After 20-odd years in the wine business, and a lot more than that as a wine lover, I’ve come to realise that people don’t always get the best out of their bottle of wine, no matter how humble or grand it may be, mainly for two very simple reasons.
The first is temperature. White wine should be chilled, not frozen. Red wine should be at room temperature, not warm, and room temperature doesn’t mean the 22° or 23° that many houses are kept at today.
The fresher the white wine the cooler it should be. Light fresh whites, roses and sparkling wine are perfect at between 6° and 10°, while bigger whites can be a little warmer, around 10° to 15°, and Champagne will taste best at around 10°.
Reds will be at their best from 15° for medium-bodied wines, to about 18° for bigger, fuller-bodied wines. Don’t be tempted to go any higher or you’ll risk damaging the wine beyond repair.
The best way to chill white wine is, predictably enough, to put it in the fridge for a few hours before you need it. If you need it in a hurry, immerse the bottle in a sink full of cold water, or pop it into an ice bucket with plenty of ice and water – ice alone won’t do the trick. In a real emergency, pop the bottle into the freezer for 15 minutes but set a timer, or you’ll end up with a beautiful but undrinkable piece of ice sculpture after the wine freezes and the glass shatters.
Reds are easy to warm up. You can place the bottle into a sink of slightly warm water, or just serve it in good big glasses that you can cup your hands around and warm it that way. Even decanting into a slightly warm jug or wine decanter will make a lot of difference.
Avoid direct heat sources at all costs – never put a bottle near a fire, or a cooker, or stand it on top of a range. Unless that is, you want your wine to taste like soup.
If you use a wine fridge, do remember that there’s a big difference between storage temperature and drinking temperature. Whites from the cabinet will need some extra chilling and reds will need time to warm up.
The other issue when it comes to getting the most out of your bottle is aeration. Wine needs to breathe if it is to show its full character. That’s why decanting is favoured by so many, and even richer white wines will benefit from decanting.
If that’s too much bother, open the bottle in advance – just how far in advance depends on the wine in question. The bigger, denser and more powerful the wine the more it will benefit from lots of air. I sometimes open the bottle the day before I want to drink it.
And serve your wine in good glasses – something reasonably big but not ridiculously so, with a good-sized bowl and a tapering shape to help direct the aroma upwards and nosewards. There are plenty of good glass styles and sizes around but avoid heavy cut-glass designer-styles. They may look good on the table but they do little or nothing for the wine. Riedel of Austria make the best glasses in my opinion, they’re expensive but they will add a good 20 per cent extra to your enjoyment of every bottle.