The Right Temperature for Wines: FAQs
Q. What is the right temperature for white wines?
A. The warmer a food or drink, the more vapour is released and the more messages it can send to the brain. The fuller bodied a wine, the more difficult it is to release the vapour. It makes sense therefore not to over chill a good full-bodied white such as a white Burgundy. Very light, aromatic wines such as some Muscats and German Rieslings can take chilling much better. Try to judge the ‘body’ of a wine before deciding how much to chill it, though bear in mind that over-chilling is the ideal solution with a white wine that has a pretty unpleasant smell.
Q. How do you chill wines?
A. An hour or two in the door of the refrigerator is the best way. A speedy alternative is 10-15 minutes in an ice bucket or any receptacle big enough to hold the bottle with a mixture of water and ice (much better than a bucketful of ice cubes alone, which puts only a fraction of the bottle in contact with the cooling agent). A spell in the deep freeze works at about the same speed, although it is important not to leave a bottle in there by mistake, as the wine will freeze and push the cork out or even break the bottle.
Q. What is the right temperature for red wines?
A. The traditional answer is ‘room’ temperature, but wines served at the same temperature as some centrally heated rooms would rapidly turn to vinegar. At least a wine that is too cool can be rescued by cupping the bowl of the glass in a warm hand, but a wine that becomes too warm can spoil beyond redemption. Red wines are traditionally served warmer than whites partly because they tend to be less naturally aromatic and fuller bodied, and therefore have to be encouraged to give off their vapour, and partly because they are more likely to contain tannin . Tannin tastes even more unpleasantly obvious at low temperatures, so a red such as a claret or a Barolo from Italy should be served warmer than a light-bodied, low-tannin wine such as a Beaujolais or Valpolicella. Wines such as these can happily take a bit of chilling, especially in the summer, and are some of the world’s most versatile wines as regards the temperature at which they are served and the foods that can be enjoyed with them.
Q. How can red wine be warmed up in a hurry?
A. Probably the most effective way is to pour the wine and warm up each glass by cupping the bowl in the hand. Those who feel wary of asking their guests to ‘warm-it-yourself can put the bottle somewhere warmish but not hot (certainly not on a radiator!). If a wine is robust enough to take decanting, pouring it into a decanter that was previously filled with hot water is another effective method.
Q. What happens to wines that are kept in the refrigerator too long?
A. A complex white that is kept in the refrigerator for more than a week tends to lose its complexity, and this is particularly true of sparkling wines.