Wine Serving Temperatures

Chill white wine to the right temperature.
Chill white wine to the right temperature.

There is an old adage about wine serving temperatures that white wines should be served chilled and red wines should always be served at room temperature. This is very basic and seems to make sense, but is not necessarily true. The temperature at which you serve your wine significantly affects the wine's taste. Learning a few basic guidelines will enhance your wine drinking pleasure.

Why Temperature Matters

There is always a learning curve, but when you figure out each wine's personal characteristics, you will quickly learn how to enhance its flavors. How important is wine serving temperature? It all depends on the style of wine you are serving and your own personal preference.

  • Serving a wine too cold will mask its core flavors and bouquet as well as its imperfections.
  • Serve a wine too warm and it will seem dull, flabby, and hot with alcohol.

Ideal Wine Temperatures

Wine Serving Temperature Chart
Refrigerator Temperature 35°F
Ice Wines, Tokay, Berenauslese, and other dessert wines 43°F
Rose 46°F
Chardonnay, Viognier 50°F
Madeira 55°F
Chianti, Zinfandel 59°F
Cabernet, Red Burgundy, Bordeaux, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Port 63°F
Room Temperature 70°F

White Wine Serving Temperatures

Most people serve white wine straight from their refrigerator, which is usually kept about 35 degrees F. That is a great temperature for lettuce, but not for most wines. Even relatively simple white wines like Chenin Blancs, Sauvignon Blancs and Vinho Verdhe have their flavors minimized by over chilling. More complex white wines like Riesling and Chardonnay have their flavors practically destroyed by over chilling.

Chilling the Wine

While die-hard wine snobs get very specific about their exact wine serving temperatures, 45 to 55 degrees F is a good basic temperature for white wines. What does this mean for the relationship you have with your refrigerator? Think of it as a tool for the short-term chilling of a wine you may want to drink in the next day or so. You never want to use your refrigerator for long-term storage of any wine. In a refrigerator, the temperature of a bottle of wine will lower 4 degrees F every ten minutes - and warms up at about the same rate. So a good rule of thumb is to remove a fully chilled bottle of white wine from fridge at least a half-hour before you want to drink it. Alternately, if you have a bottle at room temperature, putting it in a freezer for a half-hour will work just as well.

Warming a White

As a cool wine begins to warm, it will exude aromas. These aromas are the first important factor to enjoying a wine (after all, 80 percent of tasting occurs in the nose). The next time you pull a bottle of wine directly from the fridge, experiment by pouring a glass and smelling its aroma. Then put that glass back into the refrigerator and keep it there, comparing its aromas with the bottle that will be slowly brought up to 45 degrees F. Experiments like this will illustrate how much temperature affects the wine.

Red Wine Serving Temperatures

Worse than drinking a wine too cold, is drinking wine too warm. After all, as soon as you take a too-cold wine out of the fridge, it will automatically start warming up. The idea that red wine is served at room temperature is an old one whose genesis was before the advent of central heating; back then the room temperature was usually around 55-60 degrees. Today however, most people bask in houses closer to 70 degrees. So the first important thing to do is discard that myth.

Creating the Right Temperature for Red

The problem with serving a red wine above 65 degrees is that as the wine gets warmer, all of the imperfections of the wine will come out. So, if possible, keep the red wine in the cellar until just before serving or pop it in the refrigerator of 15-20 minutes before serving.This is important in restaurants, too. Put your hand on the bottle and "take its temperature" when you are presented with a bottle. It should feel slightly cool, but not cold. If not, ask him to put it in an ice bucket for 10 to 15 minutes. It is very common for restaurants to serve their red wine at a temperature that is too warm; it can happen frequently. This if usually because the wine is often stored near the kitchen, which is hot.

Red That Has Been Chilled

What if you have over-chilled your red wine? Don't worry - roll the glass around and warm it in your hands, all the while smelling its bouquet and sensing how it opens. All these are important tricks to enjoying wine. Because its easy to warm wines, and they will warm on their own once poured, it's always better to have a wine that is slightly too cold, than too warm.

Basic Temperatures

In general, the following are the basic serving temperatures for various wine styles:

  • Red wines and "big, full-bodied" red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah): 55 to 63 degrees
  • "Lesser-bodied" red wines, rosé, and full-bodied white wines (Beaujolais, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling): 46 to 55 degrees
  • Less complex white wines (Vinho Verdhe, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, dessert wines): 43 to 50 degrees
  • Champagne and Ice Wine: 43 to 46 degrees

Serving the Wine

Because the temperature of the wine plays such an important role in the taste and aroma of the wine, pay close attention to how you store and serve it. Invest in a wine refrigerator that can keep your wines at an ideal temperature, or create a space in your cellar for storing the wine at a cooler temperature than the rest of your home. Decant your wine when it's at the proper temperature and enjoy all the notes and complexity of flavor that might have otherwise gone missing.

Wine Serving Temperatures