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Just chill - stop overthinking the perfect wine serving temperature

Forget the numbers. Enjoying your wine at its optimum temperature doesn’t have to be a science experiment. Once you have these simple habits under your belt, you won’t even have to think about temperature any more, you’ll just be enjoying your wine that much more.

Consider where you’ve set the air con. We’re comfortable inside in a finite temperature range (which we’ve been debating fiercely around the office, of late). Some are happier a bit warmer, while others of us work better with a bit of chill, and tend to become less enjoyable to be around as the room heats up.

Wine is no different. Red wine is generally enjoyed best at European room temperature, or the temperature at which it’s still comfortable to wear a lightweight dinner jacket; we’re in Europe, after all, so make an effort. White wine should be chilled slightly but not too much otherwise you lose its fine aromas, and sparkling wine may be chilled a little further again to maintain the bubbles that the winemaker worked so hard to get in there in the first place (it’s no coincidence that the higher acid wines are chilled a bit more, as high acid wines can taste harsh at higher temperatures).

Start from the bottom of the wine serving temperature scale with sparkling. Generally, the cheaper the sparkling, the colder you want it. Straight out of the fridge is good. Chilling supresses aromas, both good and bad, and for cheaper wine, this is often a very good thing. Better sparkling and Champagne can be enjoyed a little warmer, up to about 12°C, before you start compromising bubbles and the acid tastes a little harsh. It’s a fine balance. White wine’s the same, and lighter, more aromatic (or sweeter) whites should be chilled a bit more as they’ll be exuberant even at lower temperatures, while fuller, more neutral whites like Chardonnay should be allowed to warm up to fully express their voluptuous curves.

The rule of thumb is a little bit cooler for lighter reds like Pinot Noir (say, 14°C) and a little warmer for heavier reds (18°C is good), but any warmer than that and the wine will start to taste a little flat, flabby or muddy. If you want to maintain the wine’s special and unique aromas, chill.

Honestly, no one (ok, some geeks, but we are the 99%) is going to stick a thermometer in their wine glass to make sure it’s at optimum temperature prior to their first delicate sip. Here are the general rules for you, the realist who wants to simply enjoy life and fine wine just that little bit more:

Sparkling, light whites and stickies should be in the fridge at least a couple of hours before you want to drink them. If you get desperate, wrap the bottle in a wet tea towel and chuck it in the freezer, but it’s still going to take about half an hour to get it as cold as you want, and it’s less controllable (don’t forget about it! I can vouch for the sad, sticky results…). If it’s a better wine, let your hands on the glass warm it up once you’ve poured it – you’ll soon find that wine’s perfect drinking temp, and you can readily maintain it by chucking it back in the fridge or leaving it on the table.

Rosé and Chardonnay (or other weightier whites) should have a good hour in the fridge. Again, taste it, if it tastes a little cold (lacking aroma? A little duller than you hoped?) just cup your hands around the glass and give it a jiggle for a minute. Better? 

Reds shouldn’t be served warm! If it’s come from a cosy room or a toasty car, 20 minutes will do it. A quick chill to take the edge off the Aussie warmth and enhance those fine aromas will make all the difference. Pop it in the fridge as you pull the white out for entrée… 

Give it a go! Chill your wine with confidence, and taste the difference as it warms up in your glass. What’s the worst that could happen? Be mindful the first couple of times that you’re eliciting an extra dimension you may have never really stopped to consider… and suddenly, it’s a habit, and your wine will taste better without you even having to think about it. 

References (because I do the sciencing - research at least - so you don't have to)Ross CF & Weller K (2008) Effect of Serving Temperature on the Sensory Attributes of Red and White Wines

Ross CF, Weller K & Alldredge R (2012) Impact of Serving Temperature on Sensory Properties of Red Wine as Evaluated Using Projective Mapping by a Trained Panel

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