I preach this to the Wine School’s students every chance I get, but since there are readers of the School’s blog who I haven’t yet had the chance to meet, it bears repeating: Few things ruin a wine-drinking experience like the wrong serving temperature.
Now, we all know that serving temp is a very personal thing. I, for example, like my whites a bit warmer than average and my reds a bit cooler. But there is a finite range of temperatures at which wine can best strut its stuff. And these days, even some of the city’s best restaurants aren’t doing it right. So it’s time for a primer.
First, red wine should not be served at room temperature. 72-degree reds will taste like a particularly toxic combination of grape jelly and cheap vodka. When a red is too warm, the fruit tastes cooked, the alcohol becomes too prominent, and any sense of balance that was once present will be thrown completely out of whack.
Essentially, you have two options: Take a ride to Sam’s Club or Costco and pick up one of those handy little wine refrigerators. A 35-bottle model will run you less than $300 and keep your wine at a constant temperature of 50 – 55 degrees. They’re not great for long-term cellaring, but for most people’s purposes, they’re great. I keep all my reds at 55 degrees and find that they’re just about perfect after having been in the glass for a mere 5 or 10 minutes.
As for whites, the opposite problem is most common: Serving them at too cool a temperature. When whites are too cold, much of their flavor and aroma will be diminished, leading to a rather boring wine-drinking experience. I find that lighter whites like Pinot Grigio are best 5 or 10 minutes after I’ve taken them from the fridge, and fuller-bodied ones like California Chardonnays show the most after 15 or 20 minutes outside the fridge. But it’s a personal thing, and your best bet is to experiment to see what’s most appealing to you.
As for restaurants, a shockingly high number of them serve their wines at inappropriate temperature extremes. But don’t be bullied: If your bottle of red is too warm, don’t be embarrassed to ask for a bucket of ice. And if your bottle of white is too cold, ask the waiter or sommelier for an extra bread plate and napkin on which to rest your wine while giving it a break from its ice bath.
In the end, wine is all about pleasure, and serving temperature is a major part of that. Experiment to see what’s most pleasurable for you. The better you understand your own wine-drinking preferences, the more you’ll enjoy yourself every time you open up a bottle.