How to serve wine to your guests
Wine is delightful to drink and it is very simple to learn how to serve it correctly. When you dine out in a fine restaurant, the wine service is an important part of the dining experience and is a great benefit, not only to the restaurant but also to the customer.
The Sommelier plays a very important role in the dining service, almost as critical as that of the chef. He or she takes great pride in ensuring that all aspects of wine etiquette are adhered to so that guests have the perfect dining experience.
A meal in your home may be a much less formal occasion than in a restaurant, however, you can still offer your guests a perfect wine service - be it a stand-up BBQ or proper sit-down dinner, or just a glass of wine on its own.
Where there is no wine there is no love
Factors to consider when choosing the wines that you will serve to your guests
It is important to choose wines that are appropriately suited to the occasion. Consideration of the personal tastes of your guests will also be a deciding factor in your choice of wines.
Unless you have an extensive personal wine collection you probably will need to go to your local supermarket, wine merchant, or local winery to purchase wines for your guests.
It is important to cater to the different taste and dietary profiles that your guests may have - such as any vegans or individuals that have intolerances. If so then wines must be vegan-friendly (producers that make wines that are vegan-friendly will usually proudly note that the wine is vegan on the label). and not contain any of the additives that might cause food intolerances to flare up.
Buy wines that suit the occasion, will they be served on their own or accompanied by food? Your local wine professional can assist you with any questions or concerns that you may have. (Not asking for help in a wine shop is a rookie mistake. If they know their stuff, they will want to share and help!)
Wines that go well without food
There are certain wines that are better suited for drinking without food, so if you are having guests over just for drinks then it is important to have a wine that is stand-alone. Most ecent studies have shown that 60% of Americans consume wine without food. Below are some wines that are easy to drink on their own.
It is always a nice idea to have some neutral snacks available such as unflavored crackers, nuts, neutral cheese, or some baguette for your guests if they become peckish.
Wine and food pairing
Matching your wine with food can be a more detailed operation. Champagne and sparkling wine go with almost everything. White and rosé wines pair well with lighter dishes while reds usually go well with more robust foods.
For more details on food and wine pairing read our article titled The basics of food and wine pairing to find your perfect food and wine match.
Once you have chosen the wines that you will serve it is important to make a smooth transition from the cellar, wine fridge, or refrigerator to disturb the wine as little as possible.
Wine is delicate and careless transportation of it can affect the quality (this is especially true if you are serving an old wine that may have sediment that has built up in the bottle whilst it has been “sleeping”).
These older vintages should be carried on their side without shaking them and then placed very gently into a horizontal position for a few hours or a few days (a dark cupboard is an ideal place to store the settling wine so that there is no damage caused by bright light) this “resting period” will allow the sediment to gently settle to the bottom of the bottle.
Remove the foil and the cork - Wipe the bottle down with a clean cloth to remove any dust that may have accumulated on it. If the bottle has a cork the foil needs to neatly be removed with a foil cutter or a knife (some corkscrews have one built-in). Cut the foil neatly just below the outer rim of the bottle then gently pull it off.
Be careful to avoid cutting yourself when removing the foil as the edges can sometimes be very sharp. Once the foil has been removed, you can now pull the cork out.
Sample the wine - Pour a tiny bit of wine into a wine glass, swirl it around, carefully examine it, smell it, and taste it.
This important step will help you determine if there are any defects such as the wine being “bad”(corked, vinegary, oxidized, etc) it is at this stage that you will decide if decanting is required and if the wine is the correct temperature.
Measure the temperature of the wine - Serving wines at the correct temperature ensures that the wine will perfectly express itself in the glass. A wine served at the wrong temperature will not be as enjoyable.
The best way to measure the temperature of your wine is by using a wine thermometer which is easily ordered online or may be available at your local wine merchant.
If your wine is too cool, you can warm it up by leaving it to breathe at room temperature, or if it is too warm, a short period in the refrigerator should bring it to the correct serving temperature.
46.4 - 50°F (8-10°C)
46.4 - 50°F (8-10°C)
51.8 - 53.6°F (11-12°C)
Decide whether to decant or aerate the wine - Though decanting wine is not a serving requirement, it is useful for older red wines as decanting will help separate the wine from any sediment (which can have an adverse effect on the flavor and final expression of the wine) that may have accumulated during the aging process.
Decanted wine also has exposure to oxygen before being served which aids the release of certain compounds that have been trapped in the bottle and enhances the perception of the texture, flavor, and aroma of the wine.
To decant a wine, slowly pour it into the decanter, a candle or another light source located just under the neck of the bottle will help pinpoint the sediment that rises to the neck of the bottle as you pour the wine. Leave any remaining wine in the bottle once you see the sediment in the neck of the bottle, otherwise, it will end up in the decanted wine.
Though not necessary white wines can be decanted. Decanting should be carried out at least half an hour to an hour before serving the wine to have the optimum effect.
If you choose to not decant the wine, it can still be aerated by opening the bottle 30 minutes to an hour before serving so that it can begin to “open” up. Once opened, if not served immediately, white wines should be put back into the fridge to ensure that they remain at the correct temperature.
Use the correct glassware - No one is expected to have every type of wine glass that there is out there, however, unless you are planning to buy a glass for each different wine type you serve, the best way to start your glass collection is by purchasing universal wine glasses that can be used for more than one wine type.
Serving wine in the correct glassware helps to enhance the appearance of the wine as well as the drinking experience. Wine glasses vary in price and also in delicateness (some are much thinner than others). If you are just starting out, it is a good idea to buy glasses that are solid and less likely to break.
If you want to keep your wine glass collection simple, choose glasses that are suitable for several different wine types. It is important to ensure that you have an ample supply of glasses to last for the duration of your gathering. A golden rule of thumb is to serve a new wine in a new clean glass to avoid mixing different wines together.
Presenting the wine
If your guests are wine lovers like yourself, presenting each of the wines right before you serve them is the perfect opportunity to explain the wine as well as share any anecdotes about the wine or producer that might be of interest.
Serving the wine
Traditionally white wines are served before red wines, however, it is not compulsory to do so. You may have guests that prefer to drink only red or white wine so of course, you should serve them accordingly. A general rule is to start with lighter wines such as sparkling wine or a rosé before moving on to heavier wines.
If you are hosting a dinner ensure that you have placed the correct glasses in front of each guest before you serve the wine. As an attentive host, you should keep a watchful eye on the wine levels in your guest's glasses, topping them up appropriately as needed.
Serving wine is an art form and can be exceptionally fun. Once you have learned the nuances and skills that are required for a perfect wine service, it will become a natural and exciting part of any gathering as well as an opportunity to share knowledge about the wines that are being enjoyed.