The Art of Pouring & Serving Wine

Paige Comrie

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How to open a bottle of wine

Being able to properly open a wine bottle is a crucial (some may say most important) step in enjoying a fine wine. There are many different ways to open a wine bottle with many different tools for the job. My personal favorite is a “waiter’s corkscrew” or a “wine key”. It’s the most common wine tool out there, and small enough in size that you can stash them everywhere (ask my friends… I have one in my car, my purse, my office desk, my underwear drawer… you never know where it’ll come in handy!) It’s also the type of wine opener that most professionals use, so it makes you seem more “legit” to use it correctly.

  1. The waiter’s corkscrew will have a retractable knife on it that you will use to cut the foil off of the bottle. Place the knife below the lip of the bottle NOT above.
  2. Cut around the neck ofo the bottle in a circular fashion. Grasp the bottle firmly in one hand and apply pressure to the back of the neck with your thumb. Rotate the bottle and the knife in opposite directions while applying firm pressure to cut the foil from the bottle. After one or two full passes with the knife, it is time to remove the foil.
  3. Remove the foil. Press your thumb against the neck of the bottle opposite the knife. Use a scraping motion to peel the foil upwards and away from the bottle. Once you have separated the foil sufficiently from the bottle, finish removing the top portion of it with your hands. If necessary, use a clean napkin to remove any stray pieces of foil still remaining on the cut portion or near the cork.
  4. Insert the corkscrew into the cork. Hold the bottle firmly with one hand and use the other to place the tip of the corkscrew against the center of the cork. Slowly twist the corkscrew while applying downward pressure to get it started into the cork. Continue twisting the corkscrew into the cork being careful to keep it travelling down the center and not towards the sides of the bottle. If you are to push the corkscrew too far towards the side of the bottle, you may break the cork off. Continue twisting the corkscrew into the cork until approximately ONE (1) twist remains.
  5. Use the first step of the corkscrew for leverage. Place the first step of the corkscrew onto the lip of the bottle. Use sufficient pressure with one hand to lever the cork out of the bottle using the first step as the fulcrum. Be careful not to bend the cork too much and risk breaking it. You simply need to begin pulling the cork from the bottle and do not need more than half of it coming up in this step.
  6. Use the second step of the corkscrew. Set the second step of the corkscrew onto the lip of the bottle now. Using both steps allows you to remove the cork more simply with less chance of breakage. Use the second step in a similar manner to the first, once again being very careful to not break the cork. Once the corkscrew has been used to its full potential, simply pull on the corkscrew-cork combo to remove it from the bottle.
  7. Remove the cork from the corkscrew. Unscrew the cork from the corkscrew being careful not to break it. If you are to not finish this bottle of wine, you will want to re-cork it to keep it fresh. When doing this, make sure to be careful to not poke yourself with the sharp point of the corkscrew.

Opening Champagne and other Sparkling Wine

So many times, I’ve been at events where people are afraid to open the champagne. What a sad sight! No one wants to be responsible for corks that go flying or get sprayed by misaimed fizz. But with the right methodology, opening Champagne can (and should) be fun! It’s actually one of my favorite things, there’s something so satisfying about the little pop-fizz that happens when you do it correctly.

  1. 1. Make Sure the Bottle Is Chilled. The bottle of champagne or sparkling wine should be properly chilled to around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If it isn't cold enough, the pressure inside the bottle will cause the cork to release very quickly. That's when you get wayward corks and a dangerous projectile.
  2. Remove the foil from around the bottle neck. There’s usually a tab to easily pull and make this happen.
  3. Use a Napkin or Towel. Fold a napkin or kitchen towel lengthwise and put it over the cage and the cork. This creates another measure safety that can help prevent the cork from flying off like a bullet. (Corks can get up to 27mph, which is terrifying if it’s flying straight at you! Be safe!)
  4. Untwist the cage, keeping pressure on the cork to keep it from popping out prematurely. It’s best to hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle while doing this.
  5. Twist the BOTTLE, not the cork. This helps you keep a steadier grip on things and keeps the cork from breaking off inside the bottle.
  6. The pressure from the bottle will naturally squeeze out the cork as you twist. Push against it lightly to keep it from flying out, but allow it to glide out slowly.
  7. Aim for a gentle hiss as you extract the cork and control the speed. Once it’s removed, wipe the rim and pour your glass! (Hint – white wine glasses actually make better serving vessels than Champagne flutes, so you can still get all the aromas).

Glassware

So now you know how to open the wine. But what do you pour it in?

I often joke that I’m not a wine snob, but I AM a glassware snob. Truth be told, the right glass can elevate your drinking experience like nothing else. High-quality glassware is designed to enhance the wine’s aroma and let it shine in all the right ways.

When looking for glasses, I look for glassware with a large bulbous shape with a slight inward taper; this helps move oxygen and aromas through the glass and concentrates the aromas so you can smell them better (thus also enhancing the taste of the wine). I also look for something with a thin lip; this allows the wine to fill your mouth, as opposed to the cup itself.

Most of the time, you’ll find high-quality wine glasses to be made of crystal.

White wine glasses tend to be thinner while red wine glasses tend to be larger; these shapes help with the specific aromas that tend to be present (red wines tend to be bolder and have more aromas). You can also find universal glasses made by most companies. My favorite glassware comes from Riedel and Zalto. Zalto tends to be more expensive, but Riedel has a line designed for Target that’s more affordable while still retaining quality. I’ve linked some of my favorites below this video.

A pro tip? While champagne flutes can be beautiful and elegant, you actually get more aromas and a better experience by drinking bubbly out of a white wine glass. Also, more cupboard space because you don’t have to buy another set of glassware!

To Decant, or Not to Decant?

Wine needs oxygen to release aromatics. Some wines need additional oxygen to soften tannins and help the flavors integrate, but this is incredibly uncommon. It’s usually something only needed for young cabernet sauvignon or very intense wines. Another reason people will decant is to remove sediment. Sediment is naturally occurring matter that solidifies in older wines and falls to the bottom. It’s especially important to remove in a fine dining environment. As a general consumer, you’ll most likely rarely need to decant wines. As beautiful as a big decanter will look sitting on your shelves, it’s not a necessary investment for most wine drinkers out there.

The Art of Serving Wine

When talking about how to serve wine, it can often feel pretentious and unnecessary. But think about it this way: we take careful consideration for how to serve food as well. It’s just second nature to us at this point, so we don’t really think about it. But if you try to serve a bowl of soup room temperature, with a fork, it’s not going to be a very enjoyable experience. Same with wine. You can get the job any which way, or you can follow some simple guidelines to enhance the experience and make it truly pleasurable. Don’t we all want our soup to arrive at the proper temperature and then evolve as we dig through it? We can (and should) know this bliss with our wines too.

Serving Temperatures: Each wine style has a temperature range at which it reaches its maximum expression. At this point, it’s the most aromatic, savory, floral, whatever the producer intended.

You can get very specific about temperatures, and a few degrees will make a difference, but generally, serve your big red wines like cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and syrah between 55 and 65 degrees; lighter reds like pinot noir, tempranillo and sangiovese between 50 and 60; dessert wines and fuller-bodied whites like chardonnay and riesling between 45 and 55; and lighter-bodied whites like sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, rosés and sparkling wines between 40 and 50 (the better the sparkling wine, the closer to 50).

If the numbers make your head spin, there’s a few simple guidelines to enhance your wine drinking without thinking about it too much.

For white wines, most people serve these way too cold. They stick it in their fridge and forget about them until it’s time to drink. Unfortunately, however, when a white is too cold, its aromas are harder to pick out, and it can seem more acidic. For whites, I recommend pulling them out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve to get them to the ideal temperature.

For red wines, most people serve these way too warm. You’ve probably heard that reds should be served room temperature, however, when this recommendation was first made, the room is question was in Western Europe 100 years ago; the average room temperature then was 60 degrees. Today? The average household is kept at 72 degrees. When a red is too warm, it sends up a steamy blast of alcohol, and the fruit gets lost. Not very enjoyable! A too-cold white will descend to its ideal temperature soon enough, but a too-warm red will never realize its full potential — what it might have been with a little chill on it. Put your reds in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before you serve them (but not longer!!)

Using this technique of thinking of your wine just 30 minutes out, you’ll find the wine will be just about right by the time they hit your glass, or at least by the time you're finished with that glass and ready for another one from the same bottle. Try enough wines at different temperatures, and you'll be able to chuck your thermometer and enjoy wine at the optimal condition with ease.

Holding Your Glass: Now, as for how to hold your glass, it’s recommended to hold stemmed glasses by the stem themselves. This keeps your hands from warming up the wine in the bowl, and keeps smudgey fingerprints off the glass (my pet peeve!) Pinch with your thumb and forefinger, then rest your fingers on the base.

And with that, you’re ready to enjoy. Cheers, friend!

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Paige Comrie is a Certified American Wine Expert and holds her WSET3 Advanced Certificate in Wine. She's passionate about helping connect consumers with great bottles of wine, and inspiring people to live the "wine lifestyle". This phrase, to her, means elevating the everyday, enjoying the little moments, and taking time to sip and savor everything life has to offer. In addition to wine and food, Paige also writes on the subject of Social Media and Digital Marketing, specifically focusing on the wine industry. Follow her on Instagram @winewithpaige

Napa, CA
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