PROPER WINE SERVICE TEMPERATURES
Research conducted to date shows clearly that most North Americans drink wines either too cold or too warm, both of which reduces maximum enjoyment. People seem obsessed to consume foods and beverages either ice cold or hellishly hot.
This is truer for wine than any other consumable. Proper wine service requires that bottles be opened as required, decanted if necessary, and served at appropriate temperatures. There is no need to get alarmed and rush out the door to buy a wine thermometer. Most palates are sensitive enough to detect significant temperature variations from the norm after a while. A little training helps, but is not an absolute must.
Wine service temperature changes profoundly the aromatics of the wine and the taste. Different categories of wines must be served at varying temperatures for maximum enjoyment. The higher the temperature, the more easily the volatile flavour components evaporate from the surface of the wine. Therefore, to maximize the impact of the aroma or bouquet of a wine, it is sensible to serve a young red wine at 16 – 18 C. At 20 C, alcohol starts to volatilize, thus overwhelming the delicate fruit and/or bouquet.
Room temperature in Europe is generally 16 - 18 C, and when the back label of a European red wine calls for room temperature this is the temperature meant. In most North American homes room temperature during the winter months well exceeds 20 C, and during summer, if air conditioned, room temperature is below 18C.
At lower temperatures fewer volatile taste components (flavones) evaporate, thus dry or sweet white wines should be served cool, but never ice cold.
For fine dry white wines 10 – 12 C is recommended, and for sweet wines you can go as low as 7 – 8C. The sweeter the wine, the cooler it should be served, but never 0 C. If ever you want to serve a very poorly made wine, then ice it! This way no one will be able to smell or taste how bad it is! This is how two well-known soft drink companies used to get the attention of unsuspecting consumers! One glass contained, a lot of crushed ice, the other fewer!
In many restaurants, so-called house wines served by the glass are always extremely cold! Now you know why!
Dry sparkling wines should be served at 6 – 8C and sweet at 5 – 6C, to appreciate their aromatic components and effervescence at their best.
A Beaujolais nouveau, which should be available around November 20 annually, requires cool temperatures, i.e. 13 – 14C. Other “ nouveau style “ red wines produced using the technique called “ carbonic maceration “, should also be served cool.
Wine warms up in the glass. Serve it slightly cooler than the required temperature. It is easier to warm up than cool.
Incidentally, if a wine is too cold or too warm, never subject it to violent temperature changes like plunging the bottle into hot water or placing it in the freezer. The best method for cool a wine is in a wine bucket ¾ filled with ice cubes and water. Add a few tablespoons of salt to make brine. Place the bottle in the bucket and turn it a few times. Within 15-20 minutes, the temperature will have reached 8 – 10 C, pending the size of the bottle and its thickness.
For red wines, remove the bottle from the cellar (usually 10 – 11 C) and carry it to the dining room 30 minutes before you intend to serve it. If the wine is still too cold, it will warm up quickly once poured, or you can gently warm it in your palms.
For vintage port wines 18C is an excellent temperature, and for dry vermouths, 6 – 8 C is recommended.
You can test how temperature changes both taste and smell by conducting a few simple exercises during informal gatherings. Use two bottles of the same wine at temperatures with 10 C difference and ask people to taste both, one after the other blind! You will be surprised at the result.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu