To preface this, it is important to note that where wine is concerned, no rule is absolute and protocol is anything but rigid. In the past, one adhered to certain decorum for marrying wines with dishes, but today this is old hat. “Pleasure” is the key word, although one should not honestly do just as one pleases.

We know through experience if not scientific proof, that there are certain requirements to be respected to allow wine to express its quintessence

Rules of serving

It is generally preferable to proceed by a progression of quality and sugar throughout the meal.

Before anything, the aperitif should not be a strong alcoholic drink that could hinder one’s taste.

If possible, avoid whiskey or drinks that taste of aniseed. Ideally before wine, comes wine. Effervescent or still, preferably a dry, more or less aromatic, white group variety such as Chardonnay, Chenin, Pinot or Sylvaner, will open rather than inhibit the palate.

Next, the wines at table are obviously chosen to complement the dishes served. Advice: serve from the lighter to the more evolved and aromatic, from the more lively and vigorous to the more supple, from drier to sweeter beginning with light and flowery whites or reds such as Gamay. Example: a Pinot blanc, an Entre-deux mer or a Muscadet with a cold platter or seafood; a Meursault, Médoc blanc or Riesling with fish and shellfish in a sauce, fowl and white meat.

The end of a meal, following the cheeses, can be accompanied by a sweet white or Madeira type wine, although this requires a particular capacity to ingest heavier wines after such good things prior. Some will prefer aromatic, more digestible, white wines such as an Alsatian Tokay or an effervescent wine, if not Champagne. Marrying dishes with wines is a delicate matter and advice on how best to go about it is more than plentiful. The fact is, it takes experience and olfactory imagination. Also, as long as basic principles are respected a certain amount of originality can make for some pleasant surprises.

One last rule: a wine should not overpower the dish it accompanies and vice versa. They should rather complement each other.

Temperature

An unfortunate tendency to serve white wines too chilled and red wines too warm persists today.

The right serving temperature is capital for a wine that has been patiently waiting 5 or 10 years in the cellar for this moment to finally show its full potential. The problem is to know the most appropriate temperature for serving. Here are a few rules to help you avoid fatal mistakes.

For dry and light whites (for the aperitif or seafood), it is usual to serve them quite chilled between 8 and 10°. They should be chilled in the refrigerator or in a bucket of ice water.

As for the others, corpulent or quality wines (Burgundy, Alsace, Rhône), it is indispensable to serve them at 12 to 15°. In other words, they can leave the cellar just prior to being served. The higher the quality or older the wine, the higher the temperature should be.

Reds go by the same principles with a few additional degrees.

For the less complex wines, young ones or new ones with a lot of fruit, they should be served at 12° at least. The reds with more potential but still not at their peak should be served at 14 – 16° (take them out of the cellar a half hour before the meal). The others, quality red wines will be at their best between 16 and 18° (Burgundies being more chilled as opposed to Bordeaux).

The environment has an effect on all wines. Be careful! When the ambient temperature is 24 – 25°, the wines tend to warm up very quickly; so it is preferable to stabilize their temperature. Furthermore, the perception of the wine in the mouth will be very different. Therefore, it is better to raise the temperature of the whites one or two degrees. Lastly, never let a wine go over 20°C.

Uncork the bottle

The bottle has a capsule on the neck.

This capsule needs to be cut and removed at the level of the ring. Equip yourself with a classic corkscrew (manual or automatic), and extract the cork as horizontally as possible to avoid breaking it. Do not fully penetrate the cork with the corkscrew to keep pieces of cork from falling into the liquid.

Then the host should pour a little wine in his own glass to see if there is not an anomaly, or if the wine is not corky.

Carafe or not carafe?

Only old wines or wines too old, particularly of a single, fragile group variety such as Pinot noir of the Burgundy wines (with an orange-tinged robe and clear contours) will stay in the bottle since they can not tolerate artificial oxygenation.

These should be uncorked and served immediately and delicately, with no unnecessary manipulation, in a medium sized glass (35 cl maximum). The older reds from blends like Bordeaux and the majority of Rhône or Languedoc-Roussillon wines for example, are more tolerant of decanting which may prove necessary due to the presence of sediment.

The whites will not benefit as evidently as the reds from the passage of bottle

Glassware

A great variety of glasses exists. Every wine region has its particular glass.

Two are sufficient: one for whites and one for reds.

No matter what the shape, glasses all have common features. A glass must be made of fine clear white glass if not crystal to allow one to inspect the white.

It should have a stem and a balloon shape at the base, growing narrower at the lip. In this way the aromas of the wine are better scented as they are properly contained in the glass, allowing for a concentration of fundamental olfactory aromas. The glass should contain at least 35 cl for reds (up to 100 cl for the largest Burgundy-type tasting glasses, and 25cl for whites. To put things simply, we recommend 50cl for reds and 35 cl for whites. A glass is never filled to more than a third of its capacity.

If you are looking to purchase an all round type glass you might consider an INAO universal-type tasting glass.