THE BLOG

Serve White Cold and Red Room Temperature? Wine's Not That Simple

06/20/2012 03:20 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

A few days ago, we got a call from a client asking about proper temperatures for storing wine.

She just purchased a swanky new fridge that had three separate temperature controlled sections. Ostensibly, one was designated for white, the other red, and the last sparkling wine.

But like all things in the world of wine, frustratingly, it's not that simple. To maximize enjoyment, some whites are meant to be served warmer than others (usually fuller bodied wines like white Burgundy), and some reds are meant to be drunk cooler (usually lighter, simpler reds like Beaujolais).

So, thinking that many of you may be wondering the same thing, we decided to put together this little cheat sheet for you.

Light whites/inexpensive bubbly/sweet wines: 4 C - 8 C

Examples of wines that should be stored at this temperature are Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Muscadet, Cava, Prosecco and Icewine.

(With the exception of Icewine, wines in this category are usually inexpensive).

Full bodied whites/light reds/Champagne: 8 C - 10 C

Examples here include white Burgundy, Viognier, Beaujolais, Valpolicella, and New World Pinot Noir.

(Usually pricier whites, and reds that can range from value wines to investment bottles -- especially with Pinot Noir).

Full bodied reds: 14 C - 18 C

Wines stored at this temperature include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Barolo, Zinfandel, Malbec, Chianti. (Most often, these wines are in the mid- to high- price range).

Whites are Served Too Cold, Reds are Served Too Warm

By now we've all heard the old adage that whites are served too cold, and reds too warm.

That's because at some point in time, someone somewhere heard red wine should be served at room temperature and held steadfastly to that rule. Of course, we all know now that was in reference to the days when we all lived in stone dwellings without central heating, and room temp meant more like 17 C - not the 21 C degrees or more that most of us live in today.

As for whites, someone somewhere said whites are to be served cold, and in our minds, how do you make things cold? You stick them in the fridge. But again, think about the days of yore, when wine collections were kept in the basement, which had an "underground" temperature of about 10 degrees or so.

Cold can inhibit flavour. When you drink a wine that is near the freezing mark, understand that you're not going to be picking up on a lot of nuances. But that's fine, because if done correctly, the wines you're drinking cold are simple wines anyway. In this case let's use Pinot Grigio: a crowd favourite to be sure, and often a crowd favourite because it's an inoffensive quaffer. No oak, no bold flavours, and goes well with a lot of food. Slam dunk.

Now let's let that Pinot Grigio heat up a bit -- let's say to 18 C -- the temperature of a full-bodied red. Now you're probably going to taste a flavourless, bitter wine with heightened alcohol. Yuck.

The flip side's the same: take a big, bold Shiraz, full of black pepper spice, juicy blackberry fruit, and maybe some herbacious eucalyptus notes. Served in the ballpark of 16 to 18 degrees Celsius, this wine's a gem, showing all the complexities, flavour and nuance that make it what it is.

Now throw that bad boy in the fridge, and what do you get? An icy wine that's barely detectable as a Shiraz. A total waste of money.

However, this isn't a perfect world and chances are pretty good you're going to find yourself someplace -- maybe even your own home -- where the wine you're served will not be the temperature it should.

Here's what you can do to heat up, or cool down your vino:

Cool down:

An ice bucket with half ice half water is the fastest way to chill your white wine. In most cases it'll take 20 minutes. It's faster than the freezer or a bucket filled with just ice.

If your red needs cooling down, stick a full bodied red in the fridge for 15 minutes and a light-bodied red in the fridge for an hour. If your glass is already poured, here's a trick we saw recently: get one ice cube, get an ice cube and swirl it around for 10-20 seconds, then scoop it out and carry on.

Warm up:

If your red is to chilly, decanting is always a great option. By transferring the wine to another (warmer) vessel the wine can gradually, but reasonably quickly, come up to temperature.

If a you receive a glass, cup both your hands around the bowl, so the warmth of your hands can increase the temperature of your wine.

A few more tips:

When in doubt serve wine on the cooler side, rather than warmer.

Never store your wine in the kitchen -- especially on top of the fridge. Wine needs a stable environments without large swings in temperature, humidity, light and vibration. The top of the fridge is just about the worst place for all of these things.

Store your wines in the basement. Even if you don't have a proper cellar, keep your wine bottles in the cases under the stairs.

If you don't have a basement, the closet will do.