Recently when I was called upon to organize wine service for Ambassadors of 15 countries at the annual anniversary dinner of a luxury wine magazine, I knew that the task was not simple. With each Ambassador bringing in wines from his/her respective country, the proposition was much like a doting parent going that extra mile to ensure the best foot forward for his ward! Even the slightest temperature variation would be noticed and decanting where due, had to be religiously done. To top it- one of the envoys had instructed to chill his wine 2°C-below the generally accepted norm, to accommodate the peak summer season. This brought me to factor-in even the ambient temperature of the glasses, some of which were laid out in non air conditioned spaces prior to serving.
Wine serving temperature is a hot (or rather chilled) topic of discussion amongst oenophiles. Slightest high temperature and the wine seems more alcoholic, flaccid and uninspiring. A little too cold and it could be closed enough to be called unwelcoming. So is there a ‘just right’ serving temperature for each kind of wine? Or probably a safe range? Read on.
It’s no faux pas if you’ve ever called for an ice bucket for your red wine :When a red is served too warm, a few minutes submerged in ice and water will bring it down to an acceptable temperature—for the record, usually between 14°C and 18°C.
If you serve wine at the wrong temperature, you can destroy its fragile aroma compounds, affecting the taste. It isn’t an exact science, though—as with all aspects of wine, personal preference comes into it. But it is definitely not as simple as ‘warm a red and chill a white’.
Such is the range of styles, from light, crisp Sauvignon Blanc to heavy, rustic Shiraz, that you can’t make a one-size-fits-all prescription when it comes to temperature. Each grape variety behaves differently. But there are a few ground rules.
An average household refrigerator will chill a bottle of wine down to 5°C in a few hours. As a rule of thumb, all sparkling wines, light, crisp and aromatic white wines—Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Vinho Verde and Soave—and pale rosés should be served straight from the fridge, between 5°C and 8°C. If you find this too cold, you can always warm the glass by cupping it in your hand. If the bottle is too cold, put it in a bucket of warm water for 10 minutes. If it isn’t cold enough, submerge it in ice and water for around 10 minutes—this will chill it much more quickly than a fridge.
More medium-bodied white wines, such as white Burgundy, Chardonnay, Sémillon, white Rioja and Viognier, and light, refreshing reds like Beaujolais, Chinon, fruity Pinot Noirs and Lambrusco, are best at 10°C to 15°C. This can be achieved by refrigerating the wine for around 1½ hours and then bringing it out of the fridge for a further 15 minutes before serving.
Heavy reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz are best served at cellar temperature, 14°C to 18°C. Any cooler and you begin to mute the aromas and accentuate the tannins; not pleasant. If this happens in a restaurant, you can ask for a bucket of warm water to take the chill off—you may get some strange looks, but it’ll be worth it.