Step 1 – Selecting the glassware and making space in the fridge
The right glassware allows for true appreciation of the wine your serving. Undoubtedly, even good wines, when poured into the wrong glass, are not enjoyable because the aromas are not released in harmony. Good glass is neither expensive nor designated. There are many affordable glasses on the market with ideal, versatile shapes that work just as well as different styles of wine.
As a general guideline, we recommend having both shaped glasses below on hand:
a) for sparkling, white, rosé and light red wines – narrow rims help to keep the aromas inside the glass and are also easier to handle;
b) for full-bodied whites, aromatic varieties and robust red wines – the wider bowl and rim allows for aromas to release and integrate better.
It is best to clean all glasses and line them up or place them on the table ready to pour your wines. Before the big day, make sure you have enough space in your fridge to keep your bottles chilled and a side table for bottles and glasses. Nothing is more annoying than a crowded dining table..
Step 2 – Opening the bottle
You should avoid opening the bottle at the table. At restaurants, bottles are opened at the sommelier station or, for special requests, single bottles or very old vintages, at a portable wine trolley.
At home, you can just do it in the kitchen. The idea is to avoid mishaps while opening the bottle (A possible slip of the hand causes an unwanted spill? Maybe the cork is tight or breaks?) that might embarrass you in front of guests. Most importantly, you can inspect the wine before pouring it for your guests. You should avoid ruining your group’s dining experience by serving faulty wines…
Step 3 – Inspecting the wine (assessing quality and checking for faults)
After opening the bottle, you need to make sure that the wine is in good condition. Pour a small amount into a clean glass for assessment before pouring to your guests. After swirling the glass, smell test the wine (which gives off all the aromas, good or bad, and gives you a complete understanding of what’s going on) and taste it carefully. You may be able to spot the flaws just by smelling the wine, but this is not always the case so be sure to taste as well!
The most common wine faults to look out for are:
– Oxidation (Volatile acidity) – usually a result of a leaky cork that allowed unwanted contact with oxygen or of unsuitable storage conditions. An oxidised wine will have vinegar-like notes of bruised apple, balsamico and fermented fruit…
– Cork taint, also called TCA (Trichloroanisole) – not necessarily a result of a bad cork as TCA can also be present in barrels and other winery equipment – a so-called ‘corked’ wine has characteristic notes of mould, musty basement, wet newspaper and wet cork.
– Reduction (Hydrogen sulfide) – usually a product of excessive use of fungicides in the vineyard or of sulphur dioxide during the winemaking process. The wine will have a characteristic smell of rotten eggs or wet dog.
Step 4 – Pouring the wine(s)
Assuming the wine (or wines) you opened is in good condition, now is the time to pour in and let the party begin. Before doing so, make sure everyone is on the same page. Perhaps some would prefer another beverage before moving onto wine? Or maybe there are people who only drink white or red wine? Ask everyone’s opinion so that all guests feel comfortable, happy and aware of what is happening before, during and after the meal.
This is also the time when you may want to recommend or talk about the wine, the producer, where you bought it, etc. But keep in mind that not everyone is necessarily interested and may just want to enjoy wine without much explanation. Short and sweet could work a treat!
It’s a fine balance, that sommeliers play with every day. Don’t over think it, just serve the wine and let the conversation flow naturally. You might also want to refer to the food for example if you’ve chosen the wine because it pairs with the dish you’re serving – give a bit of context about the pairing, the recipe, the flavours, etc. This can be fun for both wine geeks and foodies.
Step 5 – Keeping your guests topped up while also ensuring the wine is kept at the right temperature
During meals, you need to make sure your guests are happy and they don’t run out of wine. As a general rule, refills should be offered when the glass is less than two fingers full. However, it’s good not to be pushy and check whether your guests really want refills. Some people also prefer to top up themselves, even in very formal settings.
On the other hand, if you are the host, it is your task to keep the wines at the right temperature throughout the evening. Have an ice-bucket ready, along side the table, for sparkling, whites and rosés, but keep an eye on the reds as well – you don’t want them to get too warm either (most reds are best enjoyed below room temperature at approx. 15 degrees celcius).
Step 6 – Dealing with spillages and broken glass
It might sound obvious but the main thing here is to not ignore it! Deal with it promptly without making your guests uncomfortable – it can happen to anyone, anytime. And if you were the one responsible, relax! Use the opportunity to talk about the wine and open another bottle.
Step 7 – Stay relaxed and have fun!
Arguably the most important step. As much as you and I might love wine, it should not become the sole focus of your meal or evening. It should be part of a complete, enjoyable experience that allows everyone to relax and enjoy themselves. Remember: you can save an evening with a bad wine if you are in the right company; on the other hand, an evening with amazing wine surrounded by boring people is, and will always be, a complete train wreck.