Recently, a reader wrote in to share their frustration with the temperature they're finding red wines are served at Louisville area bars and restaurants.
"I'm constantly disappointed at the way red wines are served in Louisville restaurants," they wrote. "Red wines are not meant to be served at 75 degrees. They should be served slightly cooler than room temperature."
It made me wonder ― if we're serving wine at incorrect temperatures, are there other mistakes we could be making?
To find out, I chatted with sommelier John Grisanti of Nouvelle Bar & Bottle, 214 S Clay St. in Louisville's NuLu neighborhood. Grisanti, who trained at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and has cooked at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Breslin in New York City, is a level three Wine Steward and Certified Specialist of Wine & Spirits. He was happy to demystify a slice of the (often-intimidating) wine world for me.
Here are a few tips and tricks he offered on how to serve and drink wine, Champagne and make the perfect selection:
What kind of glass should you drink Champagne in?
Personally, I love to drink my bubbly from a coupe, the cute shallow glasses with the wide bowl that, according to myth, were modeled on a particular portion of Marie Antoinette's anatomy. While general consensus is that's not true, I was so convinced this was the best way to drink it that when I had a glass of Champagne tattooed on my wrist in Paris last year, I asked the artist to ink a coupe.
Maybe I should have consulted Grisanti first. According to him, a coupe is the worst thing to drink Champagne from, he said, followed by a traditional flute.
Yes, they look good, he said, and there's a nostalgia factor to an old-fashioned coupe. But part of what makes Champagne the world's greatest beverage, he said, is the effervescence and because of the wider shape of the bowl of a coupe, "two things occur that we don't want to occur. Effervescence depreciates … when you have more surface area. So the sparkle of the champagne goes away at a much quicker rate."
And the aromatics also dissipate more quickly, he said, so you don't get to actually enjoy them. Besides, he noted, it's just harder to hold liquids in a coupe (they are awfully easy to tip and spill, I can attest).
A flute, on the other hand, concentrates the aromatics "to the point where you can't actually smell them," he explained. "They’re cooped up." (Ha!)
So, what is the ideal glass to appreciate Champagne in?
“When someone puts down a champagne flute or a coupe, I will always ask the bartender to replace that with a white wine glass," he said.
How do you open a bottle of Champagne?
"Now the party's started!" We’ve all heard that phrase, or something similar, when a cork pops on a bottle of bubbly.
I heard it first this summer on a tour of the Champagne region of France, where the guides at the tasting houses showed us how they open a bottle quietly. Grisanti shed more light on how to do that.
Think about the CO2 built up in the bottle, he said. It's a deadly proposition when you release that pressure. Plus, he said, you can lose the product if it blows when you open with great flair.
Grisanti trains his staff to open bottles as quietly as possible, ideally with no sound, he said, because a bad opening can be downright dangerous. The person opening a bottle should keep the cork covered with a hand or finger at all times.
And the bottle should be opened by turning the bottle itself, not to cork.
At what temperature should red wine be served?
So, white wine should be cold and red wine room temp, right? Wrong. You want the red wine at cellar temperature, Grisanti said, which is around 55 to 60 degrees. (White wine should be served at refrigerator temperature, he noted.)
Why don't we want it warmer? Well, it's not that you want red wine to be refreshing, per se, he said, but any drink that's too warm just isn’t enjoyable. And especially with red wine, you run the risk of it being cloying.
So if you get a bottle of room-temperature red wine at a restaurant, there's nothing wrong with asking politely to chill it down. And a few minutes in the fridge at home can make the difference in a glass of wine that's just OK, or that you love.
How to pick a not-oaky Chardonnay
Is there a wine you absolutely won't order? I can't do Chardonnays since that summer I shared too many big bottles of a cheap brand with a friend on my front porch. Rieslings are also a no-go for me because I find them to be soda fountain-sweet.
Looks like I need to give them a chance, after hearing Grisanti weigh in.
"You can't always judge grape without understanding how [the wine] has been produced," he said. "Chardonnay is the world's greatest grapes because it's so adaptable," he went on. Maybe you think you don't like oakiness or buttery notes. No worries, those don't necessarily have to be part of a glass of Chardonnay. As with any wine selection, asking your sommelier, or a good shopkeeper, should help you find something you will enjoy.
How to pick a not-too-sweet Riesling
As for those too-sweet Rieslings, that's maybe the wine world's most misunderstood grape, Grisanti said. They absolutely do not have to be sweet, any more than lemonade (another great balancing act of acid and sweetness) has to be. And there are a few tricks for telling before you take a sip you regret.
Check the label, he said, or ask the sommelier about the alcohol content.
"If it's really low alcohol, so something sitting around that 6 or 7%, that's gonna be a sweet wine," he said.
Move up to the 12 or 13% range if you're looking for a drier pour, he said. You can also look for the word trocken on the label, which means dry. Finally, look for Rieslings from the Alsace region along the border of France and Germany, where they produce theirs in a dry style.
When in doubt, whatever the wine question, ask a sommelier or a knowledgeable local shopkeeper, and with an open mind, you may just learn a few new ways to enjoy wine.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: What's the best glass for Champagne? Five wine tips you need to know