After countless guest service hours across the most competitively elaborate restaurants in the world, including even the simplest, the wisdom I provide to you while debunking four top wine myths related to service will absolutely cast you as a wine pro. These helpful tips are guaranteed to change the way you approach your next bottle of wine.
Intrigued? Read on, as I promise this quick insight from over two decades of learning will undeniably elevate your wine skills while boosting the enjoyment you gain from each bottle of wine in the future.
Now, maybe you are wondering how my two decades of experience justify my opinion on this matter, so I’ll tell you, without my diverse background, for which I am woefully grateful, I wouldn’t possess deeper insight than most regarding this subject. From my early days of working the floor in casual but refined restaurants of Vail, CO, to owning my restaurant in the heart of the Arizona desert, then jumping into the crème de la crème (Michelin Three Star/New York Times Four Star/Forbes Five Star) in NYC, better me than you because of the endless hours and brutal schedule sacrificed to gain this knowledge.
MYTH #1: Wine is Best Served at Room Temperature
This is NOT true, and it constantly drives me crazy trying to explain why it really is far from the truth. This phrase, or a similar paraphrased version, originated before climate-controlled ambiance was even thinkable, as air conditioning in homes is barely 80 years old. But many believe this myth because when they dine out at their favorite casual restaurant, more times than not the bottle they order is pulled right from a display area with no temperature control. Upon first sip, it becomes apparent the wine tastes somewhat warm and soupy, rather than fresh and enticing.
Wine began to be cellared in the early 1600s in France as a solution for using the abandoned old Roman mining caves and conversely, at the same time in America when root cellars were needed to house autumn crops over the duration of winter.
The naturally cool, ambient cellar temperature, or basement as it is many times referred to interchangeably in England, is 50 – 55ºF. And this temperature became known as a closer benchmark to “room temperature” across Europe due to the cooler average trending climate found there in contrast to the warmer US temps.
The problem with this norm as a guideline for the best wine serving temp is that it is a frigid room temp far from the standard in the US: think of the last time you were in a room for a duration in which the temp was this cool? If you are not sure, let me start by telling you with that temp, it’s impossible to keep your teeth from chattering after an hour or so without wearing a jacket or coat for insulation. How do I know? From more hours than I care to admit performing monthly inventory counts in the restaurant cellars where I worked. Forget about tackling inventory without a jacket (and hat, scarf and many times, without even light gloves)!
To let this sync in a little deeper, think back to any past visit to the desert where an outdoor summer temp of 110ºF+ was the norm along with an ambient room temp closer to 75ºF. Serving any red wine at that desert room temp would taste warm while also muddying the persona of the wine, leaving it with a lackluster taste.
Best serving temp is the most crucial element to nail if you are aiming for the greatest enjoyment from your bottle. This means making sure you don’t serve white wines too cold or red wines too warm. The rule of thumb is the bolder the wine, regardless of white or red, the less intense the chill must be, however, the crux of this actually boils down to personal preference. For instance, if you grew up in London, you will most likely have a penchant for your claret served no warmer than 58ºF.
Keep in mind, erring with too cold a temp is less disastrous than the opposite, as any wine served too cool will always warm up in the glass. Trying to cool down a wine after it is poured into your glass is a real feat. You basically need an ice bath so you can dunk your glass (with wine) into it, chilling the glass and contents without allowing your filled glass to tip over into the water. Trust me, I’ve done it more than a hundred times, but it is never easy, only just a pain.
When I lived in the dessert, I aimed for all wines served at my restaurant to have a slight chill, and this would catch some guests off guard, but it also allowed me a chance to teach them. This fun lesson involved empowering them to choose by opening a bottle pulled directly from room temp and offering a sample of it side by side to the original, slightly chilled version. Can you believe—I never replaced the chilled glass in favor of the room temp option?
To help with a fast chill for any bottle, I use my trusty chilled wine bottle wrap. I practically use it daily, so it is a tool I couldn’t live without. Since wine temp can either enliven or destroy any bottle, perfecting it is non-negotiable. This bottle wrap, stored in my freezer, comes to my rescue to help cool down whites, sparkling, rosé and red. Keep in mind, because sparkling wine requires the coldest serving temp, more as a precautionary measure to ensure safe opening practices, I apply 2 rounds of the chilled wine wrap to sparkling bottles with no previous chill.
If you don’t yet have a couple living in your freezer, this should be next on your list. These wraps also travel easily to a neighbor’s house if you are ever tasked with contributing wine. And these chilled wine wraps are indispensable when sitting outside on the patio or porch during hot summer months while enjoying your favorites.
Here is what a wine chilling wrap looks like:
MYTH #2: Wine Glass Shape Will Make or Break Your Wine
Unless you are a serious collector with hundreds of bottles, you need not fret over the glass shape so much as you should be concerned with the quality of the crystal. In my humble opinion, the fineness of the crystal is far more critical than the glass shape in terms of allowing you to enjoy to the max. Why? Because, regardless of shape, if the proper amount of wine is poured in a glass, without over-pouring, it becomes easy to draw aromas and flavors from the wine via any glass shape.
This is to say I have muddled through a gazillion blind tastings, as exams, for sport and even for pleasure, and with all examples, the same all-purpose style glass was used successfully, though generally a small, 2-ounce tasting portion is used. This is why I state the fineness of crystal is superior to the shape. If you give me the choice of a Zalto all-purpose glass versus a Riedel Vinum Bordeaux, I’ll choose the basic style Zalto each and every time, even if it requires a smaller pour versus the larger Riedel.
The trick is to avoid chunky, thick-rimmed glasses, as that style mutes wine aromatics and flavors. It is not far off from drinking out of plastic or paper, and in fact, I might choose the plastic over the thick, chubby rimmed glass. I never opt for stemless either, after harping on proper serving temp above, no stem to grasp means your hands warm the wine quickly as you hold the bowl of your stemless glass.
The last critical aspect of your glass is to make sure you use a mild detergent for cleaning and that 100% of soap residue is removed. For this simple reason, I never place my glasses in the dishwasher because I find it does not allow 100% removal of residue. Think about it, would you even recognize a small trace of residue still in your glass, or might you suspect instead the wine just wasn’t as great as you anticipated? More times than not, remaining soap residue stifles the brilliance of a wine causing us to conclude it just wasn’t a great bottle, when all along, if glasses were hand-washed and properly rinsed, that problem could be avoided. Luckily, most restaurant dishwashers are so high-powered, the rinse cycle successfully removes any lingering residue, however, industrial dishwashers require constant water refreshening to ensure strong aromas are eradicated (like stinky smells from fish or eggs). Unfortunately, not all restaurants comply.
MYTH #3: A Bottle of Wine Must Be Finished Once Opened
I always shock more clients than I can count when I divulge how long I have kept opened bottles in my fridge. They immediately respond by telling me they heard wine goes bad fast, to which I reply, “not if it is well-made.” I have been known to test this theory by holding open bottles in my fridge for even beyond four months. For me, it is not uncommon to have multiple leftover bottles at one time from events, tastings, and dinners all taking place in the span of a week. This allows me many chances to test this myth. But until you truly understand wine structure, I don’t suggest holding previously opened bottles in the fridge past a week, as this determining factor is the key to ensuring which can improve beyond a week (and many do).
When a wine is well-made and balanced, it can hold for quite some time, as long as it is closed up quickly once it becomes apparent the entire bottle will not be finished. I keep all opened bottles in my fridge, including red wines. Yes! I place all opened bottles in my fridge because that is the coldest area available to me for storing open bottles, and the colder the temp the slower the dissolution of the wine. Of course, you can keep previously opened red bottles standing upright in your cellar, if you have a cool space there, but be careful about laying an already-opened bottle horizontally, as a cork reapplied to a bottle is prone to leak, and even a trickle could result in a stain.
You just have to be a bit more organized when you are ready to enjoy a leftover red from the fridge. Be sure to pour your glass as early as possible in advance of when you anticipate taking your first sip, since it is necessary to allow it to warm before you begin drinking (ensuring the cold fridge temp is no longer noticeable).
And as far as balanced goes, the wine must have ample acidity and steadfast structure to withstand any oxygen remaining in the bottle while it is stored in the fridge. You could even keep a few empty half bottles handy to use to transfer partially consumed full bottles into the smaller vessel to minimize oxygen contact. If you do, make sure all handy half bottles stored have been properly cleaned, or rinsed is the better descriptor, as you never want to use soap to clean a half bottle. It is also critical to leave the rinsed bottle open, not closed by cork, to ensure no mold begins to grow.
As I pointed out above, I could not live without a wine bottle wrap, nor could I live without a Champagne stopper. I love enjoying a glass of bubbly often, but it is impossible to finish an entire bottle each time I crave a glass. However, a sparkling wine closed with a Champagne stopper immediately after pouring a glass (and returning to the fridge) will retain its bubbles for 3-4 days. The guiding rule: the more that is removed from the bottle, the faster the bubbles will begin to soften because the space for oxygen is greater as liquid declines. As long as the bottle is closed quickly after each pour is served, the power of the bubbles will continue to delight over 2-4 days. Well-made (balanced) bubbly, not CO2-injected sparklers, stand the best chance of bubble retention.
MYTH #4: Great Wine is Always Expensive
More times than not, great wine is affordable, but finding it might require you to venture from your comfort zone. To uncover a new gem, you have to be ready to take a chance on a grower you haven’t heard of or be willing to step outside the box to experiment with an unknown grape. More times than not the reward for being brave will heavily outweigh the risk.
There are many sensational wines that are expensive, but in most cases, the price is a direct correlation to the economics: demand rising far faster than supply can support, resulting in an inflated price that becomes expensive.
Why would demand rise: if a critic gives the wine a fabulous score and collectors read the review, they swoop in to purchase. If they are purchasing a wine of scant production (such as 300 cases), supply will evaporate quickly. But that doesn’t mean it is the greatest wine simply because of its high price that resulted from powerful demand and miniscule supply. It just means the power of marketing helped draw attention to it, creating buzz and appeal that caused high demand and fast selling.
There are so many fantastic artisan growers across the world farming sustainably and hand-crafting extraordinary wines for even $20, but you have to know how to journey and discover those possibilities based on the wine styles you love the most. If you are ready to learn, you can join me on that journey at My Master Somm where I teach you how to taste and describe what you love most, so you become your own best critic and use your skills to guide you to your next wine epiphany.
I hope the above insight I’ve shared on debunking wine service myths has been empowering. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach me at MyMasterSomm.com.