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Can I really have my white wines too cold, and my red wines too warm?

Posted by Cherry Yung on

Answer: Yes you can!


Believe it or not, one of the most influential factors in your experience of enjoying a wine or not, is what temperature it is served at. Our sense of smell operates by detecting aromatic vapours (known as 'volatiles'), that evaporate from our food and drink and stimulate the receptors in our nose. Some evaporate more readily than others.


The lower the temperature, the fewer of these aromas escape the glass and reach your nasal passage at the back of your nose and mouth. Therefore, it is harder to detect and appreciate the flavours.


Conversely, you can serve red wines too warm! The aromas and flavours are evaporating so quickly, that they are disappearing into the wider atmosphere of the room before they get a chance to reach your nose and mouth in the glass. This can make them seem thin and lifeless.


Light bodied, aromatic white wines


For example, Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. When the label states 'serve chilled' it means around 5-7 degrees Celsius. When you pluck that bottle of white straight out of the fridge, it is more likely around 1-3 degrees. This is what you want for preserving food, but is much too cold to fully appreciate the wine's aromas and flavours! Leaving the bottle 5-10 minutes to warm slightly means that it is still chilled to the point of refreshment, but at the same time allows some of the more delicate aromas to be coaxed out of the glass when poured.


Full bodied white wines


For example, an oaky Chardonnay, or a rich, vintage Champagne. Serving temperature should even be slightly warmer than this at around 10-12 degrees Celsius!


Lighter bodied red wines

For example, Valpolicella, Beaujolais, Loire Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. Serving temperature around 10-13 degrees Celsius. Lighter bodied red wines like Valpolicella or Beaujolais can be enjoyed lightly chilled because of their delicate, refreshing fruity aromatic nature. Chunky reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz usually taste terrible, because chilling them suppresses the flavour and makes the tannins more obvious.


Full bodied red wines


For example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Malbec. Serving temperature around 16-18 degrees Celsius. The term 'serve at room temperature' goes back to a time before central heating! Many of us have our thermostats at temperatures that suit our level of comfort, and definition of 'warm.' This is often well more than 20 degrees, so certainly don't leave your nice bottle of red next to a radiator to 'warm up'! 


Storage temperatures


Extremes in temperature can damage your wine, by prematurely ageing it. If the bottle has a cork, there’s also the risk of it expanding and contracting repeatedly and the seal failing. If you have some special bottles put aside, make sure they are stored in a cool (but not cold) room, where the temperature does not fluctuate too much. Ideally, around 12-15 degrees Celsius. They should also be kept out of direct sunlight. If you have a few bottles of nice plonk stashed away, it may well be worth investing in a wine cabinet. These have a carefully controlled temperature and humidity range. Depending on the model, they may also have dual thermostats, so you can have your whites lightly chilled ready to go, and your reds at perfect serving temperature. Often, they also have UV filtered glass on the front and an internal light, so you can see what you have without opening the door too much. A domestic refrigerator is far too cold for long term storage of wine.

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