Serving Wine – The Ultimate Guide for Wine Enthusiasts
Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Serving Wine, your complete resource for everything you need to know about impressing your friends, family, and co-workers with your knowledge of how to choose and serve the best wine for every occasion!
You may be wondering why it even matters that you know all this stuff. After all, people who are very particular about serving wine “just so” always strike you as a bit snobby, don’t they?
The last thing you want to be is a “wine snob”!
So this guide isn’t about turning you into a wine snob (what a relief!), but the goal is to help you understand more about wine, and increase your enjoyment of drinking it.
Navigating the Wine Guide
Wine is one of the most versatile, varied types of alcohol on the planet. You’ll find that the flavour of wine can vary not just according to the grape, but even according to the year or the region where it was grown. Each wine has its unique flavours and aromas that, if paired correctly, can help to enhance any culinary experience.
This guide is going to teach you how to use wine as the perfect addition to any meal, snack, cocktail event, party, or intimate gathering. You’ll learn how to serve wine the right way so that you can enjoy it to the fullest.
And trust us, there is A LOT to love about wine.
What This Guide Will Teach You
Here are a few of the lessons you’ll learn from this Ultimate Guide to Serving Wine:
- How to choose the right wine glasses
- What the different wine bottle sizes are
- Why you should always serve wine at the right temperature
- How to open a bottle of wine the RIGHT way
- What to do with your wine once the bottle is open
- How to serve wine the right way
- How to keep your wine glasses clean
- Why swirling wine isn’t just snobbery (Hint: it’s all about the aromas!)
- and so much more…
Plus, at the end, we have a few recommendations of quality wines to help you get started drinking, serving, and enjoying the RIGHT way.
By the time you finish reading this guide (long as it may be), you’ll know the basics of serving wine like a pro. You’ll be able to impress your friends with your knowledge of wine (without sounding like a snob), and you’ll have a much fuller understanding of all that wine has to offer you.
With no further ado, let’s dive right in with wine glasses.
1. Choosing the Right Wine Glasses
If you’re anything like the average wine-drinker, you’re a “one glass fits all” kind of person. You have two or three sets of wine glasses in your home, and you use them for all of your wines – reds, whites, roses, champagnes, dessert wines, and so on.
Well, for those who want to enjoy wine to the fullest, choosing the right wine glasses really does matter. Why is that?
There are a number of reasons.
Wine glasses are meant to oxygenate the wine
Some wines will sour more quickly if they are exposed to a lot of oxygen, so the glasses are smaller and meant to be filled most of the way with wine. Other wines need to “breathe”, so they are larger and have more space for empty air to oxygenate the wine.
Wine glasses are meant to concentrate the aromas
Remember that wine is enjoyed with ALL the senses. Your sense of smell is highly important, so the best way to enjoy your wine is to get a nose-ful of the delightful scents of your wine. Some wines have deep, complex scents, which develop as the wine ‘breathes’ in the glass.
Other wines have brighter, fruitier scents, which immediately leap from the glass. The shape of the wine glasses help to direct and concentrate the aromas toward your nose.
Wine glasses are meant to give you a clear view
Your eyes are just as important to the wine-drinking process as your mouth and nose. With the right glass, you can see the rich, bright, or deep colors of the wine (according to the type of wine you’re drinking). Darker colours (in both white and red wines) are likely to indicate a fuller body and richer flavours.
With the right wine glass, EVERY wine-tasting experience will be better. You’ll get the flavours, the aromas, and the “view” of the wine, helping you to engage all of your senses.
Check out our Beginner Guide to Different Types of Wine Glasses. It contains a guide to choosing the right wine glasses according to the type of wine you’re drinking. It’s quick and easy, and the illustrations will make it easy to find the right glasses to buy.
Crystal vs. Glass: Is there a Difference?
If you’re like the average wine-drinker, you probably have a few sets of simple glasses for use when your friends come over. Most likely, they’re made out of glass (rather than crystal), the most common material for wine glasses. But we’ve all been to fancy restaurants where wine was served in crystal glasses. When you drank from a crystal glass, the experience was surely memorable, I bet you felt like a King or Queen. So the question is:
Are crystal wine glasses better, or is regular glass? If so, why? What’s the difference between the two?
Your average crystal wine glass contains minerals (often lead), which helps to strengthen the wine glass. Crystal wine glasses are usually thinner than glass ones, but they are less prone to breakage thanks to the higher mineral content (the average mineral content ranges from 2 to 30%). The crystal tends to refract light, so it gives your wine a beautiful sparkle that glass just can’t. The thin rim also makes for easy drinking.
On the downside, crystal is a porous material, meaning it will soak up water (and dish soap, if you use it) when washed. The majority of crystal wine glasses will have to be hand-washed, as the heat of the dishwasher
With glass, you get larger, thicker glasses. Glass isn’t as strong as crystal, so more glass must be used to ensure that the stemware doesn’t break when you fill it. If you’re not careful when washing or handling your glasses, they’re far more likely to break than crystal glassware.
Note: There are a few types of durable glass (such as borosilicate), but they tend to be fairly costly.
The good news is that glass is 100% safe for use in the dishwasher. It’s not only non-porous, but there are no minerals in the glass affected by the heat of a dishwasher. Washing glass wine glasses is MUCH easier! The cost of your average glass wine glass is significantly lower than crystal glasses.
to sum up:
Crystal glasses are:
- Thinner yet with strength
- Not dishwasher-safe
Glass glasses are:
- Thicker and more robust
- Less elegant
In the end, it comes down to your choices, your use, and your budget. If you’ve got more money to spend, a set of crystal stemware is a wonderful investment. You can buy a set or two of glass wine glasses and use them for your everyday drinking and events, and only break out the crystal when it’s time to impress!
Now that you know about the glasses you’ll need to drink your wine, it’s time to move on to another important topic: the wine bottles…
2. Wine Bottle Sizes
Wine bottles come in all shapes and sizes! Bottles come in single-serve sizes (think hotel mini-bar style), and they come in sizes up to 15 liters. That’s A LOT of wine!
The size of the bottle doesn’t dictate the quality of the wine. It is a common misconception to believe that only low-quality wines are served from large wine bottles and boxes.
While many of the wine boxes and over-sized bottles you find in stores are of lower quality, that’s simply a matter of distribution. If you were to visit a winery, you’ll find that there are top-tier wines offered in larger wine bottles. It’s not about quality, it’s all about quantity!
Here are all the sizes for wine bottles:
- Piccolo/Split – Both names refer to the single-serving bottle, which contains 187.5 ml.
- Demi/Half – This size bottle holds half the wine you’d get from a standard bottle, and it contains 375 ml of wine. This size bottle can be used for any type of wine.
- Standard – This is the bottle you’ll find on most wine racks, and it contains 750 ml of wine. It can be used for everything from red to white to sparkling to dessert wine.
- Magnum – This contains TWICE the amount you’d get from a standard wine bottle, so 1.5 litres of wine. It can be used for any type of wine.
- Double Magnum – Things are getting serious! This bottle contains FOUR times the amount of a standard bottle, so 3 litres of wine. Most bag-in-box wines come in this size.
- Jeroboam – This bottle (named after a Biblical king) contains the equivalent of SIX standard wine bottles – 4.5 litres of wine.
- Rehoboam – This bottle (also named after a Biblical king) contains SIX to EIGHT bottles’ worth of Champagne or sparkling wine, so between 4.5 and 6.0 litres.
- Methuselah – This bottle is a unique one, shaped in the Burgundy style, and holds the equivalent of EIGHT standard bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine, or 6.0 litres.
- Imperial – This is the same size as the Methuselah – the equivalent of EIGHT standard bottles – and is the term used in Bordeaux for this size.
- Salmanazar – Named after a king of ancient Assyria, this bottle holds the content of TWELVE standard wine bottles, or 9.0 litres of wine.
- Balthazar – The wine bottle named after the Biblical wiseman holds SIXTEEN wine bottles’ worth, or 12.0 litres of wine.
- Nebuchadnezzar – In this king-sized bottle of wine, you get the equivalent of TWENTY standard bottles, or 15 litres of wine.
Wow! Talk about BIG bottles of wine! Imagine how many people you could serve from one of these 12 or 15-litre bottles…
Speaking of serving, how the heck do you serve something as large as a 3, 6, or 12-litre bottle without making a mess?
How to Serve Wine from Over-sized Bottles
Got a holiday party in the works? Nothing serves a crowd of 12 like a magnum or double magnum-sized wine bottle! Plus, wines can taste better in larger bottles thanks to the ageing (lower oxygen to wine ratio), and you can serve from just one or two big bottles, ensuring everyone is drinking the same wine – leaving the rest of your wine collection untouched.
But is there a proper way to serve from the big bottles? Is there some trick to get it right?
Here is what you need to know about how to serve wine from an over-sized bottle the proper way:
Hold it right
One hand will grip the bottle at the base, which will be the pouring hand. The other hand will hold the bottle UNDERNEATH the neck, which offers stability and overall control.
Expect a few drips
Even the best sommeliers spill a drop of wine or two. If you’re pouring from an oversized bottle, don’t be surprised if you spill the occasional drop. Better a drop than a splash, right?
Have a napkin handy
If you can position a cloth napkin at the mouth of the bottle, you’ll be able to serve the wine without spilling onto the table. The napkin will catch any drops.
It’s much easier to learn to serve wine correctly with standard-sized bottles, then take your newfound skill to the magnum-sized bottles. You’ll get more wine IN the glass rather than on the table!
So, we’ve learned about the glasses, chosen the right size bottle, all that’s left to do is to pop the cork and get drinking right?
Wrong! Before you can open the wine, there’s one last step: chilling.
3. Wine Temperature 101
“Wait a minute,” you may say. “I thought you only chill white, rose, and sparkling wines. Are you telling me I have to chill ALL my wines?”
The answer is YES.
Think about it: why do you drink coffee or tea while they’re still warm, but put soft drinks in the fridge? Something about the right temperature makes the flavours sing, and you get a much more well-rounded drinking experience.
The same holds true with wine. Drink a white wine at room temperature, you get a the taste of the alcohol without the bright flavours. Drink a red ice-cold, and the tannins will dominate. It’s all about chilling the wine to the RIGHT temperature!
But what is the right temperature for wine? Fear not, our handy serving guide explains all:
Think Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, Cremant, and all those other delicious, bubbly wines that make for a perfect celebratory drink! “Pop” goes the cork at New Year’s Eve, anniversaries, weddings, and birthdays!
Sparkling wines should be served:
Cold – The ideal temperature is between 5-10 degrees C (38-50 degrees F). This brings out the bright, fruity flavours of the sparkling wine, and gives it that nice “zing” on your palate.
To chill, leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or put the bottle in your freezer no more than 1 hour before popping the cork.
Note: Fancier sparkling wines, such as vintage Champagnes, can be enjoyed at warmer temperatures, as their complex flavours will be muted when ice-cold.
In the right glass – Champagne flutes are a good glass for all sparkling wines! The tall, slender glass concentrates the bubbles on the tip of your tongue, and sends the aromas of the wine drifting up as you take your first sip.
Top-quality sparkling wines such as vintage Champagnes may benefit from being served in flutes with a wider bowl, or even normal white wine glasses. This allows more oxygen to come into contact with the wine, thereby amplifying the aroma.
Light, Dry Whites
Think German Riesling, Italian Pinot Grigio, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. These wines tend to be crisp and refreshing, with a lower alcohol volume than whites like Chardonnay.
Light, dry whites should be served:
Cold – The ideal temperature is between 7-10 degrees C (44 to 50 degrees F), as this allows the light, zesty flavours to pop. The brighter and more herbaceous the wine, the colder it should be.To chill, put the wine in the fridge at least 2 hours before opening.
In the right glass – The Riesling glass is the ideal wine glass for light, dry white wines. The glass is narrower and taller than the glasses used for full-bodied whites, as it helps to concentrate the fruity aromas at the top of the glass. The longer stem helps to keep the wine nice and cold.
Instead of all fruit and bright notes, full-bodied whites tend to have deeper, richer flavours. Think your favourite Chardonnay, and you understand the mature aromas and tastes of a full-bodied white.
Full-bodied whites should be served:
Cool – You don’t want “ice cold” with your full-bodied whites, as the chill will reduce the rich flavours of the oaked and/or ripe-fruited wines. The ideal temperature is between 10-14 degrees C (50 to 57 degrees F). The chill will make it enjoyable, but won’t hide the mature flavours.
To chill, put the wine in the fridge around 1 hour before opening. It’s always better to start off the wine too cold rather than too warm, as it will warm up once out of the fridge, and the glass can be warmed in the hand.
In the right glass – The ideal glasses for rich Chardonnays and other full-bodied and oaked wines are:
Chardonnay glasses, which have a slight taper at the top, along with a wide bowl. This makes it ideal for swirling the wine to unlock the flavours. The design of the glass helps to keep the wine cool.
Rosé wines are a brilliant option for those who prefer a combination of rich red fruits and light, refreshing flavours. Think Provence, Grenache Rosé, or even the light Pinot Noir Rosé.
Rosé wines should be served:
Cool – Not too much chill with these wines! The more fruit-heavy the flavours, the warmer the wine should be. Get the wine chilled to 12-15 degrees C (53-59 degrees F).
To chill, put the wine in the fridge for around an hour before drinking.
In the right glass – The classic Rosé wine glass has a short bowl, with either a slight taper at the top or a flared lip. White wine glasses can also be used to serve Rosé wines.
Light to Medium-Bodied Reds
A light-bodied red has 12.5% alcohol or less (think French Pinot Noir or Beaujolais), while anything between 12.5 and 13.5% ABV will usually be a medium-bodied wine (think Italian reds and New Zealand Pinot Noir). These wines combine complex and light flavours for an enjoyable experience!
Light to medium-bodied reds should be served:
Slightly Cool – This means slightly below room temperature, anywhere from 12 to 18 degrees C (54 to 64 degrees F). Cool the wine too much, and you lose the deep, complex flavours. Thankfully, if the wine is too chilled, you can always let it breathe to warm up.
To chill, put the wine in the fridge 10 to 30 minutes before serving.
In the right glass – You have two choices for light to medium-bodied red wines, but white wine glasses will also work well:
- Burgundy glasses have a larger bowl, and they’re short enough that the fruity flavours hit your nose at the same time as the wine hits your tongue.
- Pinot Noir glasses have a flared rim to direct the rich flavours right to your palate. The bowl is also fairly large and wide, with a shorter stem than other red wine glasses.
There’s nothing like a full-bodied red to add a touch of elegance to any dinner party or celebration! Rich, complex, and flavourful, red wines like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, and Rioja are what most people think of when picturing a wine tasting.
Full-bodied reds should be served:
Barely below room temperature – In fact, warmer temperatures can help to smooth out high-tannin wines, and it will bring out the deep, complex flavours and aromas. The ideal temperature for a full-bodied red is between 18-20 degrees C (65-68 degrees F).
To chill, place the wine in the fridge 10 minutes before serving.
In the right glass – Red wine glasses come in a number of shapes and sizes:
- Bordeaux glasses are taller than your average wine glass, with a large opening and a full, round bowl. This helps you to detect the deeper scents of the wine.
- Merlot glasses taper slightly at the top, with a large bowl ideal for swirling. It makes it ideal for sniffing the wine.
- Syrah glasses lasses are smaller than other red wine glasses, with a sharp inward taper at the top. The bowl is shaped in such a way that it brings out the fruit smells first, followed by the rich flavours of tannins.
Fortified and Dessert Wines
Port is a highly sweet wine that is also fortified (meaning a higher alcohol content than the average bottle of wine). This dessert wine is meant to be enjoyed at room temperature (around 21 degrees C, or 70 degrees F). Port glasses are slender and small, and the shape helps to keep your palate focused on the rich flavours in the wine (such as oak, pepper, and black currants) without being overwhelmed by the alcohol taste.
Ice wine is another popular dessert wine. This wine is best served chilled – anywhere between 10-12 degrees C will work. The shape of the ice wine glass is unique, with a sharp inward taper and a wide bowl that is ideal for swirling while still giving you a good nose-hit of the aromas.
We’ve covered wine glasses, wine bottles, and chilling, so what’s next? Why, the only thing stopping you from drinking the wine: opening the bottle and serving!
4. How to Open a Bottle of Wine
Opening the bottle of wine is SURPRISINGLY easy! It’s a simple multi-step process:
Get a corkscrew
Why not make it a Vintage Roots Corkscrew?
Hold the bottle steady
Grip the neck of the bottle, just beneath the foil.
Cut and remove the foil
Cut the front, back, and top. This makes it easy to slip off. WARNING: Watch your fingers!
Insert the corkscrew
Try to insert it into the center of the cork. This will reduce breakage and make it easy to pull the cork.
Screw and pull
Screw until the corkscrew is inserted firmly into the cork, and pull. The cork should “pop” out nicely!
But what do you do if you don’t have a corkscrew? Are you doomed to a wine-less evening, or is there another option?
Thankfully, it’s not as hard to pull a cork as you might think. Use a screw!
How to open a bottle of wine WITHOUT corkscrew:
Use a shoe (it sounds odd, but it works!)
How To Open a Bottle of Wine Without a Corkscrew
Use nail scissors:
How To Open a Bottle of Wine Without a Corkscrew
Use a bicycle pump (say what?):
How to open a bottle of wine in a bike shop
Try these tricks to get the cork out with minimal effort and as little damage to the cork (and the bottle of wine) as possible!
5. How to Open Champagne Safely
We’ve all seen accidents happen when trying to open a bottle of champagne? Opening a champagne cork safely can be challenging, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
Remove the foil.
Loosen the wire cage, but keep your thumb on the cage. DO NOT remove it completely.
Loosen the wire cage, but keep your thumb on the cage. DO NOT remove it completely.
Grip the cork and cage, twist, and pull. Use your dominant hand to grip and twist the bottle (not the cork), whilst keeping your other hand fixed on the cork.
The cork should “pop” off easily and safely.
ALWAYS follow these steps to remove the champagne cork the safe way. You may be tempted to do what you see in the movies, but that’s how you increase your risk of an accident. One of our early suppliers of Organic Champagne was blind in one eye, it does happen!
Phew, after all that effort, the wine or champagne is finally open! Time to drink, right?
Not quite yet! Depending on the wine, you may want to decant it. Why is that?
6. Why to Decant Wine
Decanting wine may seem like an antiquated practice, but rest assured that it is not! If you are drinking high–quality, aged wine, decanting is a must.
Even if you’re enjoying a bottle from your local grocery store, there are quite a few good reasons to decant your wine:
It allows the sediment to settle
Sediment is more common in aged wines, but even younger wines have sediments from the fining, ageing, and bottling process. When you let the wine sit in the decanter, the sediment settles to the bottom. When you pour, you don’t get all the cloudy, gritty sediment in your glass.
It lets the wine aerate
Exposure to oxygen causes a chemical reaction that brings out the flavours in wine. If you let your red wine sit in a decanter for up to 30 minutes, you’ll notice the rich aromas and flavours when you finally drink it. For those who like the full wine experience, it’s worth it!
It softens the wine
If you find that your wine is tannic, grippy, or youthful, let the wine sit for a bit. The aeration will soften the wine, giving it smoother, fuller flavours.
The beauty of decanting wine is that it’s incredibly easy! All you need is a bottle of wine and a glass decanter or carafe. Once you pop the cork, pour the wine at a smooth, steady pace into the decanter/carafe.
Keep an eye on the wine as you pour, and stop if/when you see sediment. You’ll end up with a decanter or carafe filled with beautiful, clear wine ready to drink in 20 to 30 minutes.
7. How to Pour Wine Like a Pro
So, the wine is chilled, the bottle is open, the decanter is full, and the right amount of time has passed. NOW can you start drinking?
Yes, you can! First step, pouring the wine without spilling – a task you’ll find easier said than done!
Start the wine pour without hesitation. If the wine barely edges out of the bottle, that’s when you’re most likely to spill.
Pour the wine with a liberal hand, but keep it a smooth, steady pour without glugging or splashing.
End the pour without hesitation. Rotate the bottom of the bottle AWAY from you as you stop pouring. This will help to prevent drops or spills.
In this video, you can see how to do it right:
How to Pour a Bottle Of Wine
The hardest part is starting the pour, getting the right amount of wine in the glass, and ending the pour without hesitation. Turning the bottle of wine (as seen in Step 3) helps to reduce the risk of spills!
The wine is served, but before you take a big gulp, it’s time to swirl your wine…
8. Why and How to Swirl Wine
Why should you swirl your wine? Is it just snobbish showing off, or is it important to the wine-drinking process?
The answer might surprise you…
- It gets more oxygen into the wine, “opening up” the wine and bringing out the flavours.
- It can soften the tannins, making it easier and smoother to drink.
- It helps you to see any traces of sediment.
Swirling your wine is a vital part of the experience, so it’s worth taking a few moments to swirl your wine. Don’t worry if it looks snooty- you’re the one drinking the wine, so you should enjoy it!
Instead of TELLING you how to swirl your wine, we’re going to SHOW you a few different techniques:
Wine Tasting Tips : How to Swirl Wine for Wine Tasting
Not as hard as you’d imagine, right? With a bit of practice, you can get that swirling right. In no time, you’ll be ready to show off your new-found wine swirling skills at your favourite dinner party.
Just remember not to do the same with your glass of water though!
9. What Next? Clean Up!
The wine has been tasted and enjoyed, the dinner plates are empty, and the guests are gone. Now what? It’s time for the final step in your “professional” wine service: cleaning the glasses…
If your glasses aren’t cleaned properly, they may retain flavour – either of the wine you drank last or the soap you used to wash the glasses. The fingerprints on the outside of the glasses can also affect the appearance of the wine. For this reason, you should always clean your wine glasses properly. This means:
Cleaning the glasses first, before you get your sponge dirty with grease or food from the other dishes.
Placing a towel in the bottom of the sink to reduce the risk of shattering or damage.
Washing and rinsing one glass at a time.
Using only a small amount of dish soap inside the wine glasses and around the rim.
Scrubbing the glasses with a soft-bristled stemware brush.
Rinsing the glass THOROUGHLY with hot water. Not warm, HOT!
Placing the drying glasses not on a dish rack, but a fresh microfiber cloth or flour sack towel.
It is a quick and easy process, but it’s vital that you do it right. This will help you get your wine glasses as clean as possible, without altering the flavours of your wine the next time you drink
10. Our Wine Recommendations
Looking for great vintages to serve at your dinner parties? We’ve got a few recommendations for you:!
For Pork/Red Meat Dishes
Who doesn’t love a good Rosemary Pork Roast, complete with fingerling potatoes and a fresh side salad? The flavours of lime, apple, and peach in an organic Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay will pair brilliantly with the dish!
If you’re preparing a pot roast or roast beef, try a French AOC Bordeaux L’Ecuyer de Couronneau.
The ripe, soft Bordeaux makes for very easy drinking!
For Chicken/Turkey Dishes
For a proper roasted chicken or turkey, serve a Chilean Adobe Pinot Noir Reserva.
The fruity, soft wine has a beautiful acidity and soft finish that pairs perfectly with the intense flavours of the roasted bird.
For BBQ chicken, nothing is better than this French Chateau de la Marjoliere Cahors.
The soft, supple flavours complement a nice, smoky mouth-feel, with a long finish that will pair beautifully with your BBQ chicken.
You’ve reached the end of our Ultimate Guide to Serving Wine, so you’re ready to host your own in-house wine-tasting or dinner party with “professional” wine service. With practice, you can be as good at serving wine as any sommelier!
Not only will your friends be impressed, but you’ll find that you enjoy wine a whole lot more now that you understand how to choose, prepare, and serve it properly. You will be much more aware of what you’re drinking, and that knowledge helps you to realize just how varied and complex wine really is.
Plus, who knows: you may even be able to make a career of it some day…