At What Temperature Should You Drink Your Wine?
Wine should be served at a temperature which best shows off its personal characteristics. If a wine is too cool, the aromas and flavors will be hidden. As one person said, “it’s like eating a frozen pizza while it’s still frozen.” If a wine is at too warm a temperature, all you can smell or taste is the alcohol.
As a rule of thumb, light and medium bodied white and rosé wines are served at cellar temperature, 50-55 deg F or even lower. This temperature allows the subtle aromas to come out but not the alcohol vapors. Full bodied white wines (Chardonnay, Viognier, White Bordeaux) are served about 55-60 deg F so that their more complex aromas can be appreciated.
Sparkling wines such as Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Blanc de Blanc etc. are actually served colder than still white wines. About 45-50 deg F is recommended. This temperature does not suppress aromas because the bubbles of carbon dioxide (CO2) carry the aromas to the surface of the wine. The colder temperature is desirable in order to keep the bubbles from being released too quickly and the wine tasting flat which it will if the wine is warm.
Full-bodied red wine is best served at about 65 deg F, not necessarily at room temperature. In the winter at a room temperature of 70 deg F the alcohol vapors may not overwhelm the aromas but in the summer at 80 deg F, a red wine will not present as well to the nose and tongue. Lighter red wines such as a Beaujolais or Grenache may be served even colder in the 55-60 deg F range. Obviously most of us do not strictly adhere to these recommendations. We drink reds at 75 deg F and whites right out of the refrigerator at 35-40 deg F, but that doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate the wine more if its at its best temperature.
As a restaurant guest, be sure to ask to chill a red wine, especially a light red wine, if you know it is above the recommended drinking temperature. At the very least, ask for a wine bucket to chill a red wine yourself.
How else is temperature important for wine? Two reasons really. One is for the long term storage of wine so that it ages and tastes better rather than spoiling (usually oxidizing) and becoming undrinkable. The second reason, is for serving the wine at a temperature that drinkers prefer and yet still showcases the aromas, flavors and tastes of the wine.
Wine continually changes from the moment it starts fermenting in the vat until you drink it. Admittedly, once it is done fermenting and put in the bottle, those changes take place much less rapidly. Except for sulfur dioxide (SO2) which is often added around the time of bottling to prevent bacteria and yeast from restarting fermentation, preservatives are not added to wine. All of the preservatives in wine are natural antioxidants from the grapes. The antioxidant preservatives do not last forever, however, and eventually even the microscopic amount of oxygen that enters through the cork or the cap, or light rays that penetrate the bottle will adversely change the taste of the wine. Heat and light speed up these changes and cold temperatures slow them down.
In general, fermentation does not take place below 57 degrees deg F but if temperature gets lower, around freezing, some wine components affecting flavor will crystallize out. Below ground, year round temperatures of 55 deg F were discovered to be the best compromise to slow down the spoilage of wine and at the same time allow the chemical processes which result in a better flavor and blending of wine elements to take place. Thus most wine refrigerators or wine cellars are kept at about 50-55 deg F. Sometimes red wines are stored at 55-59 deg F. Wine begins to spoil faster when stored in temperatures of 75 deg F or above and above 85 deg F it spoils rather quickly. This is the reason why many wineries will not ship wine by mail in the summer months. Even a 3 day heat streak can “cook” a wine to spoilage. A constant humidity in the wine refrigerator/cellar of about 70% also keeps the corks from drying out. A dry cork will allow in more oxygen and the wine will spoil faster as well as leak out of the bottle.