There are various myths and misconceptions relating to the proper way to serve red wine. The most common fallacies fall under the following two headings:
- The right serving temperature.
- Whether or not it’s best to decant your wine, and if so, the right way to perform the decanting.
Let’s take a look at the first one, the suitable temperature red wine should be served at, first. “Room temperature” is not an correct description of the temperature at which any wine ought to be served. As a basic guideline, top-notch, full-bodied reds are imbibed at higher temperatures than other wines, but even topflight Bordeaux–and other top-rated reds–should be served in a temperature range in between about 64 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Thatis a lot cooler than the 72 degrees normally regarded as being optimal room temperature. Burgundy, and other top-notch Pinot Noirs, ought to be served at in between 62 to 64 degrees, whilst lighter or more common reds such as Chianti, Zinfandel or Cotes du Rhone, ought to be enjoyed at around 57 to 62 degrees. Red table wine is ideal served from about 54 to 56 degrees, while Beaujolais is one red which should be drunk chilled, from approximately 51 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why don’t we look at the second category of general confusion. Decanting, or the act of transferring your wine from the bottle to a decanter, serves two functions: to remove any sediment (solid pieces of color pigment and tannins that have bonded together during aging) which may be present in the bottle; and to aerate, or oxygenate the wine. Sediment may be present in some bottles of red wine, especially in relatively mature wines. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of wine you’re planning to pour still, ideally standing, for several hours ahead of uncorking it, in order to let any sediment settle to the bottom. When you do open it up, you can either cautiously pour the wine into a decanter, making sure not to allow any sediment to follow the wine into its new container, or just pour the wine straight into glasses–again, making sure that the sediment stays in the bottle, and only the wine goes into your glass.
When it comes to aeration, the common wisdom is that you should open a bottle of red wine 60 minutes or so before pouring, to “let it breathe.” The trouble with that advice is that, because wine bottles possess narrow necks, simply uncorking a bottle exposes only a very small surface area of wine to the air, and so doesn’t actually let the wine breathe, or in much more precise terms, does not promote adequate oxidation of the wine. That’s why a lot of decanters are broad at the bottom; this design exposes a large surface area of wine to the air.
The larger question though, is whether or not it’s a good idea to decant a particular wine at all. In other words, do all red wines gain from oxidation? The simple answer to that question is, “no.” The objective of aeration is to soften very tannic reds–for example a topflight Barolo or Syrah–to soften the tannins and let the wine’s flavors and complexity “open up,” particularly in the case of somewhat youthful wines. A mature wine, on the other hand, can be really frail, and by decanting it, you may simply be causing its bouquet and flavors to dissipate. One kind of red wine which is usually not decanted is Pinot Noir. Top rate Pinot Noir, particularly Burgundy, is a highly aromatic, delicate red. Unless of course it’s relatively young, it best poured from the bottle straight into a Burgundy glass.
Which brings us to the question of which kind of glasses are ideal for serving red wine. As you may have already guessed, there are distinct glasses created with Burgundy specifically in mind. These are big volume, balloon-shaped glasses which permit the drinker to more fully appreciate Burgundy’s terrific bouquet. These glasses should only be employed for high-quality Burgundy, or another top-drawer Pinot Noirs, simply because, if used for a regular Pinot, they can only serve to make the wines ordinariness that much more apparent. The other red wine that has its own special glass is Bordeaux. These are also high volume glasses but, rather than being balloon-shaped, like Burgundy glasses, they they are straight-sided –the better to promote oxidation. These are the best glasses for serving top-notch Bordeaux and other topflight, full-bodied, tannic reds. Lesser wines ought to be served in regular red wine glasses that should not tend to emphasize the wine’s deficiencies.
In summary, how red wine is served primarily is dependent on which type of red wine it is, however, besides which glasses to use, there are really just three issues to take into account: you should serve a certain wine at its recommended serving temperature; sediment can be an problem with red wine, so if there’s sediment present, let it settle to the bottom of the bottle prior to pouring; youthful, full-bodied, tannic reds will usually benefit from extensive aeration, so it’s a good idea to decant them. Mature reds, on the other hand, have already mellowed through aging, and may be too fragile for such rough treatment, whilst Pinot Noir is one red varietal that is normally not decanted.