Serving Temperature of Wine & When to Chill

The question of chilling and serving wine is often thought to be a straightforward case of serving white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature. This rule, however, provides only the very roughest of guidelines and in order to gain maximum enjoyment from your wines a much more nuanced approach is necessary, one that takes into account the style and body of the wine as well as its colour. We can generalise to the point of saying that the range of serving temperatures for white wines is lower than that of red wines whilst recognising that some very light-bodied red and rosé wines should be served at a similar temperature, if not a little cooler, than a full-bodied, aromatic white wine. By the end of this article the reader should have a better understanding of the most suitable temperature to serve a particular wine.


Serving Temperature of white wines

Chilling Dry White Wines

The degree of chilling required for white wines is largely determined by its body (light, medium or full) and the concentration of volatile aromatic compounds. The lighter and less intensely flavoured the wine, such as a Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc or a less expensive sparkling wine, the lower the serving temperature should be, say around 8-10 degrees Celsius (45-50 degrees Fahrenheit). The best way to chill your wine is to use an ice bucket up to two thirds full with a mixture of ice cubes and cold water - any more and you risk an overflow when placing the bottle in the bucket. About fifteen to twenty minutes immersion should do the trick depending on the initial temperature of the bottle. If you don't have a bucket and ice to hand then an hour or so in the 'fridge should suffice. Please note that the higher the quality of wine made from these grape varieties (and this usually implies the more expensive) the less chilling is desirable as the release of the volatile compounds becomes inhibited at lower temperatures thus resulting in a reduction of flavour and aromas. On the other hand a full-bodied wine such as a White Burgundy or other richly-flavoured Chardonnay or Viognier will prove to be much more enjoyable at a somewhat higher temperature in the region of 12 to 15 degrees Celsius (mid to high fifties Fahrenheit) all the better to release and savour the full range of its aromatic complexity.


Serving Temperature of white wines

Chilling Red Wines

Most wine drinkers are familiar with the old axiom of serving red wine at room temperature. This "rule" dates back to the time long before centrally-heated homes were even conceived let alone common. In such times the average room temperature was in the region of 17 degrees Celsius even with a good fire burning. A medium to full-bodied cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah (shiraz) or similar wine would have tasted bitter and tannic straight from the cellar hence the room temperature rule. In contemporary homes the danger might lie in serving red wines too warm resulting in a "soupy" drinking experience. But what about simpler, lighter-bodied red wines especially in the summer months when a full-bodied red can be inappropriate especially taking into consideration the accompanying food? A simple red Burgundy or New World pinot noir, a Beaujolais (with the possible exception of the famous crus - St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly) or Loire gamay and even a lighter Zinfandel, young Rioja sin crianza or an inexpensive Chianti as well as rosé wines can all be delicious drunk chilled in the summer especially enjoyed with a salad meal or barbecue in the garden. Anything up to an hour in the 'fridge should be ample to achieve the desired temperature of around 14 degrees Celsius (fifty seven degrees Fahrenheit) and provide a very refreshing drink.


Serving Temperature of white wines

Chilling Sweet Wines

Without chilling sweet wines can be rather cloying, serve too cold and the delectable flavours that these wines can produce will remain hidden. It is therefore recommended that sweet white wines such as a Sauternes, Tokaji or Muscat and sweet red wines like a Banyuls should be lightly chilled in the region of 13 to 14 degrees Celsius or 55 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit at which temperature the flavours will be optimally presented. A less expensive version of these dessert wines could be safely served a couple of degrees cooler.


Chilling Fortified Wines

Whether to chill fortified wines is, as with many other wines, very much a matter of personal taste. In Spain a dry sherry such as a Fino or Manzanilla is often drunk chilled as an aperitif and provides an ideal foil for seafood canapés. Sweeter sherry styles and Madeira may also benefit from a very light chilling especially during warmer weather conditions. It is also not unheard of to serve vintage ports very lightly chilled in the warmest months especially on formal occasions where dinner is likely to have been fairly long and the palate in need of some refreshing. 15 degrees Celsius would be appropriate in both cases although we do emphasise that this might not suit everyone's taste.

A word of caution: It is inadvisable to use the freezer as a means of fast-chilling wine as it can be disastrous if left too long and conversation or another distraction results in a shattered bottle caused by the contents freezing. If you really have no other option please set a kitchen timer to a maximum of 15-20 minutes to prevent such an accident occurring.