In Millesima Tips #6 on possible ways to store bottles of wine, we mentioned Wine Serving Cabinets, which bring bottles of wine to the correct serving temperature before they are opened and tasted. In addition to a careful opening of the bottle, proper wine service also includes making sure that the wine is tasted at the correct temperature. This is because even if the wine is of excellent quality, the bottle aged under the right conditions, then opened and decanted in the correct way, the tasting may still go wrong if the wine is served too hot or too cold.
Why Temperature Matters
As with anything that can be tasted, serving temperature affects the flavours observed in a wine. While warmer temperatures generally bring out various elements of a wine’s aromatic bouquet and flavour profile, colder temperatures tend to mask subtler notes. Think of how a glass of whiskey served neat will express so many nuances, while a whiskey on the rocks will seem somewhat simpler. At the same time, a chilled whiskey will taste and smell somewhat less alcoholic than one served at room temperature. This is also true in the case of wine. Of course, temperatures over a certain point can “cook” a wine, replacing the flavours of fresh fruit with those of stewed, baked or caramelised fruit. And temperatures under a certain point can freeze it, causing water in the wine to separate and expand, pushing out the cork and causing oxidation. But even between these extremes, there are many different ranges, each corresponding to a type of wine. Let’s take a look at some of the most common styles.
Serving Temperature for Sparkling Wines
Sparkling wines, like Champagne, Franciacorta and Prosecco should be chilled before serving. Refrigerating them for around 2-3 hours or keeping them on ice for around 30 minutes will bring them to the right temperature, which lies somewhere between 5 to 10 °C. When served too warm, bubbles of carbon dioxide inside a bottle of sparkling wine will be more foamy than fine. Upon popping the cork, you may lose up to half of the volume, as the wine may foam wildly out of the bottle. Chilling will also bring out the crisp and fresh qualities sought after in a bottle of sparkling wine.
Serving Temperature for White Wines
White wines occupy a wide spectrum from dry to sweet, and each style has its own serving temperature. In general, white wines that are young, aromatic and crisp are fully expressed at lower temperatures, around 7-10 °C. Think Pinot Gris or Chablis. Meanwhile, fuller-bodied, mature and complex white wines (like oaked Chardonnay, Viognier and Semillon), open up at temperatures between 10 and 13 °C. While it is generally understood that white wines should be served at colder temperature than reds, people often make the mistake of serving them too cold. Low temperatures brings out the “edges” of a wine and serving them below the recommended temperature may mask many of its most important flavours: the fruits, florals and spices. If a wine is accidentally cooled to too low a temperature, just keep it out for a bit longer before serving. While it is best to keep Champagne chilling as you drink it, white wine can be left out to express changing flavours as it gradually warms.
Serving Temperature for Rose Wines
Rose wines are the most seasonal, popularly consumed between spring and the early months of autumn. They should be served at a temperature between 9 and 13 °C. Generally, the drier the rose, the cooler it should be when tasted.
Serving Temperature for Red Wines
Just as common as over-cooling white wine is not cooling, at all, a red. And while it is generally true that red wines should be served at higher temperatures than whites, this definitely does not mean that chilling is unnecessary across the board. Red wines served too warm can seem too alcoholic, while excessively low serving temperatures can make a wine taste too harsh and tannic. Most red wines should actually be served cool, between 12 and 20 °C (as opposed to room temperature, which is around 24 °C). Light reds like Pinot Noir and fruity Beaujolais actually benefit from being served at a colder temperature (similar to most whites), between 10 and 12 °C. Medium-bodied reds like Merlot can be served between 12 and 15 °C. Finally, full-bodied and tannic wines like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon are best served at the warmer end of the spectrum, around 18 °C. Since there is a very high degree of variation in serving temperatures for red wines, we recommend consulting with your seller to make the right choice.
Serving Temperature for Dessert Wines
In the case of dessert wines, the serving temperature should correspond to the characteristics you would most like to accentuate in the wine. Fortified dry wines, like Marsala or Jerez, and sweet wines like Tokaji can be served at cooler temperatures (10-14 °C) to accentuate freshness and to suppress the alcohol in the wine. Dessert wines like Port are best served at higher temperatures (14-18 °C) to accentuate the complex flavours and sweetness of the wine. Beware, however, that a warmer temperature will also bring alcohol to the forefront. This does not always harm the tasting, especially when the wine is paired to dessert or cheese.