Serving wine: Room temperature ain’t what it used to be!

Here is a universal and unfortunate truth: White wine is served too cold and red wine too warm.

When summer temperatures soar, many discerning beverage consumers choose cooling liquids to soothe their heat-induced misery and slake their mighty thirsts. Personally, after hydrating with water, I prefer sipping (surprise) wine. However, my vinous choices are decidedly lighter whites and reds which I cool to a pleasing temperature before drinking.

So today’s sermon, boys and girls, deals with the absolute necessity of serving both red and white wine at the proper temperature. This is so they will be not only pleasantly cool to the taste, but also to insure that the wine will provide a pleasing counterpoint to the heat of the food with which it is paired.

Here is a universal and unfortunate truth: White wine is served too cold and red wine too warm. In my estimation, the culprits are refrigeration and the propensity on the part of wine drinkers and restaurants to be confused by the definition of “room temperature,” particularly as it relates to serving red wine.

Let’s start with white wine and the almost fervent belief that if we have the capability to make something cold, then we should therefore serve our liquids – including white wine – at Arctic temperatures. I’ve had whites served to me at temperatures so frigid they’ve needed a de-icing truck to render them drinkable. The good news here is that if you wait 10 or 15 minutes, the wine will warm to the proper temperature.

Drinking wines that are served at just above freezing will not only give you a headache, you will be unable to taste them. I’m sure that many flawed wines benefit from this chilling effect, but the delicate flavors and nuances of taste in a say, Riesling, Gavi or Chardonnay, will be absolutely neutered by excessive chilling.

So what is the proper temperature to serve white wine? Well, for me I think whites served at between 48 and 53 degrees Fahrenheit are about ideal. However, since most of us don’t carry wine thermometers around with us, the easiest way to judge proper temperature is by taste. In other words, you should be able to taste the wine at a pleasingly cool temperature.

There is one exception, though, to this rule and that is Champagne or sparkling wine. These “fizzers” actually benefit from very cold temperatures (around 40 degrees F), where the chilling effect blunts some of the carbonation and allows you to taste the complex flavors of these wines made in the traditional Champagne method. So with over-chilled whites you can simply wait until they warm up.

But what about red wine that is served too warm? Well, if you are at home, simply put the red wine in the refrigerator until the bottle is cool to the touch (for me that’s between 55 and 60 degrees F). The tricky problem concerns dealing with this issue at restaurants. There is nothing more unpleasant than sipping a red wine served at “room temperature” with that expensive slab of beef you’ve just ordered at Chez Redmeat.

The problem is then compounded when, Remy, your ostentatious waiter, expresses abject horror when you insist on an ice bucket to chill the wine so that it is pleasantly cooler than the menu item you’ve selected. (Remy doesn’t seem to understand that, when the “ room temperature “ axiom was first stated centuries ago, the average castle or hut’s temperature was about 55 degrees F.)

Don’t laugh — this happens to me multiple times each summer at supposedly upscale restaurants. These are places that have award-winning wine lists, yet they serve red wine at temperatures that are, at best, tepid. Simply put, there should be a contrast in temperature between the food we eat and the wine we consume. It ain’t rocket science, yet it might as well be – given the ubiquitous nature of this problem.

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3 Comments to “Serving wine: Room temperature ain’t what it used to be!”

  1. Rich Ireland says:

    John, good posting. I like to come away with a good rule of thumb. As you know, I fight this same issue with beer. Most craft beers are served so cold that they cannot be tasted. I am sure there are few wines that are like American macro beer,where not tasting is a good thing…

  2. Rich Ireland says:

    Hey John, there must be something to that beloved beverage of yours…

  3. Hass Naderi says:

    I really enjoyed reading your respons.
    It was pleasant, informative and funny.

    Thank you very much.

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