How to Serve Wine

Serve whites cold, but not freezing; serve reds cool. “Room temperature” dates back to the time before central heating, and refers to a temperature in the mid-60’s. Our houses nowadays are much warmer (probably in the low- to mid-70’s), so don’t hesitate to put a bottle of red wine in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving, in order to enjoy its bouquet and aromas.


Serve whites before reds. (except for sweet whites, such as Sauternes or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, which are perfect dessert wines).


Serve younger vintages before older ones. (2010 first, then 2006, then 2002, for example). The point here is to go from younger and lighter to older and more full-bodied, so that each wine can be appreciated on its own merits and not compared unfavorably to its predecessor.


Serve dry wines before sweet ones. Exception: at the apéritif, or cocktail hour, a sweet white such as a Muscat d’Alsace, or a Vin Doux Naturel from the Roussillon region such as a Rivesaltes, Banyuls, Maury or Muscat - neat or on the rocks - is the perfect way to “open the appetite”. (Trivia trove: the word apéritif comes from the Latin verb, aperire, to open.)


Speaking of opening (bottles, that is), I will not even attempt to explain it in writing. This is the 21st century, and there are how-to videos galore on the internet. Just go online, search “how to uncork a wine bottle”, then watch and learn. Voilà! For Champagne, it’s a little trickier (there are videos for that, too) but always remember two important things: Point the bottle away from people and fragile objects. Keep your hand firmly over the cork and turn the bottle (not the other way around).


Never fill a glass to the brim – ½ full is about right. (Remember: wine is like the genie who’s been cooped up in the lamp – it needs to stretch and breathe!)


Speaking of glasses, you don’t need lots of different kinds, but you do need at least one per guest. :)


If you will only be using one wine glass per person, make sure it’s an all-purpose one: a classic tulip shape works well with most wines; for casual meals, that classic French bistro staple, the “ballon”, is perfect. Remember the old marketing acronym – KISS – keep it simple stupid. A wine glass should be clear (the better to see the wine) and clean (soap residue and/or lipstick traces to be avoided at all costs!). Save the colored glasses for water (many of the restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain use blue glasses for water – it looked so good that I copied the idea when I got home!)


As in most areas of life, thinner is better when it comes to wine glasses, so look for ones with a narrow, tapering-in rim. I don’t quite understand why, but it’s true that most wine “shows” (tastes) better in finer glassware.


My thoughts on stem vs stemless? I was always taught that the stem served an important purpose, i.e., allowing one to hold a glass without over-heating the wine (remember, our hands have a temperature of around 98.6 degrees F!). So, personally, I’ll stick with my stemmed wine glasses. I do think, though, that stemless glasses are fun, and anything that makes wine more fun, and thus opens it up to more people, should be embraced.


Champagne glasses - forget the “coupe” of the 50’s and 60’s, that saucer-shaped glass supposedly modeled on Marie-Antoinette’s breast: with so much surface area, all the bubbles (the whole point!) just dissipate too quickly. Save the queen’s anatomy for sorbet or fruit cup. Opt instead for a classic flute which concentrates the bubbles and keeps them rising up beautifully. And don’t worry about breaking the bank: IKEA (among others) sells some very affordable ones.


If you have left-over wine you’d like to keep, pour it into a smaller glass bottle (a rinsed-out 187ml grape juice bottle is ideal) and close tightly. Since air is wine’s enemy, you want as little air as possible in contact with your wine.


How much wine will you need?

Easy factoids to remember:


A 750ml bottle of wine = 25.4 ounces. A 750ml bottle of wine will thus give you approximately 5 (5 oz.) glasses or 6 (4 oz.) glasses.


A case of wine (12 bottles) = anywhere between 60 and 75 glasses of wine. For a dinner party, you’ll need the equivalent of 1 bottle of wine per person. So, if you’ll be 8 people and you’re serving 4 different wines, you’ll need 2 bottles of each, for a total of 8 bottles. (If you’re serving 2 different wines, you’ll need 3 or 4 bottles of each.) You will probably have wine left over but that’s preferable to running out, n’est-ce pas? (For how to store left-over wine, see above.)


Champagne: there are no rules for Champagne. My experience has always been: they’ll drink as much as you pour!


Pairing food and wine

Volumes have been written on this subject, and since it really comes down to personal taste (what YOU like), I'll refer to the KISS principle above and give you a few simple guidelines:

  • In general, lighter wines pair better with lighter foods: White wines with fish or lighter meats such as chicken or turkey.

  • Medium-bodied whites and reds pair well with foods such as salmon, grilled white meats or vegetables, and pork.

  • Heavier red wines marry nicely with full-flavored cheeses, beef, lamb, veal and heavier pasta dishes.