This blog article is in response to a great question about why different wines drink better at different temperatures. Oddly enough it all comes back to our olfactory. Our sense of smell ultimately effects our taste buds. With out our sense of smell we would simply taste four sensations: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. If you want to see for yourself try plugging your nose the next time you eat a chocolate chip cookie, all you taste is sweetness.
What does this have to do with service temperature? Well our sense of smell is only susceptible to vapors. Red wines are generally less volatile or more aromatic than white wines. Red wines are served at room temperature in order to warm it to the point where its elements begin to vaporize. Optimal vaporization happens at a warmer temperature for big bold wines and cool temperatures for lighter wines.
Another reason that some wines drink better at different temperatures is tannins. Tannis are almost exclusively found in red wines. I describe them as the sensation that you experience when your mouth feels like it has been wallpapered in suede and velvet. Tannins are more obvious at lower temperatures. This is the reason a young tannic wine is served at warmer temperatures, like a Cab from Napa for example. Serving a highly tannic wine at a warmer temperature can also create the sense of maturity. As far as sweetness goes, cold is a necessity to counterbalance the richness of very sweet wines like that of Tokaji.
Service temperature as a whole tends to hot button. In my opinion Americans drink their red wines to warm and their white wines to cold. When a white wine is too cold it tends to be muted, all of the aromatics and flavors are lost. On the flip side if a red wine is served too warm it tends to display over cooked aromas or the wine may simply taste flabby.
I like to serve my reds at "French room temperature". I am commonly asked, "Is a French room colder than an American room?" I always tell them "yes, that is why the French wear turtlenecks." That was a joke. But in all seriousness yes, the term chambre refers to room temp. Traditionally a French dinning room was around 60 degrees F. So when we look at the expression room temp we have to consider the history.
To get your wines to the correct temperature I will give you a loose formula. Before you are to serve a white put it in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes, this will bring the wine to about 40 to 45 degrees F. If your white wine is in the fridge take it out about an hour before you serve it. Last, I do not recommend this solution, if you are in a pinch with your white wine stick it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. As for reds you want to put them in the fridge about 15 minutes before you serve them, this will bring your wine to about 60 to 65 degrees F.
To sum it up you want to serve your sparklers the coldest around 40 degrees F. Sweeter wines like Riesling or Gewurztraminer at about 45 degrees F. Fuller bodied whites like Chardonnay you want to be around 50 degrees F. On the red side you want to have your lighter bodied reds like Beaujolais and lighter Pinot Noir around 55 degrees F. Then your medium bodied reds like Chianti or Chilean reds around 60 degrees F. And your fat, chewy, big bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz around 65 degrees F.
If you stick to these general rules you will find success in your wine endeavors. Like I always say, if you have a terrible wine, stick it in the freezer for about and hour, just kidding. Thanks again for the question I hope I answered it and please keep them coming.
Cru Wine Specialists