For novice wine drinkers, there’s so much to consider when selecting and enjoying wine (price, varietal, food pairings) that serving temperature usually falls off the list completely. The familiar adage goes something like this: Whites are served chilled and reds are best at room temperature. End of story, right?
While there’s nothing wrong with serving whites chilled and reds at room temperature, it’s also important to understand why we serve some wines cooler than others, and to account for styles like Rosé.
The good news is learning about serving temperature is fairly simple once you understand a few basic ideas, and you don’t need a fancy wine cellar to do it either.
Why Temperature Matters
The temperature of wine affects two major characteristics: aroma and taste. Serve a full-bodied red too warm and even the most expensive bottle will taste inky and overbearing. Serve an affordable rosé at the right temperature and it can rival a German Riesling.
For chilled wines, there are two principles that outline temperature neatly: 1) The cooler a wine gets, the less fragrant it is; and 2) low temperatures accentuate tannin and acidity.
Correspondingly, there are two principles that generally govern reds: 1) Warm temperatures release a more fragrant aroma; and 2) warm temperatures subdue tannin and acidity.
With these four points it’s easy to visualize a temperature spectrum, and how each degree can change the unique nuances of aroma and taste.
On the far end of our spectrum, sparkling wines and Champagne should be served ice cold or between 40 and 50 degrees. Most refrigerators are cool enough to achieve this ideal temperature. If the wine has been sitting out, it will take more than four hours to chill it thoroughly before drinking.
Sweet white wines including Riesling, Moscato and Gewürztraminer should also be chilled to about the same temperature (40 to 50 degrees), which will help keep the aromas in balance with their naturally sweet flavor.
Next on the spectrum are zesty, dry whites, like Pinot Grigio, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc. At a respectable chill between 45 and 55 degrees, these wines will benefit from the slight temperature increase, which opens the bouquet and balances the acidity that plays on the palate. If not refrigerated, plan on at least two hours in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. Full-bodied whites like oak-aged Chardonnay and Viognier are also served at this temperature.
Rosé is a dynamic and refreshing wine that ranges from dry to sweet and from brilliant blush to light salmon. Rosé is also made with a variety of grapes including Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and, of course, White Zinfandel.
Some people serve Rosé ice cold, which may be more preference than a hard rule. Generally speaking, Rosé is best served at between 50 and 60 degrees. On a cool spring day this may mean room temperature, but during the summer, this could mean an hour or so is needed in the refrigerator.
Light red wines like Pinot Noir and Brachetto are great as they are if pulled from a wine cellar (if you’re lucky enough to have one), which are usually set to about 55 degrees. If the wine seems too cool, just cup the wine glass in your hand for a few moments to help warm it. If it’s a warm day, you may want to pop the bottle into the refrigerator for no more than an hour to bring it down to temperature.
Medium-bodied reds including wine varietals Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Merlot can be served deliciously anywhere between 59 and 69 degrees. Rarely will these wines need to be chilled in a refrigerator; a cool, dark place will do just as well. Avoid storing these wines near a hot kitchen stove or in direct sunlight and the wine should be ready when you are.
At the other end of our spectrum are the full, tannic reds. There’s a long list of grapes that fall into this category; some of the more popular varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Malbec and Tempranillo. These wines are rich, bold and tannic, known for their complex aromas and bouquet. The ideal serving temperature of these wines is between 63 and 69 degrees, and will likely never need refrigeration if kept in a cool, dark place. Also, be sure to hold your glass by its stem; these wines can easily warm beyond 69 degrees if cupped too often in the hand.
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