What with the frigid weather in New York, I’ve been thinking a lot about temperature lately. Wine, like people, wants to live within a narrow temperature range. I often get questions about the right temperature for wine storage, but the more pressing question for most of us is the ideal temperature for serving wine. Too cold, and the flavors are muted; too warm, and the alcohol runs roughshod on your palate. This is one of the reasons why I avoid drinking wine at bars — a bottle of white straight from the fridge, or a bottle of red at overheated bar temp do not make for pleasant drinking experiences.
Yes, white wine should be cold — but probably not as cold as you think. A good rule of thumb is to take the bottle out 10-20 minutes before you’re going to drink it, depending on the kind of wine. (The one exception here is sparkling wine, which is at its brightest and bubbliest right out of the refrigerator.) Crisp, high acidity, lighter bodied wines that are all about refreshment — Sauvignon Blancs or northern Italian whites, for example — are better on the cooler side, say from 45-50 degrees. Heavy chilling is also a great way to mask flavors in case you’re stuck with a mediocre bottle. Fuller bodied wines like California Chardonnay, white Burgundy, or whites from the northern Rhone show best when they’re a bit warmer, for example between 55-60 degrees. Cold mutes smells and flavors, and since these wines aren’t intensely aromatic, they need to be warmed up a bit to show off their character. Feel free to cup the wine glass in your hands and swirl to warm up the wine if it still seems a little shy.
For reds, try sticking them in the fridge 10-20 minutes before drinking. This is especially important in winter, when many of us crank up the heat. The idea of serving a red wine at room temperature comes from an era when room temperature was closer to 65 than the toasty 75 or so where we like to keep the thermostat now. As with whites, lighter, higher acidity wines, like Beaujolais, a lot of Loire reds, Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Lagrein, Zweigelt and the like, really shine when they’re cool, as in 60 degrees or so. More complex and tannic wines taste better when they’re a bit warmer, closer to 65 degrees.
With both the whites and the reds I encourage you to play around with this. Experiment, and see what temperature makes the wine tastes best. And by temperature, I mean time in or out of the fridge. No need to invest in one of those wine thermometers — I usually discourage people from buying fussy wine accoutrements. One of the few exceptions: a temperature controlled cellar unit if, like me, you don’t have a cool place for long-term wine storage. And by cool I mean somewhere in the range of 50-60 degrees.
And, finally, a temperature-related programming note: I’ll be in Puerto Rico in vacation next week. It’s my goal to do a video or two while I’m there, including a mini tasting tutorial, but expect the pace of posting to be light.