We all want our wines to be showing their best when we drink them, expressing every aroma and flavor they possess. Given a decent wine glass, nothing affects this more than the serving temperature. Now, you don’t have to keep a thermometer on hand, measuring each glass, just follow a few simple guidelines and you can easily increase the enjoyment of all the wines you’re drinking.
The coldest wines you want to serve are sparkling wines. Refrigerator temperature is fine for most; the cold can keep a refreshing note to the high acidity in many of these wines and also helps to extend the carbonation in the glass. Riesling is another wine that’s nice fairly cold, again the high acidity is in play here. I like them a bit warmer than the sparkling wines, so let them warm up a pinch straight from the refrigerator.
For fuller-bodied whites, serve them “cool, not cold,” and you’ll find that the wines show a much more vibrant expression. This works wonders with Chardonnay, Viognier, Gruner Veltliner, and especially finer wines, as the complexity really comes out. Since extreme cold mutes flavors, one interesting thing to try is to allow a glass of white to reach room temperature and taste it. If it’s a decent wine, it won’t taste bad at all, and poorly made wines will taste downright awful. The lack of a chill exposes their flaws, revealing bad flavors, and with champagne, you’ll be surprised to find how much residual sweetness is really in the wine.
Serve rosé at the same temperature you would for the fuller whites, cool, but not too cold. If the wine has really bright, tart acidity, then you can go a bit colder, especially on a hot day when you want to offer some refreshment.
For the red wines, the thinking is the same, wanting to express all the aspects of the wine and keeping their components in balance. In this case think “cool, not warm.” Room temperature has been the standard rule for reds, but room temperatures vary for everyone, especially in different seasons. Personally, I don’t serve reds as cold as some of the recommendations I see out there. Some of the charts have listings in the high 50s and low 60s. Frankly, I don’t think the wine needs to be that chilly.
If you are drinking wine in your house and it’s in the low to mid 70s, you’re fine. Where you have to watch is when it’s a warm day outside. If you are enjoying some red wine outdoors, on your patio, deck, in your backyard or on your boat, and it’s pushing 80 degrees or above, you really don’t want the wine to be that warm. How do you know? If the wine feels heady and hot in an alcoholic sense, or if you are losing fruitiness in the wine, it’s probably too warm. You’ll definitely get this feeling in full-bodied, very ripe reds like California Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Australian Shiraz. One great solution is to take an ice bucket, or even a saucepan, and fill it with cold tap water. Keep the bottle submerged and just replace the water as necessary, actual ice can be too cold.
It’s best to keep Pinot Noir cooler than you would for the aforementioned reds, and it’s worth knowing that some reds truly excel with a good chill, especially in summer. These are light and fruity reds from cooler regions. Beaujolais is wonderful, as are reds from the Loire Valley in France, like Cabernet Franc, and wines from the northern, mountainous regions of Italy. Let the climate and the style of wine be your guide, if you’ve got a light-bodied red with bright acidity and a crisp fruitiness, giving it a chill will keep those fruit flavors nice and fresh.
Michael Amendola is wine director at The Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff, www.villagewinemerchant.com.