Before I started learning about wine and hosting wine tasting classes I used to store my white wines in the refrigerator door and my red wines on top of the fridge. This ensured that my whites were cold and my reds were room temperature. What more did I need to know? My basis for serving and drinking wine was white with white meat, served very, very cold and red with red meat and served room temperature or above. I generally didn’t appreciate white wine and red wine was just alright. I liked it but my partner, Sara, didn’t. She often got a heart burn sensation when drinking reds, and therefore often passed on any offered glass.
But as I started learning about wine I started to consider serving temperature. This came about before hosting one of my first wine tasting parties. I was trying to figure out how much time to chill the whites before the party and this led me to my first aha moment in my crazy journey with wine.
Let’s back up a bit. !Warning Scientific Explanation!
I have since learned that 80% of tasting is smelling. This is really hard for us to understand. Doesn’t the tongue do the tasting? Nope. The tongue gets most of the credit for the nose’s hard work. Our tongues can sense salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami (Japanese for savory or delicious). So how would our tongue taste an orange? It would taste the sweet and the sour and our nose would do the rest. Our noses “taste” the orange. Our bodies taste by analyzing the chemical responses from our taste buds and our olfactory epithelium, two dime sized patches of tissue that convert smells into signals for our brain. The tongue can only register a few senses, five to be precise, but our noses can register 10,000 odors.
What does this have to do with wine serving temperature? Everything. Aromas in wines are remarkably varied and this is a wine’s greatest asset. Wine can taste (tongue + smell = taste) like toffee, coffee, chocolate, strawberries, cherries, peaches, apples and on and on. But that taste is actually smell and smells are carried to the nose by volatile components. Volatile components are molecules that evaporate at different temperatures. These evaporative molecules are what we smell and therefore what we taste in wine.
!End of Scientific Explanation!
When a white wine is served straight out of a refrigerator is enters your glass at 35 degrees. This is only 3 degrees above freezing. Because the wine is so cold the aromas have a hard time evaporating. If they can’t evaporate you can’t smell them and if you can’t smell them then you can’t taste them. This will severely dull the wine. The wine industry uses the word “numb” to describe an overly chilled wine.
On the red side, if you serve the wine too warm (God only knows how hot it got on top of my refrigerator during the height of summer) the alcohol in the wine will evaporate faster in your glass and your wine will smell and taste more like a hard alcohol rather than a smooth, supple, plush glass of your favorite red. Serving it too warm was the source of most of Sara’s red wine heart burn.
What’s the solution? I’ve created this handy dandy Wine Serving Temperature Chart.
As you can see, the optimal serving temperature has quite a range for each type of wine. I’ve listed four options: time needed in a refrigerator, time needed in a freezer (don’t forget them in there!), time needed in ice water, and time needed to warm up if your bottle has been in the refrigerator for hours and hours..
What’s interesting here is that, for example, to chill a bottle of bubbly you’d need to put it in the refrigerator for almost 3 hours. But if you used an ice bucket it would only take 10 minutes. I love efficiency and the ice bucket is like a magical wine chiller. If you are serious about serving wine at the right temperature get your self an ice bucket, fill it ½ way up with ice, then ¾ full with cold water, dunk your wine bottle in and wait 2 to 10 minutes before serving your perfectly chilled wine. Note: don’t put the bottle back into the bucket unless you want to make the wine even colder. This isn’t an exact science. Experiment and see how the wine will change as it warms
And who wouldn’t want to serve wine at the right temperature? Don’t you want get the very best out of your glass of wine? Ok, maybe not. Chilling some low quality whites can hide their faults. There I said it. If you buy cheap white wine and are only drinking for the effect then yes by all means chill that swill – save yourself from having to be disappointed. In fact, some low quality reds are much more drinkable if chilled to numbing. But if you want to pair your wines with food, or enjoy the subtlety of the variety and the artistry of the wine maker, take a little more time in considering the temperature at which it is served.
I now keep my wines in a home built wine cellar in the basement. I use an inexpensive metal ice bucket when serving wine and take a plastic portable ice bucket with me when I bring wine to dinner at friends’ houses. And Sara now prefers reds to whites.