Quick Guide: What’s the Best Temperature for Serving Wine?

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 What's the best serving temperature for wine?“Serve white wine chilled and red wine at room temperature.” So goes the conventional wisdom passed among casual wine drinkers when it comes to the best serving temperature for wine. Unfortunately, as any real wine lover can tell you, it’s only partially true. The truer, more correct answer to the question about wine serving temperature is, “It depends.”

Since that answer isn’t very helpful, this article will explain exactly what “it depends” on. If you’re interested in getting the best aromas and flavors from your wine, read on to learn about the many factors that affect ideal serving temperature, and use our Quick Guide to discover the best serving temperature for your personal favorites.

Storing Wine vs. Serving Wine

Previously in this blog, we have addressed the topic of wine storage, and how temperature affects the quality and taste of wine over time. The consensus among wine experts is that 55°F is the ideal temperature for a wine cooler or cellar, for storing both white and red wines. 55 degrees allows a gradual evolution in the chemical composition of the wine, so that it tastes its best when you’re ready to drink it.

When it comes to serving temperature, however, there is no such simple, one-size-fits-all answer. “Serve white wine chilled and red wine at room temperature” is a serviceable guideline, but just not specific enough to account for all the dimensions and subtleties of good wine. The right answer depends less on the color of the wine than on the specific characteristics of any given vintage. Getting it wrong can ruin your enjoyment of even the finest wine.

All about Wine and Temperature

Before you can decide the serving temperature for your wine, you need to understand what happens to wine at different temperatures, and what happens to our taste buds when they encounter warm versus cold substances. Did you know, for instance, that foods taste sweeter to us when they’re warm? The chemical volatility of the wine combined with our natural responses to hot or cold substances in our mouths can lead to entirely different taste sensations depending on the temperature of what we drink.

As wine is chilled, it becomes less aromatic and the taste of alcohol is less evident, but acids and tannins become more apparent in the flavor. Most red wines are already high in tannins and acids, so chilling only intensifies the bitter and astringent flavors. White wines and light-bodied red wines, however, benefit from the enhanced structure, and become crisp or zesty when chilled. The acidity tends to emerge as lemon or other citrus flavors that are favored in Chardonnay and other light white wines.

Red wine serving temperatureAt warmer temperatures, the wine’s aromas and flavors begin to open up, but acids and tannins evaporate. While this makes full-bodied red wines (heavy in acids and tannins) more palatable, lighter white and reds become “flabby” and without structure, so all you can taste is alcohol. Sweetness also increases with temperature – a dessert wine that tastes nicely sweet at 45°F may be overly cloying at 55°F.

Any wine that is served too warm will evaporate alcohol at a swift rate, leaving you with little more than fancy vinegar.  And sparkling wines that are served too warm lose carbon dioxide faster, leaving you with a flat, un-bubbly beverage.

Since different kinds of wine fall along a spectrum with regards to these characteristics – acidity, tannins, alcohol, sweetness – each kind of wine will have a different ideal temperature at which it tastes the best. Our Quick Guide below provides a general guideline for popular varietals, but since the characteristics of a wine can vary from region to region and year to year, you may not know what the best temperature is until you sample some. And, of course, your own personal preferences will have an impact as well. If you’re not sure which way your tastes run, experiment – try a sample from the same bottle chilled, and then after it’s had time to warm up a bit to discover for yourself how temperature affects taste.

Getting the Right Temperature

NewAir AW-211ED Dual Zone wine cooler
A dual zone wine cooler like the AW-211ED lets you store wine at the idea 55 degrees in one compartment, and keep whites chilled and ready to serve in the other.

Assuming you are storing your wine at 55°F, what’s the best way to get it to the right temperature for serving?  Dual-zone wine coolers offer the greatest flexibility for both storage and serving. Set one compartment to 55°F for long-term storage for both white and red wines, and for full-bodied reds you plan to drink soon. Set the second compartment to 45° for white or desert wines you plan to drink soon, or even colder for sparkling wines like Champagne.

If you don’t have a dual-zone cooler, or you need to fine tune serving temperatures before serving, here are some quick ways to quickly warm or cool down your wine.

If your wine is too cold:

Let it set out – wine warms up at 4-5°F per hour until it reaches the desired temperature.

Immerse it – rest the bottle in a bucket of warm (not hot!) water.

Decant it – heat from the decanter will naturally flow into the wine and warm it up.

Warm it with your hands – just holding the bowl of the glass in your hands will warm up the wine until it reaches the right temperature.

TIP: “Room temperature” is almost never the right temperature. Most of us keep our homes between 68°F and 77°F, which is about 10°F warmer than you want even the most full-bodied red to be.

If your wine is too warm:

How to chill white wineRefrigerate it – toss a bottle into the fridge or freezer for a short period. An hour for white or sparkling wines, and 10-20 minutes for red wine will usually do the job. Just don’t forget about it in the freezer or you could have a mess on your hands!

Ice it – immerse the bottle in a bucket of ice and cold water. You can even add salt to the mixture to intensify the cooling effect. DON’T add ice directly to the wine – you’ll just end up with watered-down wine.

TIP: It is better to start out with your wine too cold instead of too warm, since the moment you pour it in the glass it will start warming up.

Quick Guide: The Best Temperature for Serving Wine

WINE TYPE

FAHRENHEIT

CELSIUS

Typical room temperature

72°

22°

Vintage Port

66°

19°

Bordeaux, Shiraz

64°

18°

Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Burgundy

63°

17°

Pinot Noir, Merlot,  Rioja

61°

16°

Zinfandel, Chianti

59°

15°

Tawny/NV Port, Madeira

57°

14°

Ideal storage temp, red and white

55°

13°

Beaujolais, Rose

54°

12°

Viognier, Sauternes, Chablis

52°

11°

Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc

48°

Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc

47°

Champagne

45°

Ice Wines

43°

Asti Spumanti

41°

Standard refrigerator temp

35°

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