Paul Howard Articles, Blog, Wine Tasting

Wine serving temperature

Serving Temperature – What’s Ideal For My Wine?

I’m often asked, “What’s the ideal serving temperature for my wine?”  That’s usually followed up with, “And how best to achieve it?”

Both questions are important because the serving temperature affects a wine’s smell and taste. Getting that right heightens drinking pleasure immensely.

Every wine has its Goldilocks zone.

A common suggestion is to “serve at room temperature”. To be kind, this is of no value. It originated in past times when houses were typically (like mine was) draughty, cold and heated by fireplaces. Sometimes, they were only fractionally warmer than the cellar. Homes were undoubtedly cooler than modern homes, where central heating and insulation give a room temperature of around 23 °C, which is far too warm for wine.

Fortunately, the principles for serving temperature are simple, thanks to a combination of physics and human physiology:

  • The colder the wine, the less it will smell and taste, and vice-versa;
  • Cool temperatures emphasise acidity and tannin, while warmer temperatures minimise them;
  • It’s much easier to warm a wine up than chill it down.

These apply to any wine, regardless of expense or provenance. Hence, you can maximise the enjoyment of cheap wine or spoil an expensive one.

The following are guidelines for different wine styles, not rules. If you prefer your wines served differently than those suggested here, that’s okay!

Guidelines

The more naturally aromatic wine, the cooler it can be served. Aromatic whites include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat. Treat Rosés like white wine. Reds could include lighter Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Pinot Noir. Bardolino could also be included.

Sparkling wines are usually better at low temperatures because cooling enhances acidity and slows down the release of carbon dioxide bubbles. This reduces frothing and means the bubbles last longer. However, I prefer Prestige and Vintage Champagne with only a light chill to do justice to the expected nuances of aromas and flavours.

Full-bodied or oaked whites have larger flavour molecules that are less volatile, so they can be served warmer. Hence, White Burgundy sings best at about 14 °C. Conversely, chilling flabby wine will taste markedly better to enhance its acidity.

Young and full-bodied reds contain larger molecules, including tannins. Hence, they are frequently bitter and tannic when served too cool. They are generally much improved by being served warmer. Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Tannat and Malbec are all examples. However, above 20 °C, aromas and alcohol are lost to evaporation, so 18 °C is a practical upper limit.

Most sweet wines benefit from being chilled, which balances acidity and sweetness.

Please keep it simple.

Let’s not overcomplicate the subject. Below is a rough guide. These are guidelines rather than rules, as every wine and wine-drinker is unique! More importantly, you are the judge, and enjoying wine is always about personal taste.

If in doubt, serve the wine on the cooler side of its normal zone and then allow it to warm up in the glass naturally. You can encourage this by cupping your hands around the glass and discovering the changes in flavours as the wine warms, with new nuances of aroma and flavour potentially exposed.

 

Wine Serving Temperature

Wine Style Temperature (℃) Fridge Time (hours)
WHITE Light/Sweet 6-10 4
Light/Dry/Aromatic 8-12 2
Full/Dry 12-14 1
Full/Sweet 8-12 2
ROSÉ As for WHITE
RED Light/Soft 10-12 1.5
Medium - -
Full/Tannic - -
SPARKLING White/Rosé 6-10 4
Red 10-12 1.5

For “Orange wines”, follow the guidance for red wines and, if in any doubt, avoid chilling.

Practicalities

So, having established some rough serving temperatures, there are various ways of achieving them, both good and bad.

Because water conducts heat more efficiently than air, methods that employ water are frequently the quickest and the most successful.

What about a thermometer? It’s not essential, as there’s no need for super-accuracy. I have one, but like most wine gadgets, it collects dust in the kitchen drawer. If you decide to buy one, then choose the traditional thermometer type. Those thermometers based on metal bands that fit around the bottle rarely fit correctly, so they tend to be inaccurate.

Chilling 

Ice Bucket—the classic rapid chill. Tip: You don’t need much ice, as cold water is essential. Ensure that most of the bottle is immersed.

Fridge. It is generally safe but requires more time because it relies on air temperature. Similarly, an electric cool box may be helpful for portability. A Wine Cabinet is essentially a specialist fridge, sometimes with separate zones to keep wines at their optimal temperature. Those devices are arguably more about long-term storage than serving temperature.

Gel wrap. This inexpensive and efficient accessory can fit different-sized bottles, including Sparkling wines. Look for one that can warm wines.

Doorstep. This is often successful in the UK, though it relies on air temperature unless it has snowed. Envious neighbours may ask you who your milkman is.

River/sea. Was there a better way for a summer picnic? Unfortunately, you’ll want to watch the water quality now! Ensure the bottle is tethered securely, leaving the cork in or screwcap on!

Put ice cubes in your glass. The main problem is that the wine becomes diluted as the ice melts. Snobs think it’s naff. It’s better than warm wine! If you like it, do it.

Corkcicle. This gel stick is kept in the freezer until needed and then inserted into an open bottle of wine to chill it. It sounds good but is useless. As Archimedes described in 250 BC, it displaces the wine out of the bottle. But you won’t cry Eureka when it’s all over your carpet.

Warming up

Use an ice bucket filled with lukewarm (not hot or boiling) water for gentle but rapid warming.

Gel wrap. Warm with lukewarm water only.

Hands. Cup the glass works a treat.

Destructive methods –  avoid!

Microwave. This is possibly the stupidest of all the daft online wine advice. You’ll cook the wine in seconds. Bottles with screwcaps, metal closures, or foil will spark, and Sparkling wines can explode! For TikTok influencers only, don’t forget the video.

Radiant Heat. For example, an open fire, radiator, direct sunshine, or hot kitchen are all ways to ruin wine with certainty. Please don’t use a candle either!

Freezer. Water expands as it freezes. You risk freezing the contents, and worse – the bottle can break, leaving shards of glass and frozen Alcopop!

And finally

Dull wines? Serving temperature is a great way to improve them, but it can’t enhance faulty wine. Hence, chill whites until they are senseless. Turn reds into mulled wine by simmering with sugar and spices in a pan.

I hope you find this article about serving temperature valuable! For more on how we taste wine, please see here.

 

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