The reason most red wines aren?t chilled is due to the fact that lower temperatures can cause the tannins (the bitter tasting substance that exists in grape skins, seeds, and stems) to become sharper and harsher tasting than when it?s served warmer. White wines, however, are not usually tannic in nature and have less complex flavors. Therefore, white wines generally have a cool, crisp, refreshing taste while red wines will seem dull and bitter on the tongue when served chilled.
There seems to be a general misconception of what is actually meant by warm and cold. Most red wines should be served at room temperature, but that actually refers to wine cellar room temperature, which is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Since most people and restaurants keep their room temperatures at around 70 degrees, that would be considered too warm to serve your red wine at. On the other hand, white wines should be chilled, not frozen. Most white wines are considered perfectly chilled at around 45-50 degrees. Anything lower will cause the wine to seem stunted and flavorless.
In order to balance out these temperature variations, you can greatly improve your wine drinking experience by chilling your red wines and warming your white wines for short periods of time just before serving. Of course, keeping your wines in a wine cooler or wine refrigerator makes everything simple. But for the budding connoisseur, placing your red wines in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or in an ice bucket for 5 minutes should chill most reds to a more acceptable temperature level. This includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Merlot, Shiraz, and Zinfandel. Some red wines actually taste better at even lower temperatures. Light red wines with lower tannin levels, such as Beaujolais, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Chianti, and Chinon, can be placed in the refrigerator for an hour or an ice bucket for 15 minutes to reach their temperature potentials.
As for white wines, it really comes down to the quality of wine when determining serving temperatures. Simple, everyday white wines should be chilled for at least two hours in the refrigerator or 20 minutes in an ice bucket. This includes Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and inexpensive Chardonnay. However, fine dry white wine, such as an expensive California Chardonnay, Sauterne, or Burgundy, should be served a bit warmer in order to fully enjoy the flavors and aromas. You can remove these white wines from the refrigerator or ice bucket for a good 15 minutes before serving to allow them to warm up a bit.
As for Champagnes, sparkling wines, and most dessert wines (with the exception of port), colder is usually better. Colder temperatures tend to keep the bubbles livelier and seem to make these wines taste sharper. A chilled wine also makes the alcohol content seem less obvious.
Of course, there are many wine temperature charts that you can refer to in order to determine the best overall temperature for each type of wine. While they may vary a few degrees between charts, you can follow this general guide and then decide what your own personal serving temperature tastes are. You should serve most red wines at 55-60ºF, fine white and light red wines at 50-55ºF, everyday white wines at 45-50ºF, and sparkling wines at 40-45ºF. So, no matter how you like your wine served, warm or cold, just remember to enjoy the wine and all its wonderful flavors and aromas. Cheers!
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