Serve to taste: Finding the wine temperature that's just right

white wine in a glassMy aunt puts ice in her wine. Yes, I’m actually related to someone who carelessly commits the eighth deadly sin. Watering down a perfectly good glass of vino is like injecting an extra bass line into the perfect song or adding water to a carefully seasoned soup. It just ain’t right to tarnish the dignity of the vine. It would be preferable to wait 30 minutes while the wine chills in the freezer (or in an ice bath), go without, or drink a sugary soda. Step away from the wine, ice-wielding people.

I admit that I understand the need. Ages ago, the French decided at what temperature wine should be consumed. But I’m not sure why we still listen to them. We’re Americans and thus good at breaking rules. Drink wine at whatever temperature tastes good to you (except, of course, over ice). Joe, my wine-worshipping finance friend, chills his reds and swears they’re better cold. I don’t necessarily agree, although he’s onto something — most reds are served far too warm in restaurants and in most homes. If you drink any wine too hot, the overpowering alcohol and not-so-subtle oak will hit you before any of the intended fruit finesses.

But the opposite is equally ruinous … too much chill can kill any flavor, or accent the bitter acids and tannins. I’ve tried the same chardonnay at several different temperatures, hating it first when the over-chill made it steely and bland, but liking it as it warmed up, when the butter, peach and vanilla blossomed. Basically, it’s like cheap beer — drink it colder when you fear the flavor.

If you want to go by the book, the best serving temperature for most white wines falls between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, but some higher-end chardonnays (those not afraid of being naked at higher temperatures) drink better between 58-62 degrees. Champagnes, sparkling wines, rosés, and dessert whites need a slightly cooler temperature: 42-46 degrees. There are wine thermometers for the sticklers, but I just go by taste. The juice will speak to you.

For bigger reds, most people advise serving at “room temperature,” but read the fine print: This phrase was defined according to the air in French wine cellars … between 60 and 65 degrees. Most Americans keep their homes around 72 degrees — a bit warm by classic standards. To maximize your red wine experience, place it in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before you serve it. Lighter reds like pinot noir benefit even more from some cooler time, but, frankly, I normally don’t have the patience. Call me a lazy, I-want-it-now hedonist.

Here’s an exercise to find your sweet spot. Chill a bottle of red or white in the fridge for several hours (or better yet, freak out a waiter by asking for an ice bucket with your red). Open the bottle right after it emerges shivering from the cold depths and pour a glass. Taste it, then taste again every 10 minutes while it warms up, remarking the different flavors that emerge.

Everyone is different, so don’t let anyone tell you what tastes best to you. Drink up, but please lose the cubes.
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1 comment to Serve to taste: Finding the wine temperature that’s just right

  • rishi ramkissoon

    Hmm I think some restaurants in Tampa need to learn serving temperatures. I had one popular place serve me and my date a Ste Michelle Blancs de Noirs that was only as cool as what one would keep a red (60 degrees). Incidentally once the cork was popped 1/3 of the bottle erupted all over the table; by the time my requested ice bucket came, we had finished what was left of the warm juice, minus any bubbles. Yep I paid full price!
    So not only should you serve wines at the right temperature, but you should know about wines themselves so you can spot and replace bad juice before the customer has to point it out

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