Getting wine temperature just right

Jonathan Goodall / 11 June 2012

Nowadays it’s easy to serve white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Read our guide to getting the serving and storage temperatures just right.

The golden rule – that white wines should be served chilled and reds at room temperature – still holds true, but this simple advice predates fridges and central heating.

The right temperature to serve white wine

Served too cold, whites lose most of their aroma and flavour. No bad thing with a cheap, nasty wine, but a tragic waste of anything more complex such as a white Burgundy, for which I would allocate no more than half an hour’s fridge time: four hours for ‘paint stripper’.

Full-bodied, oaky whites such as the above-mentioned Burgundy or rich New World Chardonnay project well at around 12–14C (54–57F); while medium to lighter-bodied whites – Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc – are good at about 9–10C (48–50F), as is a crisp rosé.

Err on the cool side when serving; a glass of wine warms quickly in your cupped hands (chaleur de la main, as the French call it).

The right temperature to serve red wine

Red wine served too warm is flabby and unfocused. Alcohol becomes the dominant factor and the wine is described as tasting ‘hot’ (not in a good way). The cruel practice of pre-warming reds on Agas and radiators lends new meaning to the term ‘cooking wine’ and should be banned along with seal clubbing.

The optimum temperature for big, spicy reds – think Shiraz, Rhône and Zinfandel – is about 18C (64F). However, medium-bodied reds such as Rioja and Chianti are better a few degrees cooler at around 16C (61F).

When red wine should be chilled

This brings me to the thorny issue of which red wines can benefit from half an hour in the fridge. These will be lighter-bodied, unoaked, juicy reds such as Beaujolais (made from the Gamay grape), Loire reds (Cabernet Franc), lighter-bodied Pinot Noir, Barbera and Valpolicella.

A light chill seems to emphasise both their smooth texture and crisp acidity. And, if you don’t already, chill dry fino sherry, tawny port and sweet wines – Sauternes and Muscats.

Wine storage temperature

The ideal cellar temperature for storing wine is around 15C (59F) or, in layman’s terms, the garage, but it must be constant, without wide swings caused by boilers or hot-water pipes. There are wine thermometers that wrap around the bottle, though I have survived this far without.

Let the body of the wine be your guide (lighter/cooler, fuller/warmer) and trust your experience. For all I know, you may enjoy a steaming mug of champagne.

Ideal wine temperatures

Big spicy reds
Shiraz, Rhône, Zinfandel
Serve at 18C (64F)

Medium-bodied reds
Rioja, Chianti
Serve at 16C (61F)

Oaky Whites
Burgundy or rich New World Chardonnay
Serve at 12–14C (54–57F)

Medium and lighter-bodied whites
Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, crisp Rosé
Serve at 9–10C (48–50F)

Cooling wine down quickly

The quickest way to cool wine is with ice and water – faster than a fridge or just ice on its own.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.