Wine Serving Basics

Wine might just be the new “in” drink. In fact, recent increases in sales show that it’s become hugely popular, especially with younger consumers. This might have something to do with the way those great big wine glasses you see everywhere encourage people to enjoy a bigger pour, but it’s more likely that today’s foodies have come to realize what generations of gourmands have always known: Everything tastes better with the right glass of wine.

Of course, red and white wines only taste their best when they’re served at the proper temperature. Pour your favorite bottle too hot or too cold, and you’re likely to miss many of the complexities and notes that make each vintage and varietal special. Even if you’re not a card-carrying member the of the official wine world, you can enhance your enjoyment of wine by knowing the right temperature for serving and for long-term storage.

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To get started, it’s helpful to keep in mind a few rules of thumb to help you serve wine at the optimal temperature for enjoyment:

  • Red wines are traditionally served at room temperature. Keep in mind that Americans tend to keep their homes much warmer today than they did in the past. While the right room temperature for you may be a toasty 72 degrees, when it comes to your wine, it typically means something more along the lines of 60 to 65 degrees.
  • White and rosé wines are traditionally served lightly chilled. These wines taste best at a refreshing 50 to 60 degrees, but it should be noted that this is significantly warmer than your standard kitchen refrigerator. Your kitchen fridge is probably set somewhere between 36 and 40 degrees, which can dull some of the flavors of your favorite white.
  • Sparkling wines are traditionally served ice-cold. No matter what color your sparkling wine is — red, white or pink — these are the bottles that belong in your ice bucket to serve them at a brisk 40 degrees. They’re the only wines that belong in your standard refrigerator, where the colder temperatures will make the carbonation feel crisp on the palate instead of causing them to foam.

Because most wines are served at temperatures warmer than your standard food refrigerator, a dedicated wine cooler is the best way to make sure you have full control over the temperature of your wine before serving. Choose a dual-zone wine refrigerator to store both red and white at the perfect temperature for serving, and you’ll never have to guess again.

Wine Storage Basics

Regardless of the variety, color or age of your wine, experts recommend storing wine at a cool 55 degrees — the same temperature the earth naturally is underground. That should come as no surprise since wine has been stored and aged for years in caves and cellars. You don’t have to build an official wine cellar in your basement to make this happen, though.

A wine refrigerator set at 55 degrees will provide the perfect temperature and humidity levels to ensure your wine ages gracefully, without worrying about dried corks or spoilage. A freestanding unit with adjustable wine racks will provide the most versatility and allow you to keep many bottles in a compact space for long-term storage.

Whether you plan to keep bottles for short-term storage or age them for several years, wine is best stored in the dark as well, since sunlight can degrade the flavors over time. For their reason, it’s a good idea to look for a cooling system or wine cabinet that offers UV protection for wine bottle storage.

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The Ideal Temperature for Every Varietal

For beginners and casual drinkers, the general guidelines above will allow you to store wine appropriately and sip it at the right temperature to maximize flavor and aroma. If you’re a real wine enthusiast, however, you may be ready to take a deeper dive into the world of temperature control for your wine. Oenophiles and sommeliers have spent years honing their skills to decide on the optimal temperatures for each and every bottle they work with, and their knowledge can be very helpful in getting your wine served perfectly every time. There are very fine shades of difference here, but sometimes a bit of perfectionism is what your wine requires to taste its best.

Fortified Wines and Antique Reds

Fortified wines like Port, Madeira and Sherry have a higher alcohol content because they have liquor added to them. This was a useful way to ensure they survived long sea voyages in the days before refrigeration since the heat of the boat hold would often spoil the wine. Whether sweet or dry, these complex wines traditionally endured high temperatures and are meant to drink fairly warm.

Ideal Temperature: 66 to 67 degrees

Full-Bodied Red Wines

The richest red wines are served the warmest to allow the palate to experience the full range of complexity as well as the texture — or mouthfeel — of the wine. These include Bordeaux, Shiraz/Syrah, Red Zinfandel, Cabernet and Burgundy grape varieties, whether singular or blended as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ideal Temperature: 64 to 65 degrees

Medium-Bodied Red Wines

As you move down the line from full-bodied red to their lighter, brighter sisters, the serving temperature drops to account for increased acidity and fruit flavors, which typically do well with a bit of chill. Medium reds like Merlot, Malbec, Grenache and Rioja fall into this category.

Ideal Temperature: 60 to 62 degrees

Light-Bodied Red Wines and Rosés

Though not light in color, these wines are lighter and “thinner” in texture, making them easy to drink and to pair with many foods. They’re a good choice for summertime red wine sipping, especially since they actually taste their best cooler than the traditional room temperature recommendation. Consider cooling varietals like Pinot Noir, Chianti, Barbera, Beaujolais, and all rosé wines before serving to enhance their flavors.

Ideal Temperature: 55 to 60 degrees

Full-Bodied White Wines and White Zinfandel

A rich, nearly creamy white wine is best served in the warm side, though this will still be cooler than you’d pour a full-bodied red. Wines in this category are Chardonnay, Viognier, Montrachet, and Sauternes. White Zinfandel also does well in this temperature range.

Ideal Temperature: 52 to 55 degrees

Medium-Bodied White Wines

Whether sweet or dry, white wine with a medium body contains slightly less alcohol than their full-bodied cousins, and their flavors won’t be dulled by the chill. Chablis and Riesling taste best on the cool side, though you may wish to treat a very sweet Riesling as a dessert wine and cool it even further to prevent a syrupy mouthfeel.

Ideal Temperature: 50 degrees

Light-Bodied White Wines

The lightest and most refreshing wines of all, these varietals are meant to be enjoyed cold to enhance their crispness and bright flavors. They work well with food but can also be enjoyed alone, especially when the temperatures heat up. Chill Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc well before serving for full enjoyment.

Ideal Temperature: 46 to 48 degrees

Sparkling Wines and Dessert Wines

When you want to bring on the bubbly, you need to chill it well. As explained above, cold temperatures keep carbonated drinks at their crisp, refreshing best, and dessert wines are equally well balanced by serving them cold to complement their rich sweetness. Champagne, Asti, Cava, Prosecco and any other very sweet fruit wine should be served nearly ice cold.

Ideal Temperature: 40 to 45 degrees

Managing Your Wine Cooler Temperature for Multiple Wines

Whether your favorite wines are from California, New Zealand or any of the hundreds of recognized wine regions around the world, it can be overwhelming to think about storing your collection at several different temperatures to get your serving exactly right. Most home wine drinkers are happy to relax and simply set a dual-zone wine cooler to 60 degrees for their reds and 50 degrees for their whites.

Still, if you are determined to drink each varietal and at its recommended temperature, you may find it easiest to use your dual-zone unit in a different way. Instead of storing reds and whites at the ideal temperature for drinking each one, consider setting one half of your wine fridge at 55 degrees for proper storage of everything, and moving the bottles you plan to serve at your next party into the “on deck” portion of your wine storage fridge the night before the event. This will allow you to adjust your cooler as needed to just the right temperature for serving only the bottles you plan to drink right away.

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The Bottom Line

Wine tasting can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it. If you prefer simply to pop a cork and relax with a glass of wine at dinner with little fuss, you can do that easily with some basic wine storage temperature knowledge. If part of the fun is treating your wine like a treasured antique — which it may well be! — and making sure you have the exact right wines glasses, accessories and know-how to serve it perfectly, that’s fine too. A little wine cooler temperature know-how will allow you to make informed choices about your wine before you store and serve it, allowing you to elevate your sipping experience every time you decide to partake. Feel free to experiment a bit with your own preferences so you can fine-tune your perfect serving temperature to make your taste buds happy.

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