Serving wine at the right temperature can be a bit trickier that one would think. That is because many factors come into play – White or Red, Light or Full-bodied and, as is the case with just about any question about wine, personal preference.
Let’s start with the basics. Few of us can serve wine at a very specific temperature. After all, how many of us own a wine thermometer? In North America, there is a tendency to serve white wines extremely chilled, especially in the United States. This can have a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of the wine as aromas and flavours would be muted and your taste buds would be numbed. For red wines, some people stick to the “serve at room temperature” rule. But what is room temperature. The open wine rack in the kitchen is not the ideal spot from which to pull a bottle and start pouring. So how do we determine the correct serving temperature for a specific wine.
Let’s start with the cellar temperature. I keep mine at about 12 C (53 F). This is just about optimal for complex, mature more full-bodied whites. The aromas form these types of wines are more open at the warmer end of the scale. Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne etc. are examples. More aromatic wines can be served at a bit cooler temperature – around 7 – 10 C. The cooler temperatures help emphasize the crisp, refreshing qualities and the acidity of wines made from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio. High quality Champagne should also be served at this temperature. Other sparkling wines and some Rosés can handle a bit more chill – perhaps around 5 – 7 C. In all cases, ice buckets should be used judiciously so as to avoid temperatures that are too low resulting in muted aromas/flavours.
Room temperature is a good level at which to serve big hearty red wines in general. By this I mean between 17 – 20 C. Any warmer and the alcohol will be more obvious and will overwhelm other flavours in the wine. Lighter bodied wines, such as Beaujolais or some Pinot Noir, can be served slightly lower but not “fridge cold”. 15 – 17 degrees is a good guide.
Beware of serving red wines too cold or too hot. When red wines are served too cold they become more astringent resulting in an unpleasant experience for the drinker. Aromas are muted and the wine can seem dull. Too hot and the alcohol becomes very pronounced, masking the flavours you were looking forward to.
So how do you make sure that the wine is at the right temperature without a thermometer? Prior planning is important. If you take a red wine out of the cellar just before serving, it will likely be a bit too cold. Make sure you take the wine out of your cellar about 30 – 60 minutes before serving. Make sure you place it in a cool spot in the room you plan on serving it – don’t but it on the kitchen counter next to the stove or in direct sunlight…it will warm up too much. Not long ago I took a bottle of wine to a restaurant that had just come out of a room that was a few degrees warmer than normal room temperature. At the first sip, the alcohol was very pronounced. So, I asked the server for a bucket with a bit of ice in some tap water. I put the wine in there for about 5 minutes and the temperature came down to a more acceptable level and the wine tasted much better. If you are at home and this happens, 15 – 20 minutes or so in the fridge will do the trick.
As I mentioned I like most white wines right out of my cellar, which I keep between 10 and 12 C. If I want the wine to cool down a bit, I will put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving. This should chill it to the correct temperature for maximum enjoyment. For some Rosés and non-Champagne sparklers, 30 minutes or so in an ice bucket with a mix of water and ice will get the wine to the right temperature.
Finally, experiment a bit on your own wines. Determine at which temperature you prefer certain wines and never let anyone tell you that you are wrong. There is no wrong answer when dealing with personal preference.
Vita Vinum Est