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The Best Temperature To Drink Wine
Are you short changing yourself from the best attributes of wine by drinking it at the incorrect temperature? Think twice before getting ice.
If there is a beverage that has survived the ages and just seems to get better with time, it is wine. Ancient writers such as Ovid wrote, "When there is plenty of wine, sorry and worry take wing." In the 17th century, Shakespeare extolled wine's virtues when he penned, "Good wine is a familiar creature if it be well used." And, in recent times, medical research has pleased the enophile stating that red wine in moderation is good for the ticker.
What is not as evident is the best temperature to drink wine. Indeed, it is probably the single most misunderstood concept about wine.
Optimizing the qualities of wine can bring curious stares from fellow diners and even the wait staff. They see our bottle of red on ice and our bottle of white sitting out to warm. We can just feel the glances saying, "those people don't know how to drink wine."
The truth is that in most restaurants full body white wines are served way too cold, and the reds are served too warm. In order to enjoy all a wine has to offer, sometimes matters have to be taken into your own hands. If you drink it at the wrong temperature, you are not getting your money's worth.
Wine should be consumed at about European cellar temperature, not south Florida room temperature. Generally, the richer and "bigger" the wine, the warmer it should be served. Thus, red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for example, do well at about 63 to 65 degrees, while whites such as Chardonnay or Viognier exhibit better taste when served at 53 to 55 degrees, and then permitted to warm as you sip.
In most establishments, the whites comes at "refrigerator" temperature and the reds at room temperature so you can see the problem. If you plan to drink Chardonnays out of the refrigerator and into the ice bucket, you would be best served by ordering the cheapest bottle available because at 35 to 40 degrees even an expert would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a $7 bottle and a $35 bottle.
When a wine is over chilled, good and bad flavors are disguised. Consider how you eat ice cream: it warms in your mouth for maximum flavor before swallowing. The same chemical principles apply to wine. For crispier white wines, such as Sauvignon Blancs, drinking a bit colder than Chardonnay is preferred, but still not so cold you cannot distinguish the taste. About 48 degrees should be about right. For lighter reds, such as Beaujolais, 54 degrees best suits the wine.
A matter of personal preference, however, arises with regard to three popular varietals of red — Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Sangiovese. Clearly, serving them under 60 degrees would not be in the best interest of the wine, but some people prefer them at the same temperature as Cabernet Sauvignon, and some prefer them a touch cooler. You can get good flavors at either level, so it's a matter of your own taste.
All said, everything involving wine is a matter of your own taste. If you like it, don't let anyone tell you (or convince you) that you shouldn't. If you identify a taste in a wine (such as chocolate in a Cabernet Sauvignon or grapefruit in a Sauvignon Blanc), don't believe anyone who says it isn't there. This hobby and enjoyment is for you.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.