The lights are dim, the music low when the waiter brings a bottle of expensive red wine to the table. He’s cradling it like a baby and gushing about the exquisite choice of Bordeaux as he ceremoniously turns the corkscrew, removes the cork and passes it around for an educated sniff. Without waiting for a response, a tasting glass is filled for final approval. His self-satisfied smirk is erased in a nano-second as the glass is returned with a knowing shake of the head. The tangy, acidic taste of what should have been a wine that’s smooth with a hint of fruit means only one thing: the bottle’s been “cooked.”
Restaurants that display wine selections in racks spread around the dining room and then serve a bottle directly from that rack are doing it wrong. What you’re getting is a pricey bottle of wine that’s not been cared for and prepared for serving. Send it back.
Let’s start by demystifying the terms "room temperature" and "cellar temperature" when it comes to chilling wine. Wine caves and storage vaults are kept at anywhere between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is predicated on the type of wine being stored. Room temperature is just that – the temperature of the room or the store in which the wine is kept. Aim for cellar temperature to assure drinking the wine at its best.
And a note to those who add ice cubes to the wine: you’re paying for it, so chill light white wine or rose to your taste. Just don’t muck up the care that went into producing a high-quality, full-bodied red! If it's not chilled properly, you're not getting what you paid for.
The Right Temperature
The serving temperature of red, white, rose and sparkling wines relates to the science of maturing wine in a bottle. The consistent thread is that all should be served at or near specific temperatures. The proper way to chill and then serve wine could be considered its own rocket science.
Determining the correct temperature for a wine doesn’t involve popping the cork or performing invasive surgery on the bottle. Touch it. If it feels cool, that’s a good start. But if a thermometer is a must, use an instant digital thermometer which can read through a bottle.
Light-Bodied Red Wine
The light-bodied beaujolais, French pinot noirs, gamays and grenache wines all benefit from a bit of cooling. Chilling at 50 to 55 degrees is ideal. Not only does the chill bring out the freshness of the fruit inside the bottle, the tannins that give the wine its complexity are maintained and consistent.
Full-Bodied Red Wine
Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec are popular full-bodied red wines on the market today. Whether the wine coats the inside of the mouth with jammy flavors or makes the lips pucker, the blending of full-bodied red wine is just the beginning of the taste sensation. Serving it properly is the best way to appreciate the wine inside.
Sixty to 65 degrees is the ideal temperature for full-bodied reds. Cooler or warmer affects the flavor, tannin and acid structures, sending all the money paid for the bottle down the drain. If a digital exterior thermometer is not available, take a room-temperature bottle of the red wine, uncork it and chill it in the refrigerator for one hour before serving.
Full-Bodied White Wine
White bordeaux, pouilly-fuisse, viognier, oaked chardonnay and chenin blanc are just a few of the whites that exude a buttery taste. The more full-bodied, the more buttery. Fruit and nuts are prominent, and the right chill brings out the flavors and complexity of the wine. A wine that has been oaked, especially in French oak, has rich textures and deeply aromatic flavors, making the right chill an important component to the taste.
A light chill of between 50 and 55 degrees allows the fruit taste to emerge. Higher temperatures give the wine a thicker, syrupy taste, and a cooler chill hides the flavors and brings out the acid.
Light White, Roses and Sparkling Wine
There’s not much difference in the serving temperature for the light whites, roses and sparkling wines. Cooling to between 43 and 50 degrees makes the taste refreshing and preserves the balance of the blend. Pinot grigio, rose, cava, prosecco and sauvignon blanc all benefit from a good chill.
A general rule of thumb for chilling dessert wines is to chill the whites, such as sauternes, and serve port or sherry at cellar temperature. And, don’t chill the glasses – your dessert wine may end up tasting like the leftovers in the refrigerator.
As with all wine glasses, hold the glass by its stem. Wrapping a hand around the bowl heats the wine inside, counteracting the chill and throwing off the delicate taste.
- Vinfolio: A Guide to the Perfect Wine Cellar Temperature: Finding Your Cellar’s Goldilocks Setting
- Uncorking Character: Full-Bodied, Dry White Wines
- Wine Spectator: How to Serve Wine 101: Tips on the Perfect Serving Temperature
- Decanter: What Temperature to Serve White Wine
- C/Net: Slip-on Wine Thermometer Assures a Good Time