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Serving Thanksgiving wine: Expert tips

If you’re planning to open a good bottle or two this Thanksgiving then here are some practical serving tips featured to help you make the best of your day.

Thanksgiving is an excuse to indulge in the company of your family – and Thanksgiving 2021 will likely see even more indulgence than normal as people celebrate getting together again at this time of year. So pull out your best bottles and follow these top wine serving tips for a successful Thanksgiving.

Serve red wines at 16-18°C (61-65°F)

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’ is an anachronism relating to old houses rather than modern houses with central heating, so serve full-bodied red wines at 16 to 18 degrees Celsius (roughly 61 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit). A full-bodied red wine that is too warm can become almost soupy, with flavours harder to distinguish and alcohol more noticeable.

It’s often best to serve light- and medium-bodied reds slightly cooler than this. The lightest reds – think Beaujolais, Frappato and even some Pinot Noir – can even benefit from being slightly chilled.

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.

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.

Use 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. Of course, you’ll also need some ice cubes. If your fridge-freezer doesn’t produce a ready supply, or you don’t have enough ice cube trays, then plan ahead and buy a large bag of ice.

Add a reasonable amount of water to the ice bucket to help transfer the warmth away from the wine bottles more efficiently.

‘Use plenty of ice cubes (or 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.’

Put Champagne and sparkling wines in the fridge 48 hours before drinking

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 for Champagne is 8-10 degrees Celsius (47-50 degrees Fahrenheit), it says.

Let your wines 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 or an older vintage of red wine, to avoid a gritty mouthful of wine.

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 too much due to its fragility.

Food & wine pairing: keep it simple

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 best with your Thanksgiving dinner.

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 tannins, meanwhile, may dull your palate; not that bolder red wines won’t work – a bit of bottle age (or decanting in advance of serving) 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.

Related articles:

Thanksgiving wine pairings and 15 American wines to try

Food and wine pairing advice on Decanter.com

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