To Chill or Not to Chill
While doing tours and tastings at Grape Creek, guests often ask me about proper serving temperatures for wine. Before we get to this, however, let me first mention that I feel strongly that there should never be rules when it comes to wine. There should be guidelines, and if the guidelines don’t work for you, throw them out the window.
So, let’s talk about serving temperatures. A lot of confusion stems from the fact that we always hear that we should drink white wine “chilled” and red wine at “room temperature”. Chilled and room temperature aren’t what they appear to be in the wine world.
When we hear the word “chilled” we think of our fridge, which is about 37 degrees. “Room temperature” to us means the ambient temp in our house, around 75 degrees. These temps are too cold for a white, and too warm for a red.
The phrase room temperature originated from an underground cellar (or cave) in France, which is about 60 degrees. Chilled was meant to be cooler than that, somewhere around 45 degrees. Let’s take a look at how temperature affects wine on our palate.
When we drink a white wine too cold, the acidity becomes exaggerated and hides the fruit. Think about coming to Fredericksburg this time of year and eating a peach right off the tree. The sugar, acid, and fruit all work together and have good balance. Now, think about that peach after a day or two in the fridge. The fruit and sugar hides, and the acid dominates our taste buds.
It’s the opposite with reds. When we drink them too warm, the tannin and alcohol is exaggerated and hides the fruit. The wine finishes “hot” on our palate, and has a burning astringency. Lower the temp, and the alcohol and tannin soften which in turn opens up the fruit.
Here’s an easy rule of thumb we can experiment with to help find our best temperatures. I call it 30 in or 30 out. If our red is at house temp, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes before drinking. If our white is at fridge temp, put on the counter for 30 minutes prior to pulling the cork.
Generally, for both whites and reds, light bodied wines should be served cooler, while full bodied wines should be warmer. Also, cooler temperatures will help hide minor flaws that we sometimes see in less expensive wines. A range of 45 to 55 degrees is good for whites, as is 55 to 65 for reds.
We can find all kinds of suggested temperatures for specific wines on the internet, just do a search for “wine serving temperatures”. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll find lots of variations from chart to chart for the same wine, and that the best temp for any wine is the one you like. I never said a word to my Mom when she put ice cubes in her wine…