I’m sure at some point in your lives you’ve been told that red wine should be served at room temperature
This is a widely perpetuated myth, but like all the best myths there is some basis in reality, the idea of room temperature hearkens back to a time before central heating, before air conditioning when the temperature of the room was controlled by less reliable things like open fires. So, rather than the balmy 20-26 °C we now enjoy/suffer in our homes – dependant on who controls the thermostat, of course, room temperature used to be around 16-18 °C, depending of course on how often you could be bothered to go to get/send servants for logs for the fire.
If you think of it in another way there is no room temperature, merely different rooms.
So, all wines can in fact be served slightly chilled to drop them down to their ideal temperature.
All these temps are in Celsius I’m afraid. If you find yourself needing to quickly convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, there is a simple trick you can use: multiply the temperature in degrees Celsius by 2 and then add 30 to get the (kind of accurate) temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.
The colder something is the less you can taste it – think ice cream – I dare you to try ice cream at room temperature – granted you’ll have to remove the prefix of ice but you will find it becomes cloyingly sweet. The same goes when you first taste frozen solid ice cream – it is only as it starts to melt on your tongue that it really tastes sweet. This is also why it is easy to eat a whole tub, or so I’m told.
So, the colder you serve your wine the less you will be able to taste the character of the wine, all of the fruit character in white wine can be lost if it is served at too cold a temperature. Of course, this is not the end of the world, as your hands and the room will slowly warm your wine to a more suitable temperature.
It is much harder to go the other way – ice cubes will work but will earn you frowns from certain people who will remain unnamed, they will also dilute your wine (frozen grapes will also work, and give you a slightly alcoholic grape to munch on after you finish your wine).
You do however need to be careful with red wines when served too warm the alcohol can become out of balance with the structure of the wine and freshness will be lost – this is described by the term soupy
Ideal Serving Temperatures
Sparkling wine 6-10°C or Well chilled
Sweet wine 6-8°C or Well chilled
Light & medium-bodied white wine + rosé 7-10°C or Chilled
Full-bodied white wine 10-13°C or Lightly chilled
Light-bodied red wine 13 °C or Lightly chilled
Medium & full-bodied red wine 15-18 °C or Room temperature
These can be explained fairly easily.
Sparkling wine - Carbon dioxide is more soluble at cooler temperatures so by chilling your sparkling wine down to a cooler temperature you stop the CO2 from escaping into the atmosphere and retain the fizz.
Sweet wine – as you can see above sweetness is more detectable on the tongue at warmer temperatures. Some sweet wines contain more sugar than ice cream, so they need to be drunk at low temperatures to make them palatable. The acidity of the wine also helps with this.
The others need a little bit more info to understand them properly.
Body of the wine
It’s useful to understand what we mean by the body in wine – so feel free to browse our other posts to find out more.
Lighter-bodied wines have less intense fruit character and so can be chilled down – this applies to both white, rosé, and red.
Full-bodied wines have more intense fruit, structure, tannins, and alcohol so can be served at a warmer temperature.
Oak and Tannin
These must be taken into account when deciding on your serving temp – so the more you know about your wine the better. If you chill a wine that has high tannin levels or has seen significant oak during the wine-making process then these elements could become out of balance with other elements in the wine, as these give body and structure to the wine. So, it would be better to drink these wines at the previously mentioned Room Temperature.
It’s all down to microscopic channels in our taste buds called TRPM5 (catchy sounding name) being more receptive to tastes at different temperatures. The reaction of TMPM5 is much more intense as the temperature increase, this sends a signal to our brain which enhances the taste.
There is a fascinating article by Lorraine Heller on the subject below
This has even been linked to why different cultures have a predisposition to sweeter, richer foods. In the US it is common for people to drink ice cold water with their meals, this subdues the TMPM5 receptors which could explain why Americans have a preference for highly sweetened foods.
Personal preference also plays a massive factor in what temperature you drink your wine – I know very few people who like chilled reds and even less who like near-to-room temperature whites – but both will actually make the wines taste better than at your preferred temperature.
Most people like to drink red wine at room temperature and white wine at fridge temperature – this is after all the temperature most of us drink wine at, either at home or when going out for a drink at the pub or a meal in a restaurant.
What do you prefer? Are you one of those people happy to sip your red wine with ice crystals forming on the outside of the glass? Or do you like your whites warm enough to cure frostbite?
How do we manage this?
There are of course a variety of gadgets and toys that can be found to perfect your wine service – from wine fridges with multiple zones for reds and whites, but not everyone has the space for a wine fridge never mind thousands of pounds to spend on an extra fridge. You could always opt for a simple wine thermometer, but again this could end up being something that just sits in that drawer alongside a variety of bottle openers and the many other gadgets that people buy in regard to wine.
As long as you know the temperature of the room that you’re drinking the wine in then you’ll know where to start. I’m sure you know enough about basic thermodynamics to understand that a fridge will help cool your wine down and the room temperature will help warm it up, taking into consideration the time of year you hopefully, can’t go too badly wrong.