A debate swirls around the question of refrigerating wine, both before and after opening the bottle. And the answer lies in how you like your wine and how long you want the wine preserved in the bottle after it’s been opened. Purists calibrate their wine coolers to the nth degree, both for red and white wines, while occasional wine drinkers just pour and sip. There’s a middle ground as well, and it includes refrigerating, uncorking, re-corking and re-refrigerating. The “wine dance” isn’t complicated, and you’ll find your wine knowledge provides an impressive credential when hosting friends for dinner.
Temperatures for Storing Red Wine
Let’s get one thing straight right now... cellar temperature ISN’T room temperature! Many red wines are served at room temperature, even in the most upscale restaurants. Wrong! A good red wine is stored, or cellared, at approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees, depending on the alcohol content of the wine. Even if your wine is “two buck Chuck,” serving it at the right temperature gives it a 10 buck taste.
Warm red wine obscures the flavor and brings out the wine’s acidity. It also doesn’t taste very good, and you’ll quickly wonder why you paid so much money for a bottle of wine that tastes like mud. Think of a can of soda ‒ served chilled, it’s refreshing. But served warm ‒ it’s like drinking a glass of corn syrup. Chilling to the right temperature also preserves the wine, giving it a longer life in the bottle.
How Chilled Is Chilled?
Check the label on the bottle of red wine. If the alcohol content is in the 12 percent range, give it a good chill at 55F. The lighter red wines made from the gamay, grenache and zinfandel grapes respond well to a cooler temperature. A full-bodied red, such as wine from the cabernet sauvignon, merlot or malbec grape, with an alcohol content in the 14 percent range and full of the essences of fruit, can withstand a temperature of 65F.
If you don’t have a wine cooler, a simple trick is to put your red wine bottle into the refrigerator one hour before opening it. That’ll cool it down enough to be at a respectable temperature when poured. After opening, let it breathe a bit, or better yet, decant the bottle into a carafe. This aerates the wine, getting the flavors moving.
Drinking Red Wine Properly
Red wine is drunk out of wide-mouth glasses on purpose. More of the wine is exposed to air, further mellowing its taste. And show your wine prowess by never holding the glass by the bowl. Your hand warms the liquid gold inside, negating all that refrigeration. Instead, wrap your hand gently around the stem and sip like a pro.
Chilling Whites and Roses
While red wine temperatures vacillate up the Fahrenheit scale, it’s the opposite for whites and roses. A California chardonnay or a chardonnay that’s been aged in California or American oak, which is thicker in consistency, should be chilled to 54F. French oak barrels leave the chardonnay less “jammy,” and the wine can be served at 52F.
Roses, regardless of where they are grown and bottled, drink best at 50F, giving the liquid pink stuff a nice, crisp taste. The same goes for the thin pinot grigio. A beautiful dry Riesling, from the United States, France or Germany, pours best at 43‒46F, which can be achieved with 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
Pouring Sparkling Wines
Champagne and other sparkling wines should be served at 47‒50F. Any cooler and you lose the flavor to the chill, and your taste buds go numb. A warmer temperature obliterates the sparkle in sparkling wine.
If you chill it in the refrigerator, place the bottle horizontally on the shelf and let it cool for no longer than 4 hours. And don’t use chilled glasses when serving sparkling wines. They work against those tiny bubbles, and those bubbles are what’s tickling pink about sparkling wine!