to be released in the glass, and a slightly less chilly temperature works well.
Champagne & Sparkling
This is best to come straight out of the fridge – especially Prosecco – but a mature, complex champagne can do with coming out of the fridge and then warming a couple of degrees. For a large event with not enough fridge space, you can create an ‘ice clamp’ to great effect by laying the bottles in a header tank or dustbin and covering them in a layer of ice. The cold air falls and will chill large quantities in a space of forty minutes. You don’t need to add water, and anyway it serves to damage and soak off the labels. If you want to save money on bought ice, freeze some buckets of water in a chest freezer and then take a mallet to them in a box or a bin bag. The champagne houses always serve their own champagne in v-shaped flutes or ‘coupes’ which curl in at the top to concentrate the aromas. The trend for ‘champagne saucers’ goes back to the early 20th Century; they look terribly elegant and show the sparkle well but the aroma suffers in exchange.
Dessert wines, pudding wines, call them what you will, are generally served at fridge temperature in smaller glasses. As they warm up in the glass or mouth the gorgeous, sugary, grapey flavours are released to great enjoyment. The French often drink their sweet wines before a meal and advise matching them with blue cheese and pâté de foie gras so, as with all wines there are no rules, just do what you enjoy!
Traditionally served in smaller glasses, Port is subject to a campaign by its producers to encourage consumers to use bigger ones so that the aromas can be better appreciated, and cynically perhaps, we all drink more! The LBVs and vintage Ports are best served at room temperature but tawnies can benefit from light chilling. Port is the easiest wine to decant; see our separate decanting section for guidance.
Manzanilla and Fino should always be served chilled from the fridge and traditionally in short-stemmed, tulip-shaped glasses called Copitas. For the purpose of enjoying them at their best, we would advise finishing the bottle within a fortnight of opening. They are both robust wines though and therefore ideal for picnics where serving temperature and glassware doesn’t overly matter! Older, nuttier and sweeter fortified wines - Madeira and Marsala included – can be chilled too but many prefer them at room temperature. Either way the vicar’s tipple should not be stored in a cupboard under the stairs to be brought out on alternate Sundays!