It’s all well and good finding those special bottles for Christmas but it’s then even more important to serve them at their best. Our team at Wotwine includes top restaurant sommeliers as well as buyers and collectors so we turned to them for some seasonal advice.
Preparation is everything: if you’re planning to serve an older red wine, it is sensible to stand it up vertically for at least a couple of days to allow any fine sediment to settle to the bottom. Then, taking care not to disturb the sediment, you should decant the wine gently over a candle (an iPhone torch can be effective too!) until you start to see cloudiness at the bottom of the neck. That should leave you with a clear, bright wine with more purity of flavour.
Get the temperature right: there’s a tendency to serve white and sparkling wine straight from the fridge, which is really too cold. Far too much champagne is drunk overly chilled to appreciate the range of flavours from a good bottle. The ideal range for all but the lightest, cheapest whites is 10-12C so let it stand for a few minutes. On the other hand, if you’ve forgotten to chill down the white or decide late on (and who hasn’t) that you need another bottle, wrap it in a wet tea towel and stick it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. The water conducts temperature far more quickly than air, which is why ice buckets filled with water are so effective.
Everyone knows that reds are best served at “room temperature” but that maxim originates from before the time of central heating when houses were a lot colder. In truth, you should be aiming for around 18C for reds, other than a light summer Beaujolais … but that’s unlikely to be on your Christmas table.
Know when to decant: “letting it breathe” is a well-known technique for reds, particularly young highly-structured wines made from the likes of Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Carignan, as well as some Cabernet-based wines, where the tannins can be a little aggressive in their early years. Just removing the cork will make next to no difference on these wines, as you simply don’t get enough oxygen to the liquid, so you really do need to decant them for at least an hour. Older wines can be delicate so be careful about decanting for too long. Try the wine and you can always pour it gently back into the bottle if it’s ready. That’s known as double-decanting and is a useful technique if you’re taking a bottle to a dinner party where there won’t necessarily be enough time to decant it properly once you arrive.
Perhaps less well-known is that it can be a good idea to decant white wines. The advent of screwcaps has been great for preserving freshness but the downside is you can get what is called “reduction” in the bottle. This can lead to a smokey, sulphurous aroma, often referred to as “struck match” when the wine is first poured, obscuring the fruit. Some vigorous swilling in the glass usually sorts it out but it is better decant the wine for half an hour.
Serving the wine: which shaped glasses to use and whether it really makes a difference is hotly contested in the wine world. We have a few basic rules to share, which should help you to enjoy your wines to their full potential.
Don’t serve champagne in flutes, ever! Top producers like Krug and Dom Pérignon – and they really should know – always use white wine glasses, ideally ones which curve in a little at the top. A flute is too narrow to allow the air to react with the wine and release the flavours so, particularly if you’ve splashed out on a really good bottle (and not over-chilled it!) try it this Christmas. You’ll never go back to flutes, we promise.
Don’t overfill the glass. It varies by glass size and shape but, in general, you should pour about a quarter to a third of the way up. That again allows the air to get to the wine, particularly if you swill it gently, encouraging the release of aromas but it also means that the wines aren’t warming up too much sitting in the glass.
Avoid stemless glasses. They’re great for reducing breakages at parties, as the join between the stem and bowl is the most fragile point, but holding the glass rapidly warms the wine. If you do have to use them, re-fill sparingly … and often.
So, how about some wines to try this all out? We also picked some examples which will benefit from each of these techniques and allow you to experiment.
First up are a couple of Champagnes that really benefit from a decent glass rather than a flute to show the additional complexity that comes with some bottle age. Note that Waitrose seem to be transitioning from the 2005 to the 2007 of their Vintage Champagne at the moment so try to buy the latter if you can as that’s the one we strongly recommend.
Waitrose Vintage Champagne 2007
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £38.00
Tasting note: Bright and mature wine with salted biscuits, lemon peel, chalky minerality and good weight.
Delacourt Vintage Champagne 2004
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £35.00
Tasting note: Very good, complex wine with bright red apple, sweet citrus and crusty buttered bread character, nice length and intensity.
Next, a couple of white wines which you will definitely want to avoid serving too cold and the first will also benefit from up to half an hour in a decanter before drinking as it is under screw cap.
Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2017
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £7.50
Tasting note: Fresh, appley wine with nice balance and a creamy, biscuity finish.
25% Off When You Buy 6 or More Bottles of Wine or Champagne
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £12.00
Tasting note: Good, light, mineral wine with nice lemon juice and saline character. Intense and classy.
The team at Wotwine are big fans of wine with some real structure, the lovely fresh acidity and elegant tannins that are the hallmarks of high quality Italian wines made from Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. In the supermarket, you’re likely to find young vintages so the tannins can still be a little harsh so a good couple of hours in a decanter is strongly recommended. We’ve recommended the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Barbaresco 2014 before as outstanding value but it’s currently 25% off as part of case of 6 bottles. At under £10 per bottle, this is an absolute steal! But do decant it.The Chianti is less complex but very decent at sub-£5.
(but 25% off as part of a case of 6)
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £20.00
Tasting note: Attractive, youthful wine, nicely made. Bright red fruits andleathery, earthy wild herb character.Classy persistent flavours.
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £5.50
Tasting note: Simple, reasonable, bright wine with sour cherries, red currants and cranberries on the palate.
We’ve noted before that supermarkets tend not to sell many wines with genuine bottle age.That’s not surprising as they are generally more expensive and harder to find in any quantity but there are exceptions. Here are a couple of excellent examples from that are worth tracking down. The Waitrose Rioja was discounted last week to £10 from £16.99 offering exceptional value, it has returned to full price online but you may still be able to get it on offer in store and the Sainsbury’s claret is also reduced by 25% if you buy 6 bottles.
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £17.50
Tasting note: Well made, mature wine with red cherries, red plums and elegant oak usage. Drink now!
(but 25% off in cases of 6 bottles)
Wotwine thinks this is worth: £20.00
Tasting note: Nicely made, maturing Bordeaux with typical pencil shavings, cedar wood and savoury herb character, sour cherries and leather. Drink now!
Happy Christmas drinking … in moderation of course!
*Note – Prices and availability correct at time of research, we cannot guarantee that all stores stock the listed items and price may vary or be subject to change.