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What’s the Best Temperature to Serve White and Red Wines?

Wines should be cooler than you might expect — but go too cold and you may impact the taste

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Bottles of wine chilling in a big brass ice bucket, on a countertop Getty Images

Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: I’ve seen red wines chilled and white wines served warmer than expected — so what’s the ideal temperature to serve each color? Does it depend on the grape? Also, any tips on the best way to quickly chill a bottle?

Nate Hoffa is the beverage director at Trentina, Cleveland’s acclaimed Northern Italian restaurant which launched in summer of 2014 thanks in part to a boost from Kickstarter. While chef Jonathon Sawyer of the Greenhouse Tavern helms the menu with dishes like edible beef candles and porchetta, Hoffa finds appropriate beverages to pair — and at the appropriate temp. And below, Hoffa elaborates on the relationship between wine and temperature.

“First and foremost, the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to wine is that wine is all about pleasure. Quite often guests become too overwhelmed by all of the formalities surrounding the process of ordering and serving wine, that they miss the true essence of what wine is all about. Likewise, as a professional, I sometimes find myself caught up in all of the technicalities, that I forget about the excitement and fun of just enjoying a glass… or a bottle, of wine.

In short, the common belief is that white wines should be served chilled and red wines should be served just below room temperature. Although this given rule of thumb is certainly true, the varietal and the region of origin should be kept in mind when determining the proper serving temperature. Remember that the nuances making a wine special change as the temperature of the wine changes. Serving temperatures should be examined on a spectrum that varies by the characteristics of the grape while considering where and how it was vinified.

Generally speaking, easy drinking, light-bodied whites should be served between 42-50°F, whereas fuller-bodied whites should be served between 50-59°F. The latter is a crossover range in which light-bodied reds should also be served between 50-59°F. Big, full-bodied reds should be poured at a temperature between 58-65 degrees.

If a white wine is served too cold, the intricacies are often muted and the wine is unable to personify its true spirit. Red wines that are served too cold present unpleasant tannins. Conversely, wines that are served too warm often come across as heavy, alcoholic, and flabby.

Understanding what the grape and the producer are trying to say through the wine is paramount to understanding its proper service temperature. For instance, over the past few weeks, my fellow Clevelanders and I have been enduring the harshness of winter. As such, I have found great joy in exploring the sleek beauty of cru Beaujolais, whose refreshing and fruity nuances remind me of sipping in the spring. Using the varietal Gamay, the wines of Beaujolais should be slightly chilled and served just below room temperature in order to accentuate the refreshing fruit notes that are naturally present. These wines are intended to be approachable, unpretentious, easy drinking, and fun.

In summary, an understanding of the character of the wine and the role that it plays on the table can only be fully realized when the wine is served at the proper temperature.
Unfortunately, both restaurants and the everyday consumer often lack the luxury of having temperature controlled vessels to store wine; as a result, white wines are often served too cold, and red wines are poured too warm. If time permits, try pulling your bottle of white wine out of the fridge about thirty minutes before you plan to serve your meal. As a wine geek, I would suggest tasting a small pour of the wine as it comes out of the refrigerator and compare it to the glass that you pour alongside your meal. Moreover, when dining out, if you feel that a wine is being served at too low of a temperature, place your hand along the bowl of the glass and allow your body temperature to elevate the temperature of the wine. Remember that wine evolves over time and that a glass of wine can be appreciated differently as it warms up in the glass. Sommeliers often talk about wines that need to "open up" and "breathe." The same ideology is true with respect to temperature. The excitement of wine is that each sip has its own personality. At the end of the day, wine is all about personal preference, so feel free to embrace what you feel is spot-on in terms of temperature.

If you are short on time and need to chill a bottle of wine quickly, use the following technique: Assemble an ice bath (water and ice) with a generous amount of salt and place the bottle directly in the liquid. The addition of salt promotes melting which is the result of energy being transferred from the bottle to the ice bath. The wine should be chilled and ready to be enjoyed in no time at all (about 20 to 30 minutes, tops).”

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