Over the holidays, I found a couple bottles of Argentinian Torrontes that I decided to store in my wine fridge. At an ideal serving temperature of 40 degrees, the Torrontes was peachy and absolutely delectable–the vintage was so good that I decided to bring one of the bottles to a dinner party so I could share it with friends. However, our host put the bottle in a 32-degree food fridge the moment we arrived, and by the time we uncorked the bottle, the wine was stone cold to the touch. All of its fruity, peachy flavors disappeared, and it tasted surprisingly bland.
In order to choose the best temperature to serve wine, you have to consider the ideal range for the type of wine you have, or you’ll risk masking the wine’s flavors. A wine served too warm could lose some aroma and be unpleasant to drink, while a wine served too cold can lose almost all flavor and character.
The Best Temperature to Serve White Wine
I only store crisp, young white wines in my wine fridge. That’s because I keep this fridge at a steady 40 degrees, which is the ideal serving temperature for most white wines. If I were to store these wines in my standard food refrigerator instead (which can run as low as 30 degrees in the winter), the wine would be far too cold to drink, and I would need to let it warm up for an hour or so at room temperature before serving. Similarly, serving these wines straight from a 55-degree wine cellar without additional chilling first will make many white wines taste unpleasant.
To find the right serving temperature, consider the type of white wine that you have:
Crisp White Wines
Young, crisp whites (like Pinot Grigio or most Sauvignon Blanc) are best-served at a chilly 40 to 45 degrees. That’s because the warmer a wine is, the more our taste buds perceive it as being sweet. For crisp whites, this can be a problem because the wine will lose a great deal of its “bite” when served at higher temperatures; they become flabby and cloying.
Complex White Wines
You can store complex, “big” white wines (like aged Chardonnay or white Burgundy) at slightly higher temperatures, anywhere between 45 and 50 degrees. Serving these wines too cold will bury some of the more complex flavors. Because wine tends to taste sweeter and more flavorful the warmer it is, you can serve your more acidic wines at the 55-degree mark. Sweet wines should be served slightly colder than acidic wines to prevent the wine from becoming too cloying (think warm soda).
The Best Temperature to Serve Red Wine
Generally, red wine should be served warmer than white wine. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can keep your reds in a kitchen cabinet and serve them as-is. Many collectors make the mistake of serving their red wines too warm, sometimes as high as 70 or 75 degrees (room temperature). In reality, almost all red wines are best served between 50 and 65 degrees–right around cellar temperature–depending on the varietal.
A light red wine like Pinot Noir will taste best when you serve it between 50 and 55 degrees because it’s cold enough to preserve the wine’s tartness, yet it’s warm enough to bring out just the right amount of fruit. You can often serve these directly from your wine cellar.
A bolder red like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon should be served at no more than 65 degrees. If you serve these fruity wines too warm, they will become flat and far too alcoholic-tasting. If you serve them closer to 50 degrees, their intense tannins will become too prominent and you’ll get less of the fruity flavors.
The Best Temperature to Serve Sparkling and Fortified Wine
Winemakers craft sparkling wines and fortified wines using special techniques that change the overall character of the wine. Although sparkling wine often takes on the characteristics of a still white wine (and fortified wines take on some characteristics of non-fortified reds), they require different serving temperatures.
A sparkling wine should be served like a crisp, young white wine (40 to 45 degrees), even if it’s a complex vintage Champagne. The reason is that bubbles tend to get foamy if they’re served too warm, and they lose some of their fizz.
The best temperature to serve wine that is fortified (like Port) is between 50 and 65 degrees, just like non-fortified red wine. However, unlike non-fortified wine, dry fortified wine tastes best at cooler temperatures (50 degrees), while sweet dessert wines are best at higher temperatures (as much as 65 degrees).
More Tips for Success
Only remove your bottles from storage–a 55-degree cellar or professional warehouse–an hour or two before you’re ready to drink them. The easiest method for cooling off your bottles is to invest in a wine fridge that does the work for you. Alternatively, you can keep your bottles in a cellar, then put them on ice before serving. In a pinch, you can also put your bottle in a standard fridge, then pull it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving (or more, depending on how warm you want the bottle to be). As long as you get within a 5-degree range of your ideal serving temperature, your wine should taste just as delicious as the winemakers intended.
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