The Proper Temperature for Storing & Serving Wine
So my question is about wine, specifically red, and the serving of. See, I’ve always, always heard: white wine is served cold and red wine is served at room-temp. I’ve worked in many restaurants and this is always the way it’s done, and all of my friends serve wine this way, as does pretty much everyone else I know, myself included. Lately though, I’ve been reading things about serving red wine chilled, so I decided to try it. I chilled a bottle of Tempranillo and, wow! It tasted great! And was so easy to drink! (Always a plus).
So what’s the deal? I know from reading your blog that you appreciate a nice glass of wine just as much as the next girl, so do you have a preference? Does it make a difference depending upon what kind of red wine it is? Any knowledge you can impart would be greatly appreciated.
(Happy Friday! Is it okay if we talk about booze?)
So! You have actually hit on one of my BIGGEST pet peeves about restaurants: they serve red wine too warm. Room temperature is NOT the ideal temperature for red wine, NO NO NO and NOT EVEN. Not for storing and not for serving. NO.
Red wine should be stored around 55°F (16°C). Keeping red wines for any good length of time in a too-warm area can cause it to age prematurely and thus, in my super-informed opinion, taste like ass. Serving it too warm also upsets the flavors and balance and non-tasting-like-ass-ness of the wine. (I guarantee you that a very large percentage of people who say they don’t like red wine are saying that because they’ve constantly had it served too warm, which can make it sour and bracing and dead on your tongue.)
Think about this: “room temperature” can actually mean anything between 65° and 75°F. Seventy-five-degree wine! Oh! Can you imagine? But that’s exactly what you get sometimes, especially at over-crowded and over-heated restaurants that leave the bottles out and open on the bar for an entire dinner shift.
So yes, red wines should be served a few degrees below room temperature. Depending on the temperature of the room. I wouldn’t call it “chilled,” exactly, but most bottles you open at home can hugely benefit from a little time in the fridge before you open them.
(At restaurants, if you order a bottle that arrives too warm, by all means ask for a bottle chiller or ice bucket to bring the temperature down a bit. Yeah, they might think you’re weird or mistaking your Rioja for a wine cooler, but technically, YOU are right and THEY are wrong. So there.)
(If you order by the glass, well…you can drop in some ice cubes, which obviously isn’t good for the wine either, but it might make it drinkable enough for you to finish quickly and then switch to white.)
(Although THAT’S a whole OTHER thing, since not all whites should be served at arctic frigid temperatures — that dulls the fruit and brings out the alcohol flavor.)
But you are exactly right, by the way, that it does depend on the wine. Big intense reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Shiraz, should be served on the warmer side — just a couple degrees below the low end of “room temperature.” 63° to 65°F, or so. As you move on down the scale to lighter-bodied or fruity wines, you can (and should) serve these colder. Basically, the more a wine reminds you of plain old juice, the colder it should be.
Now look, when I say “should” I’m not being all Wine Snob Crazy on you. Obviously, wine is a very personal, complex thing, and should (above all else) be ENJOYED. However you enjoy it. Personally, I think aiming for the ideal storing/serving temperature makes a HUGE difference in my ability to taste all the flavors and complexities in a wine, and has helped me really “get” wine and remember what I’ve tasted. And this helps me pair it with food and navigate wine lists of unfamiliar labels, which is a useful trick when you’re out for dinner in a group and somebody has to pick out some wine that 1) will please everybody, and 2) is not priced at a 700% markup.
But still, it’s like how I recoil at people eating steaks well-done while they gag at the sight of my medium filet mignon, but then I totally cannot eat my husband’s medium-rare version. You wanna freeze your whites into ice cubes or drink reds that have essentially cooked into vinegar? Go ahead, if that’s how you like them. (Just let me know before I come to your dinner party, so I can maybe bring something from home.)
Published December 5, 2008.
Last updated December 5, 2008.