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How to Serve Wine 101: Tips on the Perfect Serving Temperature

Expert advice on enjoying your bottles at their best

Posted: October 27, 2011

By Dana Nigro and Wine Spectator staff

Seems like serving a wine should be easy enough: Just open and pour. But anyone who has ever struggled with a crumbling cork, or listened to a debate over whether the Cabernet they’re drinking needs to “breathe” more, knows that sometimes it’s not quite so simple.

Ever had a glass of wine that came highly recommended but was underwhelming to you, or been disappointed by a wine you had loved previously? Maybe the wine simply wasn’t served in a way that allowed it to shine. Temperature and glassware can significantly affect a wine’s aromas and flavors, as can the practice of decanting. Understanding how and why will help you decide what’s best for your particular wine and occasion.

Here are some guidelines on serving temperatures for different wines, as well as quick fixes for chilling down or warming up a bottle.

Think Like Goldilocks

When it comes to serving temperature, a wine should be just right. Too hot and the wine’s alcohol will be emphasized, leaving it flat and flabby. Too cold and the aromas and flavors will be muted and, for reds, the tannins may seem harsh and astringent. Too often, white wines are served straight out of a fridge while reds are opened at a toasty room temperature, neither of which are ideal. What’s “just right” for you is a matter of individual taste, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Light dry white wines, rosés, sparkling wines: Serve at 40° to 50° F to preserve their freshness and fruitiness. Think crisp Pinot Grigio and Champagne. For sparklers, chilling keeps bubbles fine rather than frothy. This is also a good range for white dessert wines; sweetness is accentuated at warmer temperatures, so chilling them preserves their balance without quashing their vibrant aromas.
  • Full-bodied white wines and light, fruity reds: Serve at 50° to 60° F to pick up more of the complexity and aromatics of a rich Chardonnay or to make a fruity Beaujolais more refreshing.
  • Full-bodied red wines and Ports: Serve at 60° to 65° F—cooler than most room temperatures and warmer than ideal cellaring temperatures—to make the tannins in powerful Cabernet or Syrah feel more supple and de-emphasize bitter components.

Be Prepared

If your wines have been sitting out at room temperature, well, first we recommend you read our article on How to Store Wine. It can take an hour or two in a fridge to chill a white or bubbly down to the right temperature, and there’s no harm in sticking a too-warm red in there for a little while too. On the other hand, a red pulled from a cellar, cooler or fridge may need up to a half-hour sitting out at room temperature. If you can afford it, it’s handy to have a small wine cooler with temperature settings up to 65° F; you can use that to hold bottles you want to open for dinner or a party.

Barring that, how do you know if the wine has reached serving temperature? Instant digital thermometers can take a wine’s temperature through the bottle, and there are other models you can stick in the mouth of an open bottle. But it’s easy enough to touch the bottle and guesstimate; it should at least be cool to the touch. After enough trial and error from opening and tasting, you’ll learn what feels “right.”

Warm Up or Cool Down

Need a quick fix? If the wine is too warm, immerse it in a mix of ice and cold water—this chills a bottle more quickly than ice alone because more of the glass is in contact with the cold source. It may take about 10 minutes for a red to 30 minutes for a Champagne. You can even stick a bottle in the freezer for 15 minutes. (Don't forget it though or it may freeze and push the cork out!)

If the wine is too cold, decant it into a container rinsed in hot water or immerse it briefly in a bucket of warm water—but don’t try anything with high heat. If the wine is only a little cold, just pour it into glasses and cup your hands around the bowl to warm it up.

Keep in mind that a wine served cool will warm up in the glass, while a wine served warm will only get warmer. It’s always better to start out a little lower than the target temperature.

Steve Walker
Raleigh, NC —  October 28, 2011 11:36am ET
The wine bottle wraps or sleeves that you leave in your freezer then stick a bottle in to chill work really well. 5 minutes or so gets a red just right, and about 10 minutes get your whites where you want them to be. Then, after use, put them back in the freezer till the next time.

Available on line, or check out your friendly wine shop; we got ours at Uncorked in Raleigh, a great place.
Todd Grandominico
Atlanta, GA —  September 5, 2012 4:15pm ET
If you want to get a bottle chilled quickly you can also lightly wet a couple of paper towels, wrap them around the bottle and pop it in the freezer. It works better than just putting it in there and is a lot cheaper than buying any fancy sleeves or wraps. Though they can work well too!
Thomas Bartlett
Ocean Grove NJ —  August 27, 2014 11:56pm ET
From my experience most restaurants serve red wines too warm. The alcohol dominates and the tannins are astringent, the wine more austere and less complex. Serving it a bit too cold is better. It warms up in the glass in a few to several minutes to the right temperature. A wine poured into a glass when the wine is already too warm can not easily be chilled to the right temperature. Even when poured at just the right temperature it quickly becomes too warm and less pleasant.

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