This is a tricky one. But here in South America, where temperatures are perhaps a little balmier than you might find in Michigan, or London for example, wines tend to (and should) be served a little cooler than you might expect.
When I grew up in England, we were told as a basic rule “whites in the fridge, reds room temperature”. That’s not far off, but if you like to ramp up the central heating in your cosily carpeted home, your room temperature is likely to be far too hot for a wine.
Ideal temperatures for wines
Ice Ice Baby (6-9 C)
This is the coolest you should really go, and it isn’t quite ice – more like really cold empty fridge temperature. This is the right service temperature for bubbly, and whites that like to be served cooler such as young Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontes. This is also the ideal temperature range for sweet, low alcohol wines like ‘cosecha tardia’ (late harvest) whites.
Keeping it cool (8-10C)
Most whites and rose will fall into this bracket. The catch-all cool class. In the fridge for an hour or so. Just cold enough to feel cool in the mouth, but the aromas will still open up nicely. Unoaked Chardonnay, young Riesling and young Viognier are ideal here.
A fresh dip (9-13C)
This is where you want to keep your more complex whites, and lighter bodied reds. Oaked whites (like a buttery Chardonnay), older Riesling, Pinot Noir and fresh Pais or Criolla are the most likely culprits from South America.
A cool room (12-16 C)
Most of your reds will sit in this temperature bubble. Young reds with no or a bit of oak ageing from all varieties and all regions. Ideal to pull out of the cellar at this temperature. If it is a hot day, pop them in the fridge for an hour then sit it out for five to ten minutes before serving.
Room temperature (15-18 C)
This is reserved only for port-style wines and very complex older wines. If you are serving an expensive, 3 years in barrel sort of red decant it at 15 C and let it reach room temperature over an hour or so. Dessert wines with alcohol over 16% should be served at this sort of temperature too. On the contrary, the lighter alcohol sweet wines (like cosecha tardia), especially white, should be chilled.
- Temperature is important because of the play between alcohol and aroma. The hotter the wine, the more noticeable the alcohol (it’s the same reason why some whisky drinkers might add ice). Drink it too cold, and the aromas are ‘closed’ (again, one of the reason serious whisky drinkers never add ice). Similarly a hot wine can mean that the subtle aromas get lost and all you notice is the alcohol. A really cold red wine can also make the tannins feel tight in your mouth.
- A wine is easier to warm up in a glass, rather than cool down. If you served it a shade too cool, cup your glass in your hands for a minute or two. If you served it too hot, pour your wine back in the bottle, pop a cork in it and put it in the fridge (or an ice cooler if in a rush) for a little while.
- Avoid blasting a wine with ice if you can, similarly heating it up too quickly. Any rapid changes in heat are risky changes for a wine.
- Ideal wine storage? Dark, dry, dormant (don’t move it much!) and 12-13C.
- Got some left over? Lucky you! Put a cork (a fancy air suction pump if you have it) and keep it in the fridge, whatever the colour.