A couple of the questions I get asked a lot are “What temperature should I serve my wine at?” and “Should I store my wine in the refrigerator?” and “Do I need to chill wines?”
Let me give you guidelines that we’ll talk about after we go through it.
- Chardonnay should be served between 55-60 degrees
- Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling between 45-55 degrees
- Champagnes and Sparkling Wines at 45 degrees
- Light Reds between 55-60 degrees
- Cabernet and Merlots between 60-65 degrees
First, let me address the issue of storing your wine in your kitchen refrigerator. The common kitchen refrigerator maintains a temperature somewhere between 35 and 38 degrees and it has relatively low levels of humidity as well. As you can see from our guidelines, the optimum temperatures for serving wine range from 45 to 65 degrees. These temperatures are well above the temperature your refrigerator is capable of maintaining.
Humidity plays a big factor in keeping your wine corks moist and so they don’t shrink and let too much air into the bottle, so I would recommend that you only store wine in your refrigerator for a very short period of time: say 1 to 3 days if you don’t have another choice. But you should use your refrigerator as a tool to chill your wine.
A couple years ago I found an interesting chart in a magazine, listing the use of a refrigerator as a wine chiller and clipped it out for my own use. It has worked out really well and I want to pass it along to you. White wine, which you want to serve at 55 degrees, can be left in the refrigerator for about 1.5 hours to reach that temperature. In a freezer, it will get to the 55-degree mark in 40 minutes. If submerged in ice and water, it will only take about 20 minutes. If your wine has been stored for longer in the refrigerator, let it sit out for about 20 minutes in order to get it the temperature up before you pour it. Red wine, which you want to serve between 60 and 65 degrees, only needs about 20 minutes in the refrigerator before it reaches that temperature.
So you ask, what’s the big deal about the temperature that I serve my wines at? From a technical standpoint let me tell you that with white wines in order for you to smell the aroma and nuances of the wines, there are compounds in the wine that make up the characteristics needed to become vaporous and give off a scent or a smell from the wine. If the wine is too cold, those are repressed and you won’t be able to smell the wine. If the red wines are too warm, the wine can be out of balance. In red wines, the alcohol that helps to give the wine its weight, body and mouth feel can overpower the fruit and other aromas in the wine and they won’t taste as well as if they were slightly chilled down to the recommended temperature somewhere between 60 to 65 degrees. This is just a little below room temperature, which is why I recommended sticking red wines, at least the cabernets and merlots in the refrigerator or even the light reds and smooth wines for 20 minutes before you serve them. All of this might seem a little sophisticated but depending on where you keep your wine you might have to think ahead a little to serve the wine at the temperature at which it tastes best.
One of the things that irritates me a lot about restaurant wine service is they have a tendency to serve their white wines too cold and red wines too warm. A little tip might be, if you get a glass of white wine in a restaurant and it is chilled too much, just grasp the bowl of the glass in your hands and warm it up a little bit before you drink it. It will help the aromas of the wine and make the wine taste better. With red wines you can also ask for an ice bucket if you get a bottle of wine and you find it to be a little too warm. You can chill it yourself by the table for 15 to 20 minutes to get it down from room temperature. Remember the guidelines above.
The temperature of wine in restaurants has a lot to do with how the restaurant stores its wine. If you are buying a glass of wine and the bottles are sitting on the back bar you’ll know that they are room temperature or above. Depending on the wine and what you are spending for a glass, you might want to ask them to chill it a little before they pour it, and again, if you are buying a bottle you can ask them to put it in the cooler for 20 minutes or put it in an ice bucket for a period of time. The more “fine dining” restaurants with big wine lists typically have their wines in coolers at the proper temperature or in wine refrigerators and/or large cellars that are temperature controlled. And frankly, it never hurts to ask the wait staff how they store their wine so when you order it you will know if you need to make any special preparations to make your wine taste the best it can to go with the food you’re having for dinner.