Happy New Year! Winter is the time to snuggle up to a warm, cozy fire and indulge in comfort food and drink. For wine, this means fuller flavoured red offerings that do a great job in combating the cold.
Included in the large category would be Bordeaux, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Pinotage, Syrah/Shiraz, Italian reds and many others. As these wines are fuller and have more to them, they require special treatment such as correct serving temperatures, appropriate aeration, and the use of proper glassware to maximize their appreciation.
All big reds should be served at room temperature, about 20ºC. Retrieve the chosen wine from your cooler storage space and let it stand undisturbed somewhere in a warmer spot until it comes up to room temperature. Just touch the bottle to feel the difference. If a big red is too cool, it will be “dumb” and not deliver all it can on both the nose and palate. An hour or two should suffice.
Next up is aeration, or breathing time. With more body, substance, and likely more tannin, these guys are going to require more air to bring them around. This aeration process serves two important functions. It allows oxygen to penetrate the wine, relieving it of any funky, pent up bottle smells that may have developed since it was put in there. Perhaps most importantly, it opens up the wine bringing the fruit, nuances and complexity out, making it more aromatic and flavourful.
You can simply open the wine and let it stand. How long depends on the wine. A red Bordeaux, for example, should be fine after about an hour and a half to two hours. An Amarone, on the other hand, might require three to four hours to come around.
When one considers that the opening in most wine bottles is about the size of a dime, aeration this way can be slow. A better way to deal with this is to decant the wine. Pour the wine into a decanter, a larger container made from glass, china, or glazed ceramic that has a much broader opening with more surface area. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Even a pitcher will do. Just avoid using any material that is porous or made from metal, as this may leach undesirable components into the wine. Again the structure and size of the wine will dictate just how long the wine should breath for, but ultimately decanting will always give the wine more air in a hurry and make the period of aeration shorter. If you’re in a real hurry to aerate a wine, you could simply pour the wine back and forth from one decanter to another seven or eight times to speed up the process, but it is better to let the wine come around undisturbed.
The final aspect of preparing a big red for consumption is glassware, and it’s an important one. A poor glass can ruin great wines. Use glass and only glass. No plastic or any other material! Utilize a larger one as well. As these reds are bigger, the broader surface area of a larger glass will allow abundant air into the wine, opening it up more. Ensure the glass is at room temperature. If it has just come out of the dishwasher warm, let it cool down. Finally, fill the glass to only one-third capacity, allowing for further aeration by swirling.
Treat your big comfort reds with respect and your appreciation will definitely be enhanced.