The Wine Pages: Homebrew winemaking
Few rituals are shrouded in as much mystery as the art of serving wine. Couple this to the inherent mistrust of homemade homebrew wine amongst the non-winemaking population, and use home brew winemakers have got a job on your hands.
There is a great deal of psychology in serving wine. If we serve up our hazy homemade homebrew wine in a teacup poured out of a re-used beer bottle with an apology, the chances are that people are going to hate it. Simply applying a few rules to the physical presentation of the wine will improve your odds of impressing guests before we even think about what to say.
Glasses. Wine glasses please. For economy choose plain undecorated glass, or crystal glass. Crystal can be cut or uncut, it doesn't really matter, both have their pros and cons. A decent set of cut glasses generally look more impressive. Polish the glasses with a clean tea towel. Make sure they don't smell of anything odd. Handle the glasses by the stem only to avoid finger prints. Better still put the glasses on a tray. Not a tea tray with two cuddly kittens on it.. a discrete silver salver is best.
Fit the wine to the glass. A small glass for port or dessert wine. A bigger glass for normal wine. Flutes are only for champagne, for the practical purpose of keeping the fizz in.
Another good source glasses is Ebay. I actually have an embarrassingly huge collection of small antique wine glasses which I use for dessert wine and other sweet strong concoctions. Get some very small liqueur glasses for the really powerful stuff. How small is small? A little liqueur glass should hold 15-20ml at very most.
The bottle. Polish the bottle. Glue a decent label onto the bottle. Use a proper cork, and a shrink wrap capsule. Bring the wine to the table unopened so that your guests can absorb the fact it is a real cork in a real bottle.
A bit of dust on the bottle is fine, but underneath the dust, the bottle should be flawless and polished. It should be a wine bottle. You don't have to dress up every bottle of wine you make, but do some nicely. It is not unheard of for me to take a bottle of wine out of the cellar, remove the rough label, clean the bottle, polish it, and then stick a nice fancy label on it before bringing it to the table.
Serve the wine at the correct temperature. 6C-10C for a white wine. 15C and maybe up as high as 21C for a good red, or port. I have a friend who insists on chilling bottles of port in the freezer. Yuck. A bottle of white wine only needs a hour in the fridge, at most. White wine gets worse below about 6C. Generally the sharper (more acidic) the wine, the colder it needs to be. In the cold winter put the red wine in the air cupboard for half an hour. Wine changes its temperature more quickly if the cork is removed. Those bottle cooler jackets really do well, and you should always keep one in the freezer ready. Actually, warming up red wine is more problematic than cooling white wine. Sticking the bottle in a bucket of 35C water for half an hour can help.
Open the wine with a simple T shaped corkscrew. Do not rely on any of these silly corkscrews that try and do the job for you. Put the bottle on the floor, between your feet. Gripe the bottle with you feet and one hand (and a tea towel) - pushing the bottle onto the floor. Bend over and pull on the corkscrew. The cork will come out with no chance of sloshing wine everywhere in front of your guests.
Make sure the glasses and bottle occupy their own space. Don't plonk a tray of glasses on a coffee table strewn with DVDs and magazines. Make a big effort to tick all the visual presentation tips, but don't overdo it - marching in and announcing the wine with a pair of trumpeters might not be such a good idea.
Fill the glasses no higher than two thirds full. Half full is better. This allows the aroma to collect in the top of the glass. Hold the bottle near the base and give it a half twist as you stop pouring. Dribbles of wine down the bottle are bad. Practise. Do not pour the wine whilst conversation is in full flow. Wait for slight lull. Do not actually tell anybody that it is homemade homebrew wine. Just let them get on with drinking it, somebody is bound to notice the label sooner or later and mention it. It is quite important to get as many people as possible to sample the wine before they realise that it is homemade homebrew. If they think it is commercial wine, they will accept it is pleasant without letting their prejudices soil their palettes.
If the conversation is drawn to the wine, make some comment about how the chosen wine is special. This can be abject bollocks for all you care. "Yes, this came from the blackberry bush nearest the sea". IT all helps.
Don't flounce around the room, lifting the glass to the light, sniffing it in an exaggerated manner and slurping the wine. This just makes you look silly and detracts from the wine.
Make sure you serve some wine people are likely to enjoy. If you have some bizarre wine made from monkey gonads, think twice before inflicting it on unsuspecting guests. Go for something safe and well balanced. Well balanced means a good balance of alcohol, sugar and acid. If it tastes like shop wine, chances are they will like it.
If you are having a dinner party, and don't have the balls to serve all your own wine, keep your home brew for later. Give them a nice homemade homebrew dessert wine - they will love that!
Make sure you serve only clear wine. A bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle is fine, it adds a bit of authenticity, just make sure you pour the wine in one go. Never serve hazy wine unless people are too drunk to care.
There are a number of difficult problems. If they don't like it, then make sure you bring in some nice safe commercial wine. You will doubtless have some wag in the room who knows you make wine and keeps alluding to the fact before you serve the wine. Just tell him to shut up.
People will like your wine if it is served neatly and confidently. They won't like it if you serve it is humbly and in a mess. People will drink carpet cleaner if you dress it up with enough fluff. Look at the scotch whiskey industry, they have been doing it for years.