Wine aficionados tend to place a lot of importance on the age, provenance, and pedigree of a fine wine, including storing it at the perfect temperature and humidity in the cellar.
But with so much focus on the past, we tend to sell ourselves short when it comes time to pop the cork. From the cellar to the glass, there’s an often-overlooked step that can make all the difference in your tasting experience: Serving the wine at the correct temperature.
Whether you’re opening a 30-year-old Left Bank Bordeaux, or a relatively young California Chardonnay, almost every style of wine improves when poured at the perfect temperature. Volatile aromas rise out of the wine glass to deliver a complex bouquet of scents and sensations, and the flavors are neither muted nor exaggerated, but rich, vivid, and balanced.
Proper storage, the type of wine itself and how you serve the wine all affect what you taste in the glass. Let’s learn how.
How your wine is stored and cared for contributes greatly to its overall quality. Aging a premium wine helps develop its flavor profile, enhances its aromatics and in red wines, mellows out certain elements like tannins and acidity. In many cases, luxury-level collectibles may need decades of time before drinking at their best.
A good storage space has two main features: consistent temperature and humidity (55-57°F with an average of 60%). If your collection is small and intended for immediate enjoyment, this can be accomplished with something as simple as a standalone wine refrigerator. For more serious collections, a professional cabinet or compact cellar (in a pantry, closet, or under the stairs) is even better, and a custom-built, full-sized cellar is the best option for larger collections that require extended aging. Are you still trying to decide which approach is best? Building your own wine cellar can present many possibilities!
It’s relatively common knowledge that red wines and white wines are served at different temperatures, but there are even further nuances to that adage. Sparkling, rosé, and dessert wines each have an optimum serving temperature too.
In general, the lighter-bodied a wine, the lower its serving temperature will be. The bolder the wine, the warmer you can go.
Red Wine Serving Temperatures
One major factor that differentiates red wine from white is tannins (natural proteins that come from the seeds and skins of the grape). Tannins give a wine structure, flavor, and aging potential, but at low temperatures, can make it taste overly bitter and thin. Apart from some low-tannin reds like Pinot Noir, we don’t usually chill reds.
Red wines are also higher in phenolics (the chemical compounds that give wine its color, aroma, and flavor) and together with alcohol give the wine its nose and flavor intensity. Warmer temperatures make a red wine’s bouquet and flavor more complex and powerful, but be careful; too warm, and the alcohol will become overstated, and the wine will seem “hot.”
A range of temperatures gives you room to adjust for personal preference. From light-bodied to heaviest, here are the recommended serving temperatures for popular red wines:
- Pinot Noir serving temperature: 55-60°F (12-15°C)
- Zinfandel serving temperature: 60-65°F (15-18°C)
- Merlot serving temperature: 60-65°F (15-18°C)
- Malbec serving temperature: 60-65°F (15-18°C)
- Cabernet Sauvignon serving temperature: 60-65°F (15-18°C)
Rich dessert wines like Port, Madeira, and Sherry are often served at what used to be traditional Victorian “room temperature,” around 65°F (18°C).
White Wine Serving Temperatures
White wines are practically devoid of tannins, generally lower in alcohol, and tend to have more delicate phenolics that lean toward citrus, stone fruit, flowers, and herbs. To remain light, fresh, and not too heavy or viscous, they are best served at cooler temperatures.
Between 45-55°F (7-12°C), whites reveal their delicate, floral notes and fruit flavors, oak and butter from barrel aging are not too overblown and their crisp, tangy acidity is in balance with the other components. Above this range, the alcohol stands out, the fruit flavors will taste oxidized or cooked and the wine will start to feel heavy and thick.
Here are the suggested temperature ranges for some popular whites:
- Sauvignon Blanc serving temperature: 45-49°F (7-9°C)
- Pinot Grigio serving temperature: 45-49°F (7-9°C)
- Riesling serving temperature: 45-49°F (7-9°C)
- Rosé serving temperature: 48-53°F (9-11°C)
- Chardonnay serving temperature: 50-55°F (10-12°C)
Strongly aromatic and perfumed varieties like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and even Champagne can take a slightly colder chill (as low as 40°F/4°C) because even at muted levels, they’re still intensely bright and flavorful, thanks to their acidity.
More Wine Serving Tips
Serving your wines at the proper temperature is just one of several things you can do to optimize the tasting experience. Here are a few more suggestions:
Chill Wine After Opening
Most whites will need to be chilled after pulling from the cellar. An insulated bucket filled with ice, water, and a teaspoon of salt will rapidly chill a wine. If you’re concerned about preserving the label, place the wine in a plastic bag before immersing it. Inverting the bottle every few minutes will help mix and chill the wine in the bottle faster.
The average household refrigerator hovers around 43°F (6°C). This is too cold for long-term storage but can be used to quickly bring a bottle down a few degrees before opening. The freezer is even quicker — just don’t forget your expensive Cult Cab is in there.
If you’re a perfectionist, digital wine thermometers are fairly common and affordable these days, and infrared versions can measure the exact temperature inside the bottle as you drink.
Decant Wine Before Serving
Most experts agree that red wines, even everyday drinkers, will benefit from some amount of decanting. Transferring the wine to an open vessel aerates and intensifies the aroma and flavors and filters out any sediment or deposits from the bottle. Decant your reds at least two hours before serving and keep the decanter in your cooler until you’re ready to pour. If the wine needs to come up in temperature, bring it out approximately half an hour before serving.
A great bottle of wine can be like a classic novel, in that there’s an epic story inside just waiting to be told; but how vividly and expressively that story is conveyed largely depends on where you’re coming from — and where you are in the moment.
Storing and aging your wines in the best conditions possible will set you up for success when it comes time to open those bottles. But before you decide which cooling setup and design to go with, start with our easy cooling calculator to see what your options are.
And after you’ve invested your time, money, and effort, don’t stop short when you pull the cork. With a few finishing touches, like serving your wines at the correct temperature, you can rest assured knowing you’re tasting them at their absolute best.