Wine Service: The Basic Procedures
The first contact with the customer is at the moment of the presentation of the wine list, which should be done either together with the menu or after a pause when the diners have had a chance to consider the dishes. The sommelier should be ready with suggestions on the best choice of wine or wines to accompany the dishes chosen, if the customer seeks advice.
Having taken the order, the sommelier should quickly check that all the bottles to be served are at proper temperatures or will be by the time they are opened. If any bottles are still in the cellar, sparkling or white wines will need to be cooled slightly and mature reds will need to be gradually warmed a few degrees. The first bottle to be served should be brought to the table so that the customer can check the wine and vintage from the label and confirm the order.
A serving table should be then placed nearby and the bottle opened and tasted observing the following procedure:
- Step 1: place the bottle on the serving table with the label facing the guests. With the blade of the corkscrew or foil cutter remove the top of the capsule neatly so that it will not come into contact with the wine being poured. Wipe away any mold or residue that was left between the capsule and cork.
- Step 2: insert the corkscrew, making sure that it does not go through the bottom of the cork. Remove the cork gently (it should come out silently) being careful that it does not break or crumble. Use the moist lower end of the cork to clean away any residue around the top of the bottle.
- Step 3: smell the cork before taking it off the corkscrew, to make sure there are no obvious "off' odors. Remove the cork from the corkscrew and place it on a small dish for the customer to check if he wishes.
- Step 4: if there is any sign of cork scraps in the bottle, remove them by quickly pouring a tiny amount of wine into a glass. Pour a small amount of the wine and quickly and decisively sniff and taste it. Replace the wine without hesitation if it is not presentable.
- Step 5: holding the bottle so the label can be clearly seen, pour a small amount for the person who ordered (or whoever else is nominated by him) to taste the wine. Wait for the customer's approval. If he/she is not satisfied change the bottle without questioning his/her judgment.
- Step 6: serve the wine, beginning with the ladies in mixed company and finishing with the person who tasted it. Serve from the right of each guest, pouring the correct amount (the glass should never be more than three-fifths full) and keeping the label in view. Twist the bottle a half a turn after pouring and remove any drips from the top with a clean white napkin.
During the meal, check the level of wine in the glasses frequently and provide refills before any is empty. If there is a change of wine, bring the correct set of glasses to table and repeat the serving procedure. Remove the preceding glass only with each diner's consent.
The decanting of wine is necessary if the wine needs aeration or the bottle contains sediment.
This may be necessary mainly for young or medium-aged wines. It may be useful for the following types:
- Young whites that have the smell of excess free sulphur dioxide. The smell should disappear almost immediately after decanting.
- Mature whites or reds which after long bottle ageing may have a slightly closed or musty smell due to the effect of reduction.
- Sparkling wines with an excessive effervescence for the food they are to accompany. Decanting reduces the intensity of the carbon dioxide.
- Wines of any type or color with unpleasant side odor that an experienced taster believes can be cured by aeration. The best decanter for the purpose of aeration is the type with a wide neck into which the wine can be poured quickly to give the maximum exposure to the air.
To Separate Sediment
This is a more delicate operation. It is done with red wines from old vintages that have a deposit caused by the natural precipitation of tannins and coloring substances. The following accessories are required for the operation:
- A candle in a holder
- A jug of warm water
- A cradle made of straw or silver
- A decanter made of fine glass or crystal with a round base and a long, straight neck.
If the bottle to be served has been standing upright at room temperature the sediment should have collected at the base. If it is brought directly from the cellar, where it has been stored horizontally, the bottle must be carried with extreme care and kept in an almost horizontal position to avoid disturbing the sediment. After being shown to the guests, it should be placed in a cradle and left for at least 15 minutes before decanting.
After opening the bottle and checking the cork in the normal way, the operation should proceed as follows:
- Warm the decanter using water from the jug which should then be poured back.
- Pour a little of the wine into the decanter and swirl it around, then poured it into a service glass. This step is designed to remove any smells such as that of chlorinated water or detergent.
- Light the candle.
- Take the bottle in the right hand and the carafe in the left. Rest the hp of the bottle on the mouth of the carafe, positioning it so that the neck is illuminated by the candle flame. Pour slowly and with a steady hand, holding the decanter at an oblique angle so that the wine runs down the neck into the base. Stop pouring when the first signs of sediment appear at the bottle neck.
- Check the clarity of the wine by holding the decanter against the candle.
- Put out the candle with the finger and thumb.
- Serve the wine (possibly after a short pause to let the bouquet settle) in the same way as described above.
Serving Sparkling Wines
Place the correct glasses "flutes" at each table setting and bring the ready chilled bottle 90-100C from the refrigerator for the customer's approval. It should then be opened at the service table. The accessories required are:
- An ice bucket containing one third water and one third ice.
- Champagne pincers.
- Clean, white linen napkin.
The correct procedure for opening and serving the bottle is as follows:
- Remove the upper part of the foil capsule using a corkscrew blade or the tab inserted on some bottles
- Unwind the end of the wire bailing over the cork with one hand. Keep the thumb of the other hand firmly over the cork to be sure it does not pop out when the bailing is removed.
- Grasp the bottle in one hand and with the thumb and two fingers of the other twist the cork gently but with a firm grip to avoid a sudden release. If it does not yield to this pressure, use a pincer to begin the removal. Tilt the bottle and ease the cork out with a circular movement that must be controlled to assure a subdued puff of carbon dioxide rather than an explosion. A towel or napkin held over the cork subdues the sound and can be used to catch any foam that escapes.
- Hold the bottle at an angle for a few seconds to let the CO2 fumes escape before pouring a small amount into a tasting glass to check the clarity, mousse and perlage, the key features in the evaluation of a sparkling wine.
- Serve the wine by holding the bottle with the thumb inserted in the "punt" (the conical indentation in the bottom), supported by the other fingers. To avoid altering the temperature of the wine as far as possible, the palm should not come into contact with the bottle. Pour a small amount for the approval of the person who ordered and then serve the other diners. Pour slowly to avoid having the foam rise above the rim and let it subside before filling the glass sufficiently to show off the perlage.
- Place the wine in the bucket to maintain the ideal temperature of 90-100C, with a towel draped across the top to dry the bottle before serving.