Red wines are generally served warmed than whites, normally at room temperature, ideally about 15 – 17 degrees. That rule was laid down in the good old days before central heating, now that the average temperature in a home is 20 degrees; room temperature can be a little too warm for reds. Cellar temperature might be better! Some reds are better off slightly cooler, pinot noir for example or cheaper Beaujolais. In France, we have often been served chilled red wine in the summer. Chilling wine can destroy a lot of the aromas, but in the summer heat it is quite refreshing. Let personal preference be the final arbiter – although bear in mind that red wine served too cold won’t have that much flavour.
This may sound like sacrilege, but sometimes we open wines and don’t finish them. Many people ask us, how long will wines keep? Well, white wines can be re-corked, or if the closure is screw cap, resealed and left in the fridge. They will be perfectly drinkable the next day, although duller on the palate. After two or more days, exposure to oxygen will render the wine totally flat and stale. The exception is dessert wines; they can be kept in the fridge for over a week after being opened. Fortified wines such as sherry and port will keep for a very long time after being opened; they are protected from the destructive effects of oxidation.
Oxygen can be a wines friend, but ultimately it destroys what is basically a very delicate substance. Leave a bottle of red open for a prolonged period, over 24 hours and eventually it will go stale. What you can do is, after resealing the bottle, is return it to the fridge. Just take it out an hour or so before you propose to start the bottle again. With everyday reds this works quite well, extending the life of the wine for a day.
In the unlikely event of you having an unfinished bottle of sparkling wine, close it with an ordinary cork (you’ll never get the original cork back in the bottle), but not too tight, so that if pressure builds up the thing won’t fire out of the bottle. Be careful, many people have lost eyes to the Champagne cork! Also, don’t bother putting a spoon upside down in the neck to preserve the bubbles – that’s a myth.
Speaking of corks, at some point in every wine drinkers life they will encounter a corked bottle of wine. When we say a wine is ‘corked’ we don’t mean that it has bits of cork floating on the top – that may be annoying but it does not affect the taste – but that the cork and then the wine has been tainted by a compound know as TCA. A corked wine can smell musty or taste completely of vinegar, it varies. The tell tale signs are usually slightly musty, unpleasant odours. Absolutely any reputable restaurant, wine merchant or supermarket will replace a corked bottle, though you need to get it back to the store within 24 hours.