Whether you’re clinking glasses with family and friends over a turkey and pecan pie spread or simply toasting the coming season of wintertime celebrations (it’ll be here before you know it...), the month of November means it’s officially party season—ready or not. More than anything, the holidays serve as an excellent excuse to join family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances alike over happy spirits, good food, and delicious drink, of course. Could be worse, right?
All of the office parties, your neighbor’s ugly sweater bash, family dinners at home—none of these would be complete without wine, in our humble opinion. If you’re planning to throw any type of holiday soiree, you’re going to need wine—and lots of it. (Pro-tip: If more guests show up than the amount of food you have on hand, just keep the wine flowing... Nobody will ever notice!) Keep reading for a few basic wine-serving tips that will help you ace the 2017 holiday season. Cheers!
1. Ice Ice, Baby When serving wine, it’s important to ensure that your juice is at the appropriate temperature to best highlight a varietal’s intrinsic flavors and bouquet. Serve reds between 50°F and 65°F, and whites from 45°F to 50°F. Red wine served at room temperature or warmer will suffer from muted fruit flavors and a heightened perception of alcohol. On the other hand, if you serve white wine too cold, the temperature will stifle the taste. A simple tip to follow for those who do not store their reds in a cellar or wine fridge: Try popping the bottle in your fridge for about 20-30 minutes before drinking. For whites, take them out of your fridge 20 minutes before serving to slightly warm up the wine.
2. First Things First Hey, let us be the first to say: You can drink whatever you want in whatever order you please. We’re all adults here! The reality, though, is that some best practices for optimum tastiness are simple enough to keep in mind. In short, drinking bolder wines before lighter wines runs the risk of impacting how the more delicate juice tastes. In general, and depending on the forthcoming meal (and what’s on the menu), pour your wines on a spectrum of light and dry to heavy and sweet. That means, kick things off with some bubbles before moving into dryer, lighter whites (Txacoli, Vinho Verde), then progress into medium to fuller-bodied whites or pinks (Riesling, Rosé), followed by lighter reds (Beaujolais, Pinot Noir), and medium to heavier reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) to close out. If you’re really feeling it, you’d do well ending the meal with a late-harvest dessert wine or Port.
3. Ace the Pairing You know you’ve nailed a food and wine pairing if the wine makes the food taste better, and the food makes the wine taste better. Ah, that’s the really good stuff. When deciding which partners to match up, consider overall flavor, acidity, fat, and sweetness. For example, if you’re serving a delicate protein such a white fish, you’ll want a delicate wine, probably a white, that won’t overpower the fish’s subtle taste. If you’re serving steak, a fuller-bodied red wine will stand up to the meat’s complexity. Fatty or oily foods, such as potato chips, jive nicely with a high-acid wine, like sparkling wine, which helps cleanse the palate and cut through a crunchy chip’s richness. When it comes to dessert, consider a wine with acidity to balance out a dish’s sweetness.
4. Popping the Cork When de-corking flat wine, there aren’t too many stipulations. Things get a little trickier with sparkling wine, which protects its bubble via a uniquely shaped cork. If you watch a sommelier open a bottle of bubbly at a restaurant, he/she will try to remove the cork as quietly as possible (psst... the less noise that emerges as the cork pops out, the more skilled the bottle opener). The basic idea when opening bubbles is to first loosen the cage (which secures the cork), then, holding both the cork and cage in place with your left hand, hold the bottle at a 45° angle with your right hand and twist. The cork will begin to come out of the bottle, at which point you’ll want to add a bit more pressure to the cork to keep it from shooting out. Keep twisting the bottle and applying pressure until the cork pops out with expert-level silence. You totally got this.
5. The Vessel Today, brands produce wine glasses in a myriad of shapes and sizes, with some nearly as large as your head! Of course, most imbibers do not have four different wine glass styles at home, and, ultimately, many sommeliers will tell you that one universal glass will enhance many types of wine. Look for stemware with a thin lip and a long vertical bowl that’s wider at the stem than it is at the top. This taper helps preserve the wine’s aroma.
6. The Pour When ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant, your sommelier will likely demonstrate all sorts of proper wine etiquette when it comes to pouring—from presenting the bottle, to showing its cork, to pouring a little taste. If you’re serving wine at home to a group of friends, much of these practices end up feeling a bit... superfluous. After opening a bottle of wine, first offer your guests a look at the label. We all love a little art appreciation. Then, depending on the size of your wine glass, I like to fill it a little bit less than half-full, about four to five ounces. Once you finish pouring, the trick is to prevent any extra wine drops from spilling out of the bottle (and potentially on to someone’s shirt!). Try turning the bottle a half turn clockwise as you finish pouring, which helps prevent any spillage.
Aperitif Hour Aperitif or aperitivo, depending on whether you’re in Italy or France, references both a style of drink and a period of time preceding a meal when a specific type of light, low-alcohol cocktail is consumed to stimulate one’s appetite. Think of it as the drink equivalent to an appetizer. Aperitifs are frequently dry rather than sweet, and are built of bitters, amari, aromatized wines like Lillet, even sparkling wine – on its own or whipped into a cocktail. With holiday parties sure to be in full swing, an aperitif hour is the perfect way to entertain guests before dinner and warm up a room.