Do you drink (or serve) your red wines too warm? Are your white wines too cold? Whether you know it or not, the answer to both questions is probably yes. And while most of us don’t bother much with the temperature of our wines, a little extra attention to just how cold or warm your whites and reds are can go a long way in making them taste their best.
As the temperature of a wine increases, the aromas and flavours change, often dramatically. A wine that’s too cold is typically stingy in the aroma and flavour department, while a warmer wine is too generous — there’s no restraint and the flavours don’t come together quite right.
To put it another way, very cold wine tightens up while too-warm wine falls apart.
The former is typically a problem with white wines, while the latter is more an issue with reds. But while chilling a white and serving a red at room temperature is a good starting point, there are degrees — pun intended — of variation when it comes to hitting that sweet spot.
Try it yourself — pour a glass of wine, red or white, into a glass and leave it on the counter, then chill the same bottle for 15 (or 20 or 30) minutes and taste it against the room-temperature wine. You’ll notice certain flavour components will be accentuated in the warmer glass, and/or you’ll find the wine benefits from that time in the fridge.
Consider what follows as simply suggestions to help maximize your drinking experience with everyday wines. But remember, there are (still) no rules when it comes to wine.
Generally speaking, the lighter in colour a wine appears, the colder it should be served. Sparkling wines, as well as lighter-bodied, pale white wines like Pinot Grigio, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc can be chilled right down — stick them in the fridge for as long as you like. Typically crisp, clean and simple, these wines show best when served quite cold. Same with dry rosés — these wines change more than most wine styles as they warm up.
Spicy, aromatic white wines (Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner and Viognier, for example) do best slightly warmer — this allows their added complexity to shine through. Unoaked Chardonnay does well in this mid-chilled range as well. Try taking these out of the fridge about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Oaked Chardonnays should receive the least amount of chilling of white wines. They’re rich and intense, and over-chilling will constrict the complexity they get from oak aging that makes them great. Give these wines a light chill and enjoy.
Lighter red wines pick up where Chardonnay leaves off — Gamay, Pinot Noir, and entry-level red blends often benefit from 10-15 minutes in the fridge. The ripe berry flavours will still shine through, while chilling accentuates the modest tannin, adding some structure and complexity.
Then there are the bigger heavier reds, typically served at "room temperature." Back in the days of stone dwellings with simple root cellars — think rural Europe here — that meant in the neighbourhood of 15-18 C. Chances are your house isn’t that cold — so yes, even a big red wine can benefit from a quick 10-minute stay in your fridge.
Garcia Carrion NV Jaume Serra Cava (Cava, Spain — around $14, private wine stores)
Like many great Spanish Cavas, the Jaume Serra brings dry lemon rind, green apple skin, mineral and white pepper aromas. Sure enough, it’s a bone-dry light bubbly, with lemon-lime, green apple and mineral notes, some light acidity and that herbal, almost-peppery note for structure. It wouldn’t be pleasant served warm, but when chilled right down it’s an austere, racy sparkling wine. 88/100
Nederburg 2011 The Winemaster’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Coastal Region, South Africa — $13.49, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Most South African Sauvignon Blanc is pretty herbal, and the Nederburg is no exception. Leafy, bell pepper, lemongrass and grapefruit aromas are most prevalent here. It’s a crisp, light-bodied white that’s nearly mouth-puckering, but when well-chilled, the racy acidity with ripe citrus, herbal and gooseberry flavours emerge. When tasted after being left on the counter for 10 minutes, the acidity and herbal notes started taking over. Keep it cold. 87/100
Juan Gil 2010 White Label Monastrell (Jumilla, Spain — $13.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Plum, ash, ripe raspberry, mocha and white pepper aromas are pretty darn expressive on the nose here. This medium-plus-bodied red brings ripe cherry and raspberry flavours, as well as espresso, black pepper and caramel notes. This wine was in my cool-ish basement, and tasted great right off the bat — after half an hour on the kitchen counter the flavours changed noticeably. Ten minutes in the fridge and the wine was once again super-fresh. 89/100