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Wine serving tips at Thanksgiving

Many people will be holding smaller gatherings this year, but if you’re planning to open a good bottle or two then here are some practical serving tips featured on Decanter.com to help you make the best of the day.

Thanksgiving is likely to have a different feel for many people in 2020. However, here is some general serving advice gleaned from the Decanter.com archive to help make the most of any bottles you plan to open.

Serving temperature for red wines

Your full-bodied California Cabernet or Brunello di Montalcino may be described as at the peak of its powers when served at ‘room temperature’.

However, room temperature in this context generally means around 16 to 18 degrees Celsius (roughly 61 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s often best to serve medium-bodied red wines slightly cooler than this.

Try to keep wines clear of the kitchen during cooking, in particular. Things tend to get pretty warm, and this may cause the contents of your cherished bottle to overheat.

A full-bodied red wine that is too warm can become almost soupy, with flavours harder to distinguish and alcohol more noticeable, according to this earlier Decanter guide.

Those with a temperature-controlled wine fridge may find it easier to navigate this issue, of course, but be aware that wines will warm up in the glass after serving, too.


Read more: What’s the perfect red wine serving temperature? 


Using an ice bucket to chill wine quickly

Ice buckets come in various shapes and sizes, but if you don’t have a specific one to-hand then other containers will do, as long as they’re deep enough. You’ll need some ice cubes, though.

Adding water can help to transfer heat from the bottle more quickly.

‘Use plenty of ice cubes (ideally crushed ice) in a bucket with some cold water and lots of salt – yes, salt,’ Xavier Rousset MS previously told Decanter.

‘Make sure the bottle is submerged to the top to be more efficient. Your wine should be cool in about 15 minutes.’


Read more: How to chill wines in a hurry 


Champagne and sparkling in the fridge

Louis Roederer’s chef de cave and executive vice-president, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, told guests at a Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in 2014 that his advice was to ‘put Champagne in the fridge 48 hours before drinking it’, if possible.

If you’re on a shorter time scale – but not yet reaching for the emergency ice bucket – then the Comité Champagne recommends placing a bottle on its side at the bottom of the fridge four hours before serving.

The ideal serving temperature is 8-10 degrees Celsius (47-50 Fahrenheit), it says.


Read more: How long to chill Champagne for


Letting the wine breathe

Most experts agree that pulling the cork and leaving the bottle in a quiet corner won’t really do much, but there’s debate about how much to aerate wine before drinking, and particularly on whether or not to decant.

While swirling wine in your glass is a form of aeration, some winemakers and experts believe that decanting red wines can help to soften tannins and release fruit flavours.

There are no hard and fast rules, but it’s wise to decant any wine with sediment, such as a vintage Port, to avoid getting this in your glass.

In a guide in 2010, celebrated wine expert Steven Spurrier wrote that he would generally aim to decant around one hour before serving, although this varied depending on the bottle. Young, tannic red wines benefit the most, he said, adding that older white wines should be decanted, too.

‘If I have to open a bottle at the last minute, I use a ‘ship’s’ decanter with a very wide base, and swill (without shaking) the wine around the sides for about 30 seconds to make up for lost time,’ wrote Spurrier, who was consultant editor at Decanter at the time.

Some sommeliers advise against aerating an old vintage bottling too much, due to its fragility.


Read more: How to let a wine breathe


Food pairing: keeping stress to a minimum

If you’re keeping things simple this year and serving one main dish, then you might have time to think more precisely about the sort of wine that would work.

But if there are a range of dishes on the table then, as a general rule, wines that have good levels of acidity can help to lift the meal.

An abundance of mouth-coating tannin, meanwhile, may dull your palate; not that bolder red wines won’t work – a bit of bottle age can help the tannins to integrate and reveal wonderful complexity.

All of that said, wine is about personal preference, too. In a 2016 article for Decanter, Ray Isle, executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine, suggested choosing Thanksgiving wines that will make those around the table happy.


Read more: Thanksgiving wine ideas for 2020


You might also like:

Food and wine pairing advice on Decanter.com

This article has been updated in 2020 after the original version was published in 2017.

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