As a sommelier, I am asked a lot of questions about wine – what type to serve and how to serve it properly are common questions. Once you have chosen a wine, there are several things to consider, including temperature, which plays a large role in getting the best flavour from your wine. 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, especially in the United States, there is a tendency to serve white wines extremely chilled. 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 white wines. The aromas from these types of wines are more open at the warmer end of the scale. Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne etc. are all examples. More aromatic wines can be served at a bit cooler temperature – around 7 – 10 C (45 — 50 F). 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 (40 – 45 F). In all cases, ice buckets should be used judiciously to avoid temperatures that are too low resulting in muted aromas and 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 (63 – 68 F). 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 C (59 – 63 F) 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 in which 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 at 12 C (53 F). 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.
Of course, your personal taste preferences are the most important thing to keep in mind. Expert advice is great, but in the end, it comes down to what you like to drink, and how you like to drink it. Keeping this in mind, experiment a bit with your own wines. Determine at which temperature you prefer certain wines, and then…enjoy!
At Carl Knows Wine, I provide wine education and consultation services to individuals, local businesses and small restaurants and I do it using a personalized and enthusiastic approach. Interested in learning more about the world of wine? Have a question you’d like me answer in an upcoming blog? E-mail me here. Make sure to subscribe to my website or follow me and like my Facebook Page and Facebook Group, and my Instragram page.