It is now November in what seems to be the longest year in history. As the weather is warming up here in the southern hemisphere it is getting colder in the north, it's at this time of year a lot of wine drinkers start to change the styles of wine they like to drink. Down here, people are moving towards more white, rosé and sparkling while up north people are looking for more robust spicy reds to save them from the cold. Despite these seasonal changes, the serving temperature of wine is often forgotten. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your favourite tipple
Ice Cold Wine
Around 10 years ago, when I first started to study about wine, I went on holiday with a friend to the south of Spain. It was the end of August and swelteringly hot. On the first day we went to a typical tapas restaurant with a long bar and legs of Jamón hanging from the ceiling. Sitting at the bar we ordered a couple of glasses of red wine which the barman pulled out of an ice bucket. Young wine trainee Bertie was in shock! Every book I had read was very clear that only white wine, rosé and sparkling should be served cold and maybe, just maybe a Pinot Noir (only on a hot day) What on earth was going on? Had the barman carelessly put the Rioja in the ice bucket instead of the Cava? Needless to say, we enjoyed the refreshingly cool wine and feasted on jamón and croquetas.
The next day we went to a different bar at lunch time and ordered 2 glasses of red wine. However, this time they were served at room temperature. It was like drinking an alcoholic soup. Suddenly I understood the ice bucket...
One of the most important factors when it comes to wine appreciation is the temperature which the wine is served at. It is a subject which is largely ignored by many wine drinkers and unfortunately by many bars and restaurants too. Drinking a nice bottle of wine too cold or more often than not - too warm, can really spoil the drinking experience.
White, Rosé and Sparkling
The temperature of your regular refrigerator is about the right temperature for easy going wines like young Sauvignon Blancs, Prosecco and Argentine Torrontés. For richer wines like oaked chardonnays or Burgundies letting the wine warm up a few degrees will allow much more character shine through. The same can be said for vintage champagne or high end sparkling.
First thing is first, forget about room temperature. It is an old expression which predates global warming and central heating systems. As someone once said to me - Think room temperature of a castle. Cool is key. If you look on the back label of a bottle of red, it will often give you a recommended serving temperature and it is never room temperature.
Most reds are best served between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius (60 to 65 Fahrenheit) whereas room temperature is generally above 20 degrees Celsius (68+ Fahrenheit) depending where you live and the time of year.
Why is the temperature so important?
Wines today have higher alcohol content than they used to and when served at a warm temperature, the alcohol is much more noticeable both on the nose and on the palate. This will overshadow the subtle aromas of the wine. Serving a wine cool or slightly chilled will also make it fresher and more inviting to drink.
If you are not lucky enough to live in a castle or have a wine fridge, then putting your red in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes before drinking should do the trick.
Don’t be afraid to adapt the temperature of your reds throughout the year. For example, here in Buenos Aires in the peak of summer the temp can easily be 35C (95F) So if we are sitting outside I will make sure our reds are really cold, because within minutes of serving it will be getting warm. Likewise if you are coming in from the cold in the middle of winter in Norway, a chilled wine is probably not what you were looking forward to.
Style of wine
An easy rule to remember is that the bolder, richer and more full bodied the wine, the warmer it can be served. The lighter, the cooler. This goes for both red and whites, but is more important for red wine.
Pinot Noir is light and has very little tannins, therefore on a warm day serving it chilled is very pleasant. Whereas a Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - both wines with higher tannins, and a lot of structure, serving them chilled will result in a very harsh tannic taste. Therefore these wines are typically served around 18°C (65F) and Pinots at a cooler 16°C (60F)
The key with reds is having the bottle cool to the touch. Feel free to experiment. Taste the wine, give it more time in the fridge if it’s still too warm. Don't be afraid to change the temperature throughout the year and most importantly, make sure you are enjoying what you drink!