The serving temperature of wine is the subject of this part of our wine 101 guide…
The serving temperature of wine is important, so it’s worth learning about. The old adage that white wines should be served chilled and red wines at room temperature is a useful place to start, but you really need to know more than that.
Most of refrigerators maintain a temperature of about 4 degrees, and this is much too cold for most white wines. Dry white wines and Champagne of quality are best served at a temperature of around 7 degrees and 11 degress (sometimes even a little higher). Placing white wine in the fridge for an hour prior to serving it will let it to achieve the right temperature, though it can be served right away if it’s been stored in a cellar. Inexpensive white wines, cheaper sparkling wines and sweet white wines are best a little colder, possibly 4 degrees to 8 degrees, so two hours or so should bring these bottles down to a reasonable temperature.
As with white wines, red wines also need to be chilled. Lots of people say that red wine should be served at ‘room temperature’ but this no longer applies now that houses are centrally heated and insulated. The optimal serving temperature for most fine red wines is perhaps 14 degrees to 18 degrees, somewhat cooler than modern houses, although this was a common temperature inside in centuries gone by. Therefore, many reds, unless stored somewhere suitably cool, will benefit from being placed in a fridge for around 30 minutes.
When bringing wine to the correct temperature, it’s important not to damage the wine. Gentle cooling in the fridge is best, with cooling in a bucket of water and ice also being a good option. It will have the effect of bringing the wine down to 0 degrees, which is far too cold to fully appreciate the wine, so you’ll need to remove the bottle before it gets this far. If trying to warm a bottle which is too cold, there is a more significant risk of damaging the wine. Warm the wine gently, preferably by looking forward and bringing the wine from its cool storage area (whether it be a fridge or a cellar) several hours earlier.
Always err on the side of caution if you’re unsure about what temperature to serve wine at; going for too cold rather than too warm. Wines like that will quickly warm up in the glass, maybe even releasing pleasant aromas as it does so. You can place your hand around the body of a glass to warm wine, however, there’s no way of cooling a wine that has been served too warm.
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