Wine in Restaurants
Ideally a vintage Claret or Burgundy should be ordered well in advance with a request to decant it at the right time (the good sommelier will attach the cork to the decanter for identification). Drinking a fine wine within minutes of the cork being drawn is unfair to the establishment and certainly to the wine.
The pouring out by the sommelier of a sip to taste is much more than a civility: it is entirely practical, enabling the customer to judge whether or not the wine is ‘corked’. This is a rare occurrence but the most delicate sniff will be enough if it is. The nose should also detect a musty smell — though this is not so unpleasant and pronounced — which can be due to a faulty stave in the cask which previously contained the wine. If there is any suggestion to your nose of vinegar, damp blankets or both, then back it must go. If you are in any doubt, invite the sommelier to ‘nose’ the wine too. It is part of his job to give advice, if sought, on the state of the wine or the choice of it. The trouble is, few restaurants actually have sommeliers, but the head waiter will do as well — better come armed with your own knowledge in any case.
The Right Glasses
The eye as well as the nose and the palate plays an essential part in the true enjoyment of wine so you must be able to see it. Size is an important consideration. The wine glass should not be too small or too big, the ideal size, I suggest, being one which holds about 4 fluid oz. (1 decilitre) when between two-thirds and three-quarters full (never fill glasses fuller than this — it will not look mean). This means that you should get rather more than six glasses out of most bottles. The Paris goblet is ideal for most wines, for it has a stem which can be held if the wine is white and chilled, and a plump round bowl which you may hold, if you wish, to raise the temperature of a red wine.
There are very sound reasons for it, apart from the aesthetic appeal of an elegant decanter on the dinner table. It gives a good wine a chance to breathe after years in bottle and it removes any deposit which may have formed in the maturing process. Decanting is not difficult but the older the wine the more care is needed to avoid shaking up the deposit. Always wipe the neck with a clean cloth after removing seal and cork. Have a light behind the decanter so that you can see, and exclude any deposit as you pour slowly, directly or through a funnel. Most red wines will benefit from decanting a good two hours before use, and if they are very cheap and rather harsh an airing will soften and improve them. White wines can be decanted, too, though few actually benefit. These should not be served above 10°C (50°F), the reds about 16°C (60°F), average room temperature.
Re-corking a Bottle
You may be able to put a cork back into a vin ordinaire bottle, but do not dream of doing so with a very old Claret, for example. And it is worth noting that you can buy a Champagne stopper cork which will keep any sparkling wine in good condition for several days. It has been recorded that it has kept a variety of wines drinkable for up to a week, the ‘record’ being several weeks. An alternative is a clean, tapered cork (from any home-made wine kit supplier). Never put the old cork back upside down.