The Right Temperature for Wine

wine tempLet’s talk temperature – not the temperature outside, which you can’t do anything about, but the temperature of the wine in your glass, which you can and probably should.

Now, the first rule of wine temperature is that if something really works for you, don’t let anyone’s rules get in your way. At a high-end restaurant in Napa, we once saw a guy plop ice cubes into a glass of Opus One and let them melt away. As he sipped that watered-down $400-a-bottle wine, he looked happy as a clam.

That said, serving temperature can fundamentally impact a wine’s texture and flavor profile, and an awareness of a few basic principles can help maximize the pleasure you – and friends and family – get out of your wine.

As the great British wine writer Jancis Robinson put it, “Serving a wine at the most flattering temperature may seem absurdly high-falutin’ and precious as an activity, but it really can transform ink into velvet and, conversely, zest into flab.”

The general range we’re working with here – for all wines – is from around 40 degrees up to maybe 65. In real-world terms, your refrigerator keeps food and beverages at 40 degrees or less, so just out the fridge is almost always too chilly; and the temperature in your house is likely to be a few degrees above 65, making “room temperature” almost always too warm.

Beyond that, here are some guidelines from the experts at Wine Spectator:

Light dry white wines, rosés, sparkling wines: Serve at 40° to 50° F to preserve their freshness and fruitiness. Think crisp Pinot Grigio and Champagne. For sparklers, chilling keeps bubbles fine rather than frothy. This is also a good range for white dessert wines; sweetness is accentuated at warmer temperatures, so chilling them preserves their balance without quashing their vibrant aromas.

Full-bodied white wines and light, fruity reds: Serve at 50° to 60° F to pick up more of the complexity and aromatics of a rich Chardonnay or to make a fruity Beaujolais more refreshing.

Full-bodied red wines and Ports: Serve at 60° to 65° F—cooler than most room temperatures and warmer than ideal cellaring temperatures—to make the tannins in powerful Cabernet or Syrah feel more supple and de-emphasize bitter components.

Robinson sees things fairly similarly:

•Light, sweet, whites: 40-50
•Sparkling whites: 42-50
•Light (aromatic) dry whites: 46-54
•Sparkling reds: 50-54
•Medium bodied, dry whites: 50-54
•Full sweet whites: 46-54
•Light reds: 50-54
•Full dry whites: 54-60
•Medium reds: 57-63
•Full or tannic reds: 59-65

Both of the Protea wines fall into the medium category for their respective color, so a serving temperature around 50 degrees for the Chenin Blanc and 60 degrees for the Red Blend should do the trick.

Now, if all this is beginning to sound excessively complex, we do have a tidy rule that, while not guaranteed to give you the perfect serving temperature, will usually put you in the right ball park. It’s the thirty-minute rule, and it goes like this:

Assuming that, like most people, you store your red wines at “room temperature,” put a bottle you’re planning to drink in the fridge for about 30 minutes before serving it. For whites kept in the refrigerator, take the bottle out 30 minutes before serving it.

As for ice cubes in your too-warm wine, there actually is an expert-endorsed recommendation along those lines, tho it’s quite a different approach than the one employed by our friend with his Opus One. It comes from the late wine writer Alexis Bespaloff, via the Wall Street Journal‘s Lettie Teague:

Alex is the one who showed me many years ago that the fastest way to cool down a too-warm wine is to take an ice cube, swirl it around in the glass of wine for EXACTLY four seconds, then remove it. It is completely unscientific (I don’t know, for example, why Alex allotted just four seconds to the procedure), but it works every time. The wine is brighter, the fruit accentuated and the tannins tamed after the four seconds of ice. So when I have a too-hot glass of Barbera, as I did last Friday night, I get out an ice cube, swirl it around in my glass, think of Alex—and smile.

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