More bottles of wine are ruined by being stored at excessively high temperatures than any other possible culprit. Unfortunately, there is not much we, the consumer, can do about that, since it happens all along the supply chain. We can start by only frequenting reputable wine merchants who care about their product. It ultimately becomes your product, so finding a good one is really important.
So, why am I bringing this up in an email about the serving temperatures for wine? Well, simply as a warning of sorts, and a convenient lead-in to the fact that most wine experiences are also ruined by having the wine served at the wrong temperature. There's a connection here: Room temperature.
You see, the long-standing rule of thumb for serving red wines has been to serve them at room temperature. Now, once upon a time, room temperature was probably around 65F, and that’s a pretty good temperature for serving, and even for storing your wine. Progress over the past century or so has introduced big houses with big windows and plenty of heat, so room temperature today is probably closer to 74F, maybe even more. This is bad -- very bad -- for both storing and serving your wines.
I won’t get into the details regarding wine storage here yet, but suffice it to say that if you are investing in fine wines and hope to age them for more than 2 to 4 years, you owe it to yourself to find or create a cool place for them. Trust me, you will be handsomely rewarded for your vigilance!
Now, as far as serving wine goes, temperatures above around 65F tend to accentuate a wine’s flaws, and increase the perception of alcohol in a wine’s bouquet. All the aromas you can sense in wine are there because certain compounds are floating up out of solution. The alcohol helps to lift some of these compounds, but can become distracting when it actually burns your nose.
Serving wines at the right temperature allows each wine’s volatile aromatic compounds to be released slowly, joining in a rich, complex bouquet. Too cold, and the wine’s nose is dumb, or not expressive. Too hot and everything flies out like a bat out of hell, leaving you with one confused glass of wine. Just right and, well, it can be awesome!
The serving temperature also has an effect on the textural perceptions one gets from the acids and tannins that make up a wine’s structure. As a wine’s serving temperature goes down, the perception of acid increases. That’s not terribly surprising since we do tend to love our crisp white rather cool, frequently too cool, to extract maximum crispness from them!
With red wines, not only is the acid highlighted when you serve them too cold, but the tannins tend to become very astringent and hard. Both of these effects are primarily due to the aromatic and fruity polyphenols that give each wine its characteristic fruitiness being suppressed at lower temps.
So, you can serve wine too cold, and too warm. No surprise there right? And you probably don’t even care why, and are asking why I just don’t make things easy and create a chart with the correct serving temps. Good point, and without further ado – my serving temperature chart!
Catch Up on Wine 101Wine 101: Serving Temperatures Chart
Want to find the right temp for your favorite bottle? Check out our handy serving temperatures chart.
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To decant, or not to decant? Learn how to tell when your bottle needs to breathe.