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Wine temperature - Five simple rules

There is a lot of talk about the correct temperature to serve wine.  And yes, it does matter, or perhaps better stated, it does make a difference.  I'm talking about serving temperature, as opposed to storage temperature, and remember “tasting” wine is primarily about smelling wine.  Much like our favorite food aromas, we taste wine by smelling the wide variety of fruit, floral, earth, herbs, spice, and nut aromas that we smell in wine.

Without getting too complicated, the basic reason that the temperature at which a wine is served matters is that the higher the temperature, the greater the amount of the liquid that is volatilized, meaning converted from a liquid to a gas.  The vapor pressure of wine at 68 degrees Fahrenheit is four times what it is at 32 degrees, significantly increasing your ability to smell and “taste” the wine.  A simple way to test this is to put a bottle of Chardonnay in the freezer and leave it there for an hour.  Take it out and quickly pour yourself a glass.  I can pretty much guarantee that other than a little acidity, it will taste a lot like water.  Let the same wine warm for an hour and taste it a second time.  You will have a completely different experience!

So why then don't we serve wine at 80 degrees?  In addition to aromas another component of wine that increases in volatility with an increase in temperature is alcohol.  Wine that is served too warm will quickly be overpowered with the smell of alcohol, and any chance of the more delicate aromas coming through will be dashed.

So how do you know the right temperature to serve a wine?  Here are 5 simple, easy to remember rules.

1)      Red wines low 60's – Red wines are best served from 60?F – 65?F.  You will frequently hear references to serve red wine at “room temperature” but this rule of thumb originated centuries ago when homes were heated much less than they are today.  If you keep your house at 72?F you will need to chill your red wine.  The bigger the red wine (Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Syrah) move toward the higher end of the temperature range.  Lighter red wines (Pinot Noir, Burgundies, Merlot) are best on the lower end of the range.  One notable exception - Beaujolais Nouveau, the famous Gamay wine from France, is released soon after a short fermentation and should be served well chilled (50?F - 55?F).

2)      White wines low 50's - Depending on the white wine this is a general rule.  Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, Pinot Grigio may do well in the upper 40's but we're looking for generalities so low 50's will do.

3)      Sparkling wines low 40's – Sparkling wines relies more on the mouth feel than aromas.  The colder the better.

4)      When in doubt serve the wine cooler, it is much easier to have a glass of wine warm up in the hands of your guests than it is to cool it further

5)      Regardless of 1-4, the best way to serve a wine is the way you like it!

If you find yourself with a bottle of wine in need of a rapid cool down, here are some suggestions.

  • The fastest way by far to chill a bottle of wine is submerge it in an ice bucket.  To supercharge this add a third of a cup of salt to the mixture of ice and water, and slowly stir the water.  Salt causes ice to melt at a lower temperature, chilling the water faster, and gently stirring the water allows more water to come into contact with the bottle.  Put all of these together and you will have lowered the temperature of a bottle of wine by 20? F or more in 5 minutes.
  • Use the commercial wine chiller at your wine shop.  Devices like the Wine Well Chiller®
    Wine Well Chiller
    Wine Well Chiller
    can chill a bottle of wine in as little as 3-4 minutes.
  • Put it in the freezer.  This does work but requires more time and attention.  Remember that water is 860 times denser than air so it will cool much faster.  Chilling a wine in the freezer will usually take around 15 minutes.
  • Put it in the refrigerator.  As with the freezer, this will work however proper chilling can take 2-3 hours depending on the beginning temperature of the wine and the temperature in the fridge.
  • Try a Corkcicle.  Yes, it is very gimmicky but they do actually work.
  • Ice cubes.  Please do yourself and your guests a favor – never, never, never put ice cubes directly into a glass of wine.  The wine will become overly chilled and diluted with water. 

Serving wine at the proper temperature gives wine its best chance to strut its stuff.  As always try experimenting with different wines to see the difference, and hone your preferences.  Enjoy!

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