Alright, choosing wine for yourself can be a lot of work, but choosing & entertaining for other people, too? Fa-getta-bout-it! Just kidding 😊 I can (try to) help. Wine can elevate the menu at a dinner party, start a conversation between strangers, & also create lasting connections in terms of taste (& I don’t just mean with flavor either). Learning how to create an experience with it should be fun, not stressful. So, let’s learn a few ways to do that together!
I’ll be honest, I’m not quite to the “picking wine for others” stage yet, & frankly, I’m not sure if I ever will be (people go to school for that stuff guys). BUT what I can do is help us with some etiquette tips & serving techniques that will make us look like we actually know what we’re doing in front of our party guests. It’s all about creating an experience, right?
Here they are. The next time you’re hosting, remember:
Temperature is key.
This is the big one. How many times have you heard to serve your red wines at room temperature? I’m sure too many to count. The truth is, room temperature (usually around 70°F) is often too warm to be serving any wine. Not far off though, depending on what you keep your thermostat at, I guess. Even red wines are more properly served when below that 70°F mark. You wouldn’t want to drink a warm soda, right? The same rule applies. Don’t quote me on this, but from my research, a variety of experts say red wine should be served between 55-69°F; Light red wines to be served on the colder end of the spectrum & bolder reds to be served warmer. White wines should be served anywhere from 45-55°F; Again, lighter whites to be served colder & oaked whites warmer. More affordable sparkling wines to be served from 40-45°F & higher quality champagne closer to white wine temperatures. Of course, these are estimates from a variety of sources I’ve encountered, so nothing is set in stone! When in doubt, go with your gut. What temperature do you think that wine tastes best at? That’s really what it’s all about. Also, if you don’t want to spend all that time preparing for it, at least stick it in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. Just know that warm is wrong.
Pro Tip: If you forget to chill your wine, wrap it in a wet dishtowel & put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. The water escalates the chilling process.
Stems are there for a reason.
I’m not trying to sound condescending with this one: Hold the stem, not the bowl. Remember that long conversation about temperature we just had? Well, it’s all going to go to you-know-what if you place your warm hands around the thin lining of glass between you & the wine. That’s something I didn’t even think about until I read it, so do yourself a favor & use the glass the way it’s intended to be. I know I will (now)!
Just smell it.
This one only applies if you’re really trying to impress your friends, or if you simply want to learn more about wine. Smell your wine when drinking! Don’t be embarrassed to do it either. So much of what we orally consume is influenced by our sense of smell. If anything, it will help you enjoy the wine more. & If you really are trying to impress your friends, it will show them you picked the wine for a reason & may even spark a conversation about it, as well.
Keep it clean.
More of an etiquette tip… or three. When drinking, drink from the same place on the glass. It will reduce the residue left on the rim of the glass & also help you enjoy the wine more. This way, you won’t be forced to smell your own remnants from the other side. When pouring, hold the bottle toward the base & be wary of drips. We’ve all had a bottle spill a few drops on us after pouring. Be patient with it & allow the stream to completely stop before moving it. If you don’t have the patience, at least hold a cloth napkin in your other hand under the longer part of the bottle. This will also promote cleanliness towards your guests. When clinking glasses, maintain eye contact with your partner. It may seem intense, but it’s actually a sign of respect. Maybe this one can even be a fun fact you share at the next dinner party. Okay, enough with the manners!
This is really just another tip to help you look like a connoisseur. Wine glasses are all made different for functionality, not just because they look pretty. Standard red wine glasses will have larger bowls to help release aromas, & longer stems for easier swirling. Standard white wine glasses have smaller bowls usually to encapsulate both the aromas & cooler temperatures. When it comes to sparkling wine, it may seem like the proper glass would be a flute, but a lot of experts actually recommend a standard white wine glass. Especially if you chose a more affordable champagne for the night, this will allow it to breathe & for the possible faults to release more quickly into the air before consumption.
Portion control is real.
If you’re trying to show style & grace, don’t fill the glass all the way or drink from the bottle, we can do that on our own time. The typical portion size for red wine is 5-6 oz., or about a quarter full. White wines can be poured about half way full. Use your own judgement, but also remember the tips above. Some lesser wines can benefit from a smaller pour.
Decanting can lead to new aromas.
Another big one. When it comes to decanting, there are several factors to consider. First though, let me explain what it is & what it does—This blog is for newbies, after all. On its own, the word decant simply means to pour liquid from one container into another. In this instance, we’re pouring wine from its original bottle into a pitcher of sorts. Of course, decanters (said pitcher) themselves are specific to wine & take odd shapes to allow for proper oxidation. Decanting our wine allows for the flavors & aromas to present themselves in ways that may not be possible in their enclosed bottle. Think of it as a dramatic way of “letting it breathe”—But it really works. With certain red wines, it’s one of the only ways to let it breathe at all. Now, any wine can be decanted, but that doesn’t mean they should. When deciding to do so, consider the age of the wine (younger wines will respond better to decanting), the notes you recognize when you open it (those with bitter, extremely oaky, or very few aromas at all should be decanted), & the acidity (overly acidic wine should be decanted, try it before determining this). If you still aren’t sure, take a look at the varietal characteristics. Bolder varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah will benefit from decanting. The truth is, no wine can be made worse by decanting it, just pay attention to how long you’re decanting it for. This process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the wine. Typically, it’s a rule that 30 minutes should be enough, but every wine is different. Some wines don’t even need that much time (usually lighter whites) & some need more (bolder reds & sometimes oaked whites). The good news is, you can always taste it while its aerating! That’s actually something you should do to see how it can transform from start to finish. Taste whites every few minutes & reds every 20-30 minutes to catch those flavors & aromas. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually just pouring & waiting, I promise. Plus, it can add a nice centerpiece or added aesthetic to your party! Talk about a conversation starter.
Pro Tip: Cheaper wines often have faults or sulfur-like smells when opening. Decanting helps make them more palatable & can elevate the wine itself. Some of us have to finesse on a budget, okay?
So, who feels confident enough to serve wine at a dinner party yet? Me either, but hey, the first time is never the smoothest. We’re all still learning, right? At least now I know some hacks to overshadow all the other blunders I might make. As far as the wine menu goes, don’t stress. If you like it, it’s worth sharing with friends! & If they don’t like it, keep in mind, not everyone can have your good taste 😉
Until next time, fellow newbies!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop