Wine 101: Serving Temperatures

The perils of pouring wine too hot or too cold

 


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.

About the Author
Gregory Dal Piaz is a proponent and admirer of a broad range of wines and styles. During his decades of collecting and tasting he has discovered that a wine need not cost a fortune to drink well. Feel free to ask him questions at the Snooth Forums where he regularly engages with beginners and experts alike.
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 101

Wine 101: Serving Temperatures Chart
Want to find the right temp for your favorite bottle? Check out our handy serving temperatures chart.

Wine 101: Decanting
To decant, or not to decant? Learn how to tell when your bottle needs to breathe.


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Comments

  • OK, I've looked at the chart, and formatting it at an angle makes it difficult to read, and since the color coding appears to be off comparing the listed wines with the listed temps, it is impossible to understand.

    Could your design crew make this truly WINE 101, and sacrifice a bit of form for function?

    Thanks.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 1:11 PM


  • It is a little tough to read, but I like having the chart and will send to some friends - too many people serve red wine way too warm - they look at me like I am crazy when I tell them it should be at a cooler temperature.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 1:40 PM


  • Snooth User: habap
    231854 12

    I believe that the specific wines are not supposed to line up precisely with a temperature, but that the color of the font is actually the key to the temperature.

    Thus the top 5 lines of wines color-match with 61-66 F, the second group with 53-59 F, the third group with 46-52 F and the final ones with 39-44 F.

    It would be great in poster form for wine shops.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 1:55 PM


  • Snooth User: ericr0210
    493858 10

    Love the chart!!! Thanks. I'll print it out and refer to it often!

    Jun 14, 2010 at 2:21 PM


  • Snooth User: FrOnePutt
    318926 19

    Couldn't agree more -- restaurants charge out the whazzoo for a glass of red wine -- $11-15 and serve it at 80 degrees!!

    EEEK!

    That temp needs to come down -- 72 sounds a tad high for red -but I haven't dipped my thermometer into my wine as I serve my own -- I know when it's too cold for all of the reasons listed above, and know when it's too warm, for all of the reasons listed above -- normally, 20 minutes in a fridge if it is not coming from my wine unit is a general rule of thumb.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 2:56 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,292

    Tell your graphic artist that function is also beauty, Greg.

    Frankly, I have more problems these days at restaurant with wines being served too cold. Too many reds are being chilled at mid-range restaurants, and too many whites have been chilled too much at even upper end restaurants, for way too many years. A good, aged chardonnay, especially from Burgundy, needs warmer temps for the bouquet and texture to open up fully. I assume the the temperature you have listed for a 'full bodied chardonnay' is out of fear of high-alcohol, out-of-balance bombs from the dark side of the California producer pool.

    I don't think this is merely a personal preference on my part. I've heard similar gripes from a number of experienced wine 'connoisseurs'....

    Jun 14, 2010 at 3:29 PM


  • Another important element in tastung wune is that the human tongue detects sweeter flavors moreso at warmer temperatures, and bitter, acidic flavors moreso at cooler temperatures. So, since the tannin in red wine is acidic, serving it too cool will make it seem bitter. White wines can use a little kick for their less acidic base, and benefit from cooler temperatures. But serve wine -- even beer -- too cold, and the taste buds are numbed, and all flavor dimishes.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 3:52 PM


  • Snooth User: KASSADO
    336791 2

    Well, there is much more to know about everything of wine for me, I guess.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 5:04 PM


  • Snooth User: Rossired
    451720 10

    Its a great guide, there is no 'law' and with our own individual 'tastes' ... well I'd say they are VERY useful suggestions. Especially with my lighter reds I am probably serving warmer but my biggest surprise is where Viognier and Chardonay fall, that will require some 'testing'...... I can't wait!

    Jun 14, 2010 at 5:11 PM


  • Snooth User: Sarahlrj
    191091 44

    Thanks, Gregory! This one is going on my fridge.

    Jun 14, 2010 at 5:19 PM


  • Snooth User: BBQ Phil
    330232 13

    This is a very helpful guide! Why are some of the younger reds better served at a slightly lower temperature? Thank you!

    Jun 14, 2010 at 5:23 PM


  • Snooth User: penguinoid
    Hand of Snooth
    148296 1,216

    Thanks for the guide. Good point about matching the colours, though, I was reading it and thinking 'Sparkling white wines should be served at 3ºC/37ºF - what??'.

    I'd read this point about temperatures before, but only bothered to convert them into celsius today (degrees fahrenheit means nothing to me, I'm afraid). Does anybody really keep their central heating at 74ºF (~23ºC)? That sounds a bit excessive to me...

    I've certainly been guilty of drinking red wines too cold recently, but that's because without central heating, room temperature is about 12ºC (54ºF, I think). Central heating isn't so common here, unfortunately...

    Jun 14, 2010 at 8:09 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,292

    Where are you in Oz, penguin. Tasmania? But then again, I hear from friends who return after years overseas that Melbourne's suitable to freezing parts of the anatomy off, too. They usually end up migrating north to Brisbane. ;-)

    I'm with you about that being too cold for bubbly. And room temperature in my home is usually within the 15-20ºC range, depending on the season. So I never seem to have trouble having to chill reds. Beaujolais I just have straight from the cellar, and CdRhones I have a bit warmer than that chart stipulates. For that matter I guess I do with most of the pinkish-lavender colored wines (above the riesling line, anyway). I really don't like it when a wine is aged to its point of perfect expression but it's closed down because someone wants to serve it too cold. Twirling my thumbs waiting for it to warm isn't what I should be doing at that point....

    Jun 14, 2010 at 8:28 PM


  • Snooth User: peterchou
    502542 14

    Dear Gregory:

    We are a wine importer in Taiwan, I love the information you provide in Wine 101, may I translate those contents into Chinese and put them in my website? I'll mention the content is from your website so if our readers want to read them in English, they can come back to your website and read them.

    Thanks for your consideration.
    Peter Chou

    Jun 14, 2010 at 8:35 PM


  • Snooth User: ehguy11
    214073 25

    I often wonder if all my efforts to serve wine at a perfect temperature are useless. I'm thinking about how wine gets to my wine shop before I'm able to properly store it. I envision wine stored in hot cargo areas of ships and airplanes, then transported on land by non air-conditioned trucks. I'm not at all convinced that wine is transported from winery to wine shop in a climate-controlled fashion. Perhaps Snooth can do an article on this.

    Jun 15, 2010 at 7:43 AM


  • Snooth User: ssdenali
    106421 15

    I like the chart but agree it is a bit confusing. Can someone who knows the answer please let us know for instance if all the wines written in red are supposed to be served between 61 and 66 degrees F?

    Jun 15, 2010 at 10:32 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 208,793

    Hey folks.

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments.

    A few things to help clear things up a bit.

    First off- these are suggested serving temps based on what I like. The colors sort of line up so that wines in the red color spectrum should generally be served in the low 60F range.

    these are NOT rules, just ranges in a broad idea to help guide you, in particular, to serving your reds cooler than you have been, and many of you whites warmer.

    As far as young, acid driven whites go, yes I enjoy them cooler, as the lower temps help to bring out the freshness and brightness of the fruit.

    But more importantly - these are serving temps, you pour yourself a glass and the wine quickly begins to warm-up. I don't fetishize wine, nor wine service. If a wine is too cold, I can wait, if a wine is too warm, it will show poorly.

    I'd rather wait!

    Jun 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM


  • Snooth User: ssdenali
    106421 15

    Thanks Gregory!

    Jun 15, 2010 at 11:56 AM


  • Ok, so because our homes fluctuate in temperature. Is it ok to store an opened bottle of red wine in the fridge and then take it out and let it get to that 60 degrees and then serve? Just wondering how to store opened red wine?

    Jun 15, 2010 at 12:24 PM


  • Snooth User: wannis
    473779 7

    What happens if a wine gets to cold? Can you restore it to the proper temperature without damaging the bottle?

    Jun 15, 2010 at 2:42 PM


  • Snooth User: r sprezzatura
    Hand of Snooth
    354247 747

    This is a good article because wine temperatures is a subject that doesn't get the attention that it deserves. Too often wine is served at totally inappropriate temperatures in restaurants and in homes. This wine chart is a good starting point for a variety of wines. People should know, however, that there isn't a 'perfect' wine temperature. There is a range of temperatures for a type of wine. The snooth.com temperature chart is a bit too warm for my tastes but some might find it's right on for them. I'd encourage people to experiment tasting a particular type of wine at the upper and lower levels of a suggested temperature range to see what they like. My preference, for example, is not to serve a full-bodied red over 68 degrees F. Nuvo Vino (http://www.nuvovino.com) has an extensive section on suggested serving temperatures for hundreds of different wines. They also sell an infrared wine thermometer.

    Jun 15, 2010 at 5:57 PM


  • I totally agree with your article. I posted a piece on my fb wall yesterday on wine serving temperatures. My observations are basically the same. I also recommended a temperature gauge I have used for the past 3 yrs. called VinTemp (new name is Vinfrared). This device uses infrared technology to red the temperature of the wine through the wine bottle or glass. It comes in a pen, keychain or cork screw model, I prefer the pen:
    http://www.vinfrared.com/

    George Grijalva
    Food and Wine Consultant
    Windsor, CA. 95492

    Jun 16, 2010 at 12:13 PM


  • I cannot agree 100%!
    No wine [but one which contains glycogen] supposed to be lower than 6 degree centigrade - or rather going to 8 degrees C.
    Eiswein is rather a dessert wine and can be consumed only slightly chilled- it would be a sin, to serve it too cold!
    Aged champagne can be also served two or three degrees warmer...
    And for me the matured reds [or grand cru Bordeaux] are almost too warm.

    But still - I like the attempt, to tell people, that they drink whites too cold and reds too warm!

    Jul 15, 2010 at 10:38 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 208,793

    Thanks for the comment. These are sort of general guidelines, what I would do in very general cases. I appreciate your perspective.

    Jul 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM


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