There is an adage about wine serving temperatures that white wines should be served chilled and red wines should always be served at room temperature. This basic tenet seems to make sense but isn't necessarily true. The temperature at which you serve your wine significantly affects its flavors and aromas.
Ideal Wine Temperatures
|Wine Serving Temperature Chart|
|Ice Wines, Tokay, Berenauslese, and other dessert wines||43°F|
|Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling (all types except for dessert)||45°F|
|Chardonnay, Viognier, White Zinfandel, Pinot Noir (non-Burgundy)||50°F|
|White Burgundy (French)||52°F|
|Chianti, Zinfandel, Rioja||59°F|
|Cabernet, Red Burgundy, Bordeaux, Merlot, Shiraz||63°F|
|Port (Ruby and Tawny, as well as Australian stickies)||65°F|
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.
- 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 make it seem dull, flabby, and hot with alcohol.
Most people serve white wine straight from their refrigerator, which is set at a great temperature for lettuce, but not for most wines. Even low-complexity whites like Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc have their flavors minimized by over-chilling. More complex whites like Riesling and Chardonnay when over-chilled become simple and one-note. However, warming it up to the proper serving temperature will bring all the complexity of flavors to the fore.
Chilling the Wine
While some people prefer specific serving temps, 45 to 55 degrees F is a good basic temperature for most white wines. Since the fridge is set at a lower temperature than that, think of it as a tool for the short-term chilling. Never use your refrigerator for long-term wine storage; it's just too cold and over time can permanently destroy a wine's flavors and aromas. In a refrigerator, the temperature of a bottle of wine will lower 4 degrees F every ten minutes, and it warms up at about the same rate at room temperature. 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
The easiest way to warm a white is to take it out of the fridge. If you have a wine thermometer, take the temp to see how much warming it may need. It will warm up about four degrees every 10 minutes.
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 illustrate how temperature affects the wine.
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 starts to warm. 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 keep their houses closer to 70 degrees, which means a room temperature red is too warm.
Creating the Right Temperature
The problem with serving a red wine above 65 degrees is that as the wine gets warmer, all the wine's imperfections are more apparent. 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 your server 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 occurs frequently. This usually occurs when the wine is stored near a hot restaurant kitchen.
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 it's 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.
Serving the Wine
Because temperature 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 improper temperature might otherwise mask.