Tim Atkin’s guide to when and how to serve wine

There’s no point in storing your wine correctly if you proceed to serve it at the wrong temperature, in an inappropriate glass or with a deposit. Here, too, you need to follow a few simple rules to make sure that your wine is in the best possible condition.

Opening the bottle

It’s an obvious thing to say, but before you can drink your wine, first you have to open the bottle. Screwcaps have made life easier over the last five years (as well as reducing the incidence of cork taint), but most fine wine producers still use natural corks. If you pull as many of these as I do, arm yourself with a Screwpull (www.screwpull.co.uk), but a basic waiter’s friend is good enough for opening the occasional bottle. The only wine that needs to be opened with care is sparkling wine. Never point the bottle at someone else or at yourself for that matter. In fact, treat it like an unexploded bomb, where the cork has to be eased gently out of the neck. I know two people who have lost the sight in one eye because of a flying cork (and one of them was injured by a bottle of Cava rather than Vintage Champagne).

Serving temperatures

One of my favourite wine cartoons of all time shows a couple of Eskimos leaving the Baffin Island Wine Store, bottle in mittened hand. ‘If we serve this at room temperature,’ one of them says to the other, ‘it won’t come out of the bottle.’ That’s the problem with the old adage about serving reds un-chilled. In these days of centrally heated houses, you need to be a little more precise about how warm or cold your wine is.

As a general rule, I’d say that most reds are served too warm, while most whites are served too cold. Never allow your reds to go above 20ºC, as they can taste stewed and flabby. Never serve white wines below 8ºC, as this obscures the fruit and can make the wine taste overly acidic. The lighter the red, the more it will benefit from an hour or so in the fridge. Big, beefy reds should be served warmer – at 18ºC or so – but for, say, a Beaujolais, a Bardolino or most Pinot Noirs, 12ºC-15ºC is ideal. With white wines, serve big oaky wines, such as Californian or Australian Chardonnays at 12ºC-15ºC and crisp and/or aromatic ones at 8ºC-12ºC. Sparkling wines are best served at 8ºC- 10ºC to emphasise their acidity and freshness. Wine will be perfectly stored in Spiral Cellars wine rooms.

The best way to warm up a wine that has come out of the cellar is to leave it on the kitchen table for an hour or so. Don’t put it by the fire (unless you’re desperate to get the wine up to the right temperature in a hurry) and never put your bottle in a microwave. It may well explode. For whites, the fridge is better than an ice bucket; otherwise use one of those specially designed wine sleeves (www.hydropac.co.uk). It’s always worth having a wine thermometer to hand so that you can check the temperature of your wine. Don’t neglect this step, as it can make a big difference to the way your wine smells and tastes.

To decant or not to decant

There are two reasons for decanting a wine. The first is to aerate it; the second is to remove any sediment that may have collected in the bottle while the wine was ageing. Most wines don’t throw a huge deposit (Port and some tannic, age-worthy reds are the obvious exceptions, especially if they have been bottled without filtration), but I’d still recommend decanting as a matter of course. Unless your wine is very delicate, and likely to be harmed by the effects of a little oxygen, decanting nearly always enhances a wine’s perfume and fruit. You don’t need to be overly fussy about this. Just pour the wine into a decanter and give it a couple of vigorous shakes.


Don’t neglect your glassware. The worst thing you can drink wine out of (apart from a tin mug or a pint glass) is a Paris goblet. Always try to serve wine (except fizz) in a glass with a tapered bowl, as this will help to concentrate its aromas. You don’t have to spend a fortune on stemware – the basic ISO tasting glass is inexpensive and widely available – but I think that a special wine deserves a special glass. Good companies include Zalto (www.zalto.co.uk), Riedel (www.riedel.com), Schott Zwiesel (www.schott-zwiesel.com) and Dartington Crystal (www.dartington.co.uk) My advice is to go for the machine produced glasses rather than the hand blown ones, as you don’t want to worry about wasting £30 or more every time you break a glass on the hot tap.

Get in touch


Spiral Cellars Ltd,
11 Hawkins Drive,
Cheslyn Hay,
WS11 0XT.


020 3815 3329