Wine Wisdom
Smart tips for serving the best wine
By Erin Bell

Whether you prefer red or white, keep all your guests happy this holiday season using these tips from SJ sommeliers and winemakers.

What’s the best way to serve wine?

Around the holidays, warm mulled wines like a spiced apple are popular, and you want to serve them warm. A crockpot is a great way to heat the wine without boiling it. You don’t want to boil it; that will burn off the alcohol.  –  Charlie Tomasello, Co-Owner, Tomasello Winery

The best way to serve wine is when you are with friends and people you like.  –  Anthony Valenzano, Chief Operations Officer, Valenzano Winery

You always hear it’s best to serve red wines at room temperature, but that’s a common mistake. It doesn’t mean room temperature in 2015, but room temperature in the 1800s, when rooms were cooler. So full-bodied reds should be 60 to 65 degrees; light, fruity reds and full-bodied whites like Chardonnay should be 50 to 60 degrees; and light whites, sparkling wines and rosés should be 40 to 50 degrees.  –  Scott Donnini, Co-Owner, Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery

Use a decanter, especially if it’s an older red wine that might have sediment. Let it air in the decanter for about an hour – it opens the wine and allows it to become more complex.  –  Louis Caracciolo, Owner & Winemaker, Amalthea Cellars

The best way to serve wine is using British proper service, which is what the Guild of Sommeliers use. You serve clockwise, the host first, then ladies, then gentlemen. The bottle never touches the table until poured. But most important is to understate the whole opening procedure, aside from getting approval for bottle and host tasting, as to not interfere with table conversation.  –  Sharyn Kervyn, Wine Director, The Capital Grille

Polish your glasses before serving. If you smell an empty wine glass, you will often find leftover aromas of dish-washing liquid. Give it a quick wipe down with a cloth napkin to take care of those unpleasant odors and make the glass look nicer.  –  Paul Stern, Sommelier, Osteria New Jersey

What’s the proper way to store wine?

Store wine on its side so the cork will not dry out. A dry cork will shrink and allow air to enter the bottle. Air will spoil the wine. Wine should be stored between 55 and 60 degrees in a darkened area that is not too humid or too dry.  –  Ric Rutherford, General Manager, Rio Station

My rule for wine storage is you shouldn’t leave it in an environment that would be uncomfortable for a pet. You wouldn’t leave your dog in a hot car in the summer, and the same goes for a bottle of wine.  –  Paul Stern

Store wine in a cool, humidified place. So for the average person, keep it in the basement. Don’t leave it in the sun or near heat – that will prematurely age the wine. And bad things can happen; if a wine gets hot, it expands, and it will push the cork out. So if you leave it in the hot car, you might come back to find a mess.  –  Darren Hesington, Winemaker, Cape May Winery & Vineyard

It’s important that wine is stored somewhere without vibrations, which can break up the wine and keep it from aging gracefully. Vibrations can be caused from storing it next to or on top of electrical equipment like a refrigerator, or even from a wall vibrating from the opening and closing of a door.  –  Sharyn Kervyn

What’s a common mistake people make when selecting a wine?

Getting hung up on what they “should” like. They are embarrassed if they don’t like “serious” wines. Bottom line is, if a wine tastes good to you and makes you feel warm and happy inside, that is the most important thing. Doesn’t matter if it is sweet or dry, red or white, in a box or in a bottle.  –  Scott Donnini

A common mistake is ordering by name recognition, not by food pairings. It’s important to choose, wines that will pair well with the entrees ordered. If a party of four has half seafood and half red meats, you may want to get a white and a red for the table, keeping varietals that would complement items ordered. If all opt to get red wine, try a Pinot Noir or Rhone that would not clash with the seafood. If all opt for a white, go with a full-bodied Chardonnay to not clash too much with the red meats.  –  Sharyn Kervyn

Don’t pay too much attention to pretty labels. Best advice: Ask someone at a wine store and tell them the style you like.  –  Ric Rutherford

The tasting room at Valenzano Winery

The tasting room at Valenzano Winery

I’m going to let you in on the dirty little secret of the wine industry: Price is rarely an indication of the quality of a wine. The price that a winery decides to sell a bottle of wine for is most often determined by its availability. Wineries price their wines so they do not sell out faster than they can be reproduced. We don’t make a phone call to restock our supply; we have to wait until the following harvest, crush, ferment and bottle. Wineries are going to price their wine so they can sell out – but not sell out before the following vintage is ready. Buy what tastes good, not what the price says about it.  –  Anthony Valenzano

The most common mistake people make is neglecting to keep their guests’ tastes in mind. Just because you like obscure Hungarian red wine doesn’t mean everyone else does. Take a little time to learn about the preferences of your friends and family, and buy at least a few bottles with them in mind.  –  Paul Stern

A common mistake is trying to match it to the food – there’s a lot of baloney to that. It’s just bloggers. Heavy and light are the nuances. When you have Mexican or Indian – heavy, spicy dishes – you don’t want something so light you won’t be able to taste it. A light wine will just taste like alcohol with a heavy dish; it won’t stand up to the food.  –  Louis Caracciolo

What kind of wine pairs best with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner?

This is a difficult and controversial question. Some sommeliers like to pair wine that will match the character of the main dish, usually the turkey. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are often common choices. Personally, I think the traditional Thanksgiving meal is heavy and overwhelming, so I like to find a wine that will contrast with the food rather than match it. My favorite wine with Thanksgiving dinner is a dry, sparkling Riesling from Germany. It’s crisp and refreshing, and adds lightness and a festive atmosphere to the meal.  –  Paul Stern

It’s a family party, so I would get a variety so all guests can find something. Many of the wine stores in South Jersey have really knowledgeable people working there. Ask for help selecting a light drinking red, a full-bodied white and something fun like Riesling or Pinot Grigio.  –  Louis Caracciolo

For whites, I like Chardonnay or Gewürztraminer. For red, Grenache, Pinot Noir or Syrah – maybe Beaujolais.  –  Ric Rutherford

I always prefer white wines or lighter wines with Thanksgiving dinner, because I don’t want anything overpowering my mom’s cooking. Our Vidal Blanc is my go-to wine for this occasion.  –  Anthony Valenzano

Traditionally, people like the off-dry whites like Riesling, but I’m one to buck tradition. Try a lighter red, medium-bodied Merlot or Cabernet. Anything medium-bodied means it has a light acidity, so it is not too sharp or heavy on the palate.  –  Darren Hesington

I love a good Montepulciano with a turkey dinner. New Jersey Hybrid Chambourcin from Heritage Vineyards or Pennsylvania’s Penns Woods are also great pairings.  –  Sharyn Kervyn

A cranberry Moscato or cranberry wine should be on every table at Thanksgiving.  –  Charlie Tomasello

Honestly, I think the whole food-wine pairing thing is kind of overdone. In my experience, if you like the wine and you like the food, there is a good chance that you will find something to enjoy in the combination.  –  Scott Donnini

Does the wine glass you use really matter?

Absolutely! The right glass showcases the aromas and tastes of each wine. Generally, the tongue tastes sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory stronger in different areas. Certain glasses deliver a particular wine to those areas best suited for that variety of wine.  –  Ric Rutherford

Wine glasses are designed to get the most of the aromatics, allowing the wine to breathe and aromas to fill your nose in anticipation of the tastes that follow to offer a complete sensory experience. Try drinking the same glass of wine in a nice wine glass and a soda glass. You’ll see quickly which glass the wine tastes better in.  –  Sharyn Kervyn

The extensive bar at Osteria in Moorestown

The extensive bar at Osteria in Moorestown

The stem is useful because it keeps your hand from raising the temperature of the wine. Wines that are too warm taste overly alcoholic and out of balance.  –  Paul Stern

Generally, with any wine glass, you want it to taper to a closed mouth at the top, so you’re catching the aroma.  –  Louis Caracciolo

The glass thing in my mind is a little bit of over-marketing – a great wine will taste great in a short Libby water glass. Like everything else in the wine world, it’s a matter of preference.  –  Scott Donnini

November 2015
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