Picture the scene. You are planning a special evening – it could be a romantic dinner for two, a dinner party for six or eight friends or a drinks party with nibbles. The food is prepared, the table is set and your guests are arriving. All that remains is to serve them a glass of the white wine you have carefully selected for the evening.
However, have you put as much thought and preparation into serving the wine as you have into your food and table setting? A white wine can be made or broken by the way it’s served and it would be a real shame to spoil an expensive or sentimentally special wine by failing to serve it properly.
Most wine drinkers are aware of the conventions of serving a red wine. The wine should be served at room temperature and should be allowed to breathe, ideally by decanting it. But how many wine drinkers know the optimum way of serving a white wine? Just as with a red, serving a white wine at the wrong temperature, in the wrong glass and without allowing it to breathe can mean that the wine’s qualities are not allowed to emerge and the white wine you end up drinking can bear little resemblance to its potential.
Drinking a white wine shouldn’t mean plucking a bottle from the wine rack at the last minute or even taking a bottle straight out of the fridge if it has been chilling for more than a few hours. Nor should it mean opening the cork or unscrewing the cap and pouring immediately into a small, basic goblet-shaped glass. Serving the perfect glass of white wine is an art that takes preparation and practice.
Firstly, temperature; the convention is that white wine should be served chilled. This is generally correct, although chilled should not mean cold almost to the point of freezing unless you are serving a sparkling white wine or some very sweet whites in which case the colder the better. A white wine served too cold may be refreshing but the chill overpowers most of the aromas and flavours and the overwhelming impression is of the temperature rather than the wine’s characteristics.
Most white wines should be served at between 7°C and 10°C. Putting the bottle in the fridge for one to two hours beforehand should achieve this temperature without over chilling the wine. Once the wine is nicely chilled and ready to be served, pop the bottle into a vacuum bottle cooler which will keep it cool until all the wine has been drunk.
All is not lost if you forget to chill the wine or don’t have the time to do it beforehand. Putting the bottle into the freezer for 15 minutes will make a difference as will enveloping the bottle in a rapid chill sheath from the freezer. The other alternative is to put the bottle in an ice bucket with a mixture of ice and water.
So your white wine is appropriately chilled. What next? Even white wines can benefit from breathing and simply opening the bottle has little effect as the neck of the bottle is too narrow to allow much air to enter. Pouring the wine into a decanter or jug (pre-chilled if you want) will help to aerate it as will using a wine aerator, a handy little gadget which you pour the wine through en route to the glass.
Speaking of the glass, it is worth investing in some good quality white wine glasses. It may seem fussy but the correctly shaped glass can make all the difference in enhancing a wine’s aromas and flavours. The ideal white wine glass is tall and tulip-shaped with a long stem, thin rim and made of plain, unengraved crystal. The glass should be large enough to be no more than a third or half full whilst containing a standard measure of wine to allow the aromas to waft whilst the glass is held and swirled. The rim should be wide enough to allow you to put your nose in the glass to smell the bouquet but it should be narrower than the bowl of the glass. Take a look at the Riedel range of wine glasses to get an idea of the ideal shape.
Don’t spoil the effect of good quality white wine glasses by not looking after them properly. Don’t put them in the dishwasher but wash them after use in hot soapy water and then rinse them in hot water. Either let them air dry or polish them with a linen cloth kept specifically for that purpose and don’t store them on shelves upside down. Follow this advice and the only aromas and tastes in the wine glasses will be from the white wine.
Image by Dinner Series.