Storing and Serving Wine

Over the years wine has become associated with a number of procedures, like cellaring, breathing, and decanting. While it is not strictly essential to know anything about these terms to enjoy wine, an understanding of these practices can maximize the pleasure gained from both buying and drinking it.

Storing Wine

The majority of wines sold today are designed to be enjoyed young. Almost all mid-priced bottles will survive in a rack for around 12 months, but are likely to deteriorate if left for longer. Traditionally, most wines worth cellaring were from the Old World, but age-worthy bottles are now created by the finest producers elsewhere, too. If in any doubt, it is always better to drink a wine too young rather than too old.

Wine is best stored on its side, as constant contact between cork and liquid prevents the cork from drying out. Sparkling wines and wines with a screwcap can be stored upright because this problem does not arise. If you want to cellar wine but lack the ideal conditions, there are alternatives: buying a wine fridge or cabinet which can hold bottles in perfect storage conditions; or paying for dedicated storage with a professional firm. Contact your local wine merchant for advice.


A cellar can range from a humble, under-stair cupboard to a vast underground labyrinth, as long as conditions are right for maturation. Key considerations when choosing the perfect “cellar“ are as follows:

  • A constant temperature between 10 and 15°C is preferable. Slightly higher than this is not a major concern: the wine will mature more quickly, but slightly less favourably. It is temperature variation that causes most harm.
  • Wine dislikes light, which is why many bottles are made of coloured glass. Dark rooms or sealed boxes are best.
  • A lack of moisture can cause corks to dry out, contract, and let air into the bottle, oxidizing the wine and eventually turning it into vinegar. Slightly damp cellars, on the other hand, will not harm the wine.
  • Excess movement or vibration can damage wine so avoid storage next to fridges and washing machines, and also avoid handling or unnecessary transport.
Effects of Aging
As wines sit in the bottle, a series of chemical reactions changes relatively simple fruity flavours to more developed, complex tastes. In reds, the colour becomes lighter, the tannins get softer, and the wine takes on aromas such as cedar, leather, or mushrooms. Whites, on the other hand, deepen in colour, and become less sweet and more intense. Typical aromas of a mature white wine include nuts, wax, and even diesel. The effects of oak barrels – hints of vanilla, coconut, and spice – lessen in all wines as they mature.

Serving Temperature

The correct temperature is extremely important to the taste of wine. White wines are often served too cold, and reds too warm. Some guidelines to follow:

  • Sparkling wines: Cool temperatures of around 8°C.
  • Light, aromatic whites: Quite cold – around 10°C or a few hours in the fridge. Chilling emphasizes the crisp, fresh taste and does not dull the aromas.
  • White Burgundy and other Chardonnays: These are less aromatic, so serve around 12°C.
  • Light- and medium-bodied reds: Chill slightly to around 12 or 13°C (half an hour in the fridge), particularly in summer.
  • Full-bodied reds: Low temperatures emphasize the tannins in the wine, so serve these reasonably warm, around 15°C.
Serving Order
There are a number of generally accepted rules for serving wine:

  • White before red – although a light-bodied red can be enjoyed before a full-bodied white.
  • Dry before sweet whites – this avoids making the wine taste excessively acidic.
  • Light reds before heavy reds – lighter wines tend to taste thin after a heavier example.
  • Lower quality wines before more illustrious ones.
Certain high-quality wines (mostly reds), such as a 2000 Bordeaux, opened before their peak, can benefit greatly from exposure to oxygen in the air – or breathing – before drinking. Simply pulling the cork on a bottle and allowing it to stand open is unlikely to make much difference. Using a decanter, however, will. The shape of the vessel used makes very little difference, as long as it is made of glass and open-topped.

Another reason to use a decanter is to separate a wine from its sediment or deposit, especially if it is unfiltered. Wines that ‘throw’ a sediment include vintage port, unfiltered or traditional LBV port, crusted port, and older vintages of full-bodied reds.

To decant a wine, stand the bottle upright for at least 24 hours to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom. Then, pull the cork and, with a source of light, either a lighted candle or a naked light bulb, behind the neck to allow you to see the contents, slowly pour the wine into the decanter. Stop when you see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle. Do not leave wine in a decanter for long, as prolonged exposure to oxygen will ruin it.

Opening Fizz

The correct procedure for opening a sparkling wine or Champagne is as follows:

  • Hold the bottle at an angle of approximately 55 degrees to the horizontal.
  • Point the neck of the bottle away from other people and from breakables.
  • Carefully remove the foil and wire muzzle.
  • Holding the bottle in one hand and the cork in the other, gently twist the bottle (not the cork) until the cork eases with a satisfying pop.
Using the correct wine glasses can influence the taste of a wine. Although you can buy individual glass designs for different wines, a good all-purpose wine glass will normally suffice. This should have a stem so that you do not have to handle the bowl; and the bowl should be large enough to hold a decent measure, yet still allow room for the wine to be swirled. The bowl should be narrower at the rim than at the base, directing the aromas towards your nose. Finally, clear glass – not cut, coloured, or patterned – allows the colour of the wine to show through. The only major styles that require a different shape of glass are Champagne and sparkling wines. Their tall, straight, thin glasses are specifically designed to show off and retain the bubbles.
How Much per Person?
Serving quantities depend on the occasion and, of course, the drinking capacities of your guests. At dinner parties estimate between half a bottle and a whole bottle of wine per person per evening. When ordering large amounts of wine for an event, remember that many retailers operate a sale or return policy, which allows you to return unopened bottles. In this instance always err on the generous side when ordering.

Leftover Wine

Leftover wine should be poured into the smallest appropriate bottle size, sealed with the original cork if possible, and kept in the fridge. It should be finished off within 24 to 48 hours, as deterioration will quickly set in.
Red and White Wines to Keep

Keeping times depend on the quality of the producer, vineyard site, and vintage. Below are some broad storage recommendations. Bear in mind that only the finest wines can age for longer periods:


Chardonnay: 2 to 5 years for top-quality American examples.

Riesling: 2 years for low-priced wines; 5 to 20 years for the best German examples; up to 5 for the best American ones; sweeter styles keep longer than drier.

Semillon: 1 to 2 years for best American examples.

Sweet wine: 5 to 20 years for the finest examples from Sauternes and Germany; up to 10 years for the best from the USA and Canada.


Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines: 5 to 20 years for the best Bordeaux; 3 to 10 years for the best US wines.

Merlot: 3 to 15 years for good quality Bordeaux; less time if from the USA or elsewhere.

Pinot Noir: 2 to 5 years for the best examples from Oregon or California. Syrah: 5 to 15 years for the best wines.

One Response to “Storing and Serving Wine”

  1. Dennis Cinquegrani says:

    I truly appreciate the insight gained from reading your information. It is good to remind myself of the best way to experience wine. Thank you.

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