Have you ever thought eccentric, the people who spend millions constructing wine cellars to ensure their wines are stored correctly? They would argue that wine is a living thing, and requires proper storage to ensure longevity. The temperature that a wine is stored at, and served, greatly influences the drinker's experience. You could store a wine in a warehouse, exposed to fluctuating temperatures for days on end, serve it at the perfect temperature, and be completely disappointed―bad storage conditions can have a major detrimental effect on the quality of wine.
Most people are aware of the old adage that teaches you to serve white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature, and that's as good a place as any, to start. Theoretically completely correct, it doesn't however take into account that 'room temperature' is more than a little vague, and will differ considerably in different parts of the world.
More often than not, there is a tendency to serve red wines too warm, and white wines too cold. Not only will this dull the aroma and suppress the bouquet, it could also completely alter the flavor profile of the wine. If you have access to a wine refrigerator, your way forward is simple. However, for those who don't, listed below are recommended serving temperatures for red, white, and sparkling wines.
The first thing to understand is that, even within the category of red wines, there will be some that will benefit from higher or lower temperatures outside the stereotypical range. On the whole, the concept of serving at room temperature is applicable to red wines in general. Room temperature here, is actually better equated to the temperature of a wine cellar, and the range that is acceptable is generally between 14 °C to 18 °C, though some young fruity reds will taste best at even lower than that range.
On the whole, it's better to serve a wine cooler rather than warm, since you could always warm the wine glass between your palms. The following is a guide to further narrow down the recommended serving temperatures for different red wines.
- Full bodied Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz) 16 °C to 18 °C
- Medium bodied Reds (Grand Cru Burgundy, Sangiovese) 14 °C to 17 °C
- Light bodies, young reds (Beaujolais) 12 °C to 13 °C
While white wines are commonly perceived to taste best when chilled, too low a temperature can cause light, fresh aromas to be suppressed. Chilling to the correct degree will enhance the bouquet, which is an integral part of wine drinking. The best method to follow is to chill whites in a lower shelf of your refrigerator about an hour before serving.
As in the case of red wines, certain whites, especially the dry white wine varieties, will taste better at lower temperatures than the regular range, typically between 8 °C and 12 °C. The following is a rule of thumb for white wine.
- Light bodied whites (Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc) 8 °C to 12 °C
- Medium bodied whites (Viognier, Chablis) 10 °C to 12 °C
- Full bodied whites (Oaked Chardonnay) 12 °C to 14 °C
Sparkling wines are again best served chilled, maybe a shade cooler than young whites, in the range of 6 °C to 10 °C. Certain sweet sparkling varieties like Asti Spumantes can also tolerate lower temperatures like 5 °C, without compromising on bouquet. To get the best out of your bubbly, chill well, let it stand for about 15 minutes before serving. For a more wine specific guide, take a look at the temperature suggestions below.
- Light sweet sparkling wines (Trockenbeerenauslese, Sauternes) 6 °C to 9 °C
- White sparkling wines (Champagne) 6 °C to 8 °C
- Red Sparkling wines (sparkling Shiraz) 10 °C to 12 °C
On the whole, it's better to serve a wine too cold, rather than too warm, and it's easier and better to warm a chilled wine, rather than the reverse. As far as possible, avoid temperature shocking, since abrupt fluctuations can destroy the delicate structure of the wine, and ruin the flavor profile that a wine maker has persevered to preserve. Also, wine is such a subjective topic, that personal preferences will dictate your choice, and help you arrive at what serving temperature works best for you.