Chill Out – A Lesson on Wine Temperature

Sitting here thinking, I can definitely say there are two types of wine drinkers. Red and white, duh. Alright, actually three, because the sweet Moscato drinkers are a crazy breed of their own. But we will cover them in a minute. For now, it’s all about me.

I fall into the white wine group. There is something very refreshing about a big (as in filled to the brim, about the spill BIG) glass of chardonnay. The bold flavor grabs my tongue as the cold temperature makes it go down oh so smoothly. Sip, sip, glug, glug.

Honestly, though, I usually only experience chilled wine when:

  • I buy it pre-chilled from the grocery cooler.
  • I order it in a restaurant.

OR… (Warning – true wine connoisseurs may want to skip the next line)

  • I add ice to it.

 

iced-wine

 

I know. I know. How dare I put ice in a glass of wine. What’s the point? The point is… I’m impatient! I don’t claim to be an expert on wine (although dear hubby is by profession). All I know is my wine tastes better cold, and I don’t have time to wait for that optimal temperature where the aromas, alcohol, and fruits make nice with other.

The ice though is my dirty little flavor killing secret. I would (almost) never do this in public especially if I’m treated to a ‘nice’ bottle of wine. The reason I don’t mind icing my wine at home is that, well, I’m at home. And more than likely it’s a young, inexpensive wine. You know, the ones that are under $10 and placed at eye-level in the grocery store.

All wines, especially the whites I tend to buy, can benefit from being cooled down. Yes, even reds!

But, by no means should you ever follow my bad habit of added ice to your glass! Never ever – unless you’re just loony and want to sip a perfectly cold glass of twang water. (That’s essentially what I end up with after about 15 minutes).

Instead, you should do your wine a flavor and chill it correctly!

Chilling wines isn’t just about having your beverage at a refreshing temperature on a hot day. Believe it or not, there are ideal temperatures for each category of wine that allow the flavors to be enjoyed to the fullest – as intended by the winemaker.

temp-chart

 

Wine, just like women are only happiest when they are just the right temperature – neither too hot nor too cold. Luckily there are two very effective ways you can get your wine to its happy place without repeating my bad habits.

  1. Chill wine on refrigerator shelf. Household refrigerators are a constant 35 degrees. At this temperature, most wines will be ready in 2 hours or less.
  2. Soak wine bottles in a deep narrow bowl filled with ice and water. A bottle submerged in the ice bath will chill more effectively than sitting in ice alone. This method will chill wines quickly (about 10 minutes). However, I should mention that an ice bath may damage the wine label on the bottle. If the appearance of the label is important to you, then you may want to opt for refrigerator chilling instead.

Either method can be used to bring your wine to its optimal temperature but individual chilling times will vary based on the variety of wine served. Below are a few of the most common wines along with flavor flaws you may taste if served at an incorrect temperature.

Sparkling Wines: Sparkling wines are identifiable by their signature effervescence. Bubbles form as trapped carbon dioxide gasses are released. Effervescence begins as soon as the wine is opened and bubble production varies depending on the temperature of the wine. When a sparkling wine is too warm, the bubbles are released too quickly causing the wine to become frothy. A correctly chilled sparkling wine will have a fine, soft bubble stream.

  • Examples: Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Asti

Sweet, Blush or Mild White Wine: When white wine is served too cold the delicate fruit flavors and aromatic will be dulled making the wine seem ‘simple.’ If served overly warm, it will seem dull and flat.

  • Examples of mild whites: Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling,
  • Examples of sweet whites: White Zinfandel, Moscato, Rose

Complex White Wine: Complex white wines are just that, complex. Many of the Chardonnays are fermented and aged in oak barrels. The oak in increases tannin level, therefore most complex white wines can mingle happily next to red wines. Serving a complex white wine too cold will mask fruit flavors. On the other hand, if it’s too warm the alcohol flavor will overpower the fruits. At the correct temperature as complex white will have a nice acidic balance.

  • Examples: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Bianco do Trapani

Red Wine: Red wine (especially full-bodied reds) contains the highest amount of tannins and sometimes alcohol too. The high tannins give the wine a heavy mouth “feel” similar to that of whole milk. The warmer a red wine is, the more prominent the taste of bitter tannins and alcohol will be. Often the bitter, burning flavor is startling to the taste buds. The taste can be quite off putting for some drinkers. Luckily, it can be corrected with a slight cooling of the wine.

A full bodied red wine should never be “chilled” but rather “cooled.” This is due to fact that the aromatics of wine decrease with temperature. And since smell is the greatest influencer of taste, we want those aromatics present. In the past, red wine was served at room temperature – but that was before the development of energy-efficient, heavily insulated homes. There is not an exact temperature for serving red wine but instead a general rule: 5 degrees cooler than the room it will be consumed in. For example, if the home thermostat is set to 73 degrees the wine should be served at 68 degrees.

  • Examples of full-bodied reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Petite Syrah
  • Examples of light fruity reds: Pint Noir, Cabernet Franc, Beaujolais, Merlot

Some wines do not fit into traditional categories so a little experimentation may be necessary to experience to best flavor. Especially since wine tasting is a matter of personal taste and preference.

In general, if your wine is lacking flavor, you may need to allow it to warm slightly. Usually, ambient room temperature will warm the wine in your glass, or you can gently roll the bottle between your hands to increase the temperature.

In the same respect, you may consider putting an extra chill on a wine that has a harsh, bitter feel on the palate. Or one that seems to burn your tongue from the high alcohol flavor.

Wine is a personal preference, and the experts have given us guidance to help us taste the intended flavor notes. However, if you like your wine warm room temperature, refrigerator cold or even filled with watery ice, I won’t tell. After all, it’s your wine. You should enjoy it the way you like.

 


Chilling your wine (the non-Monica way) is so important that we made our easy reference chart printable. Get your copy here: 

Please, let us know if you find it helpful.