by Jess Ruciack
What’s the best temperature to serve my wine? Does it matter if it’s a really hot day and I’ve just grabbed a bottle of Shiraz off my wine rack? Should I be drinking my Riesling icy cold? These, and many more variations, are questions we get asked a lot in Cellar Door, especially over the summer. And fair enough – everyone wants to know how best to serve the wine they’ve bought. At home you want to be able to experience the wine as you did at Cellar Door. Or if you’ve not tasted it before, you want to experience the wine as the winemaker intended.
Serving temperature is a bit like cellaring wine – each individual has their preferences. Take me, for example – I hate going to a restaurant and ordering a white wine that has been in a fridge and is clearly too cold. The wine comes out to our table and is colder than Adelaide Oval in July. When an aromatic white is this cold, you can’t enjoy it’s delicious aromas and you certainly don’t get any flavours of the wine. It’s just a cold drink, rather than an amazing glass of wine. So I sit patiently, with my hands wrapped around the glass trying to warm it up so I can experience the wine. But many of my friends call me a wine snob when we’re out to dinner, so take from that what you will. [I’m the opposite of a wine snob, really, I just want to enjoy my wine!]
The tricky thing is there’s no hard and fast rule about serving temperatures. This is especially the case in Australia where our summers are hot and our winters are sometimes not that wintery. This means we often serve our whites too cold and our reds too hot. There are some common themes that we work off, and here are my thoughts to help guide you through this maze of serving wine.
To show their best, white wines generally should be served chilled. But chilled doesn’t mean icy. If served too cold, a white wine can have it’s aromas and flavours muted, and the acidity may seem sharper.
Most of us would put a bottle of white wine in the fridge so we can just grab it when we need it. This is fine, but our house fridges are generally 3-4°C, and this is too cold for most whites to show their best. So in this case, grab your bottle out the fridge about 30 minutes before you will be serving it so it can warm up a little. If you’ve had unexpected visitors and your white is at room temperature, the quickest way to cool it down is in an ice bucket/tub with a cold water and ice mix (rather than just ice). This may still take half an hour. Sometimes I put mine in the freezer if I’ve got a little longer up my sleeve (don’t forget about it though!)
Some guides for different varieties:
I think most of us would always remember being told that reds should be served at room temperature. But when we think about it a bit more, ‘room temperature’ at a summer bbq could be 32ºC, and even inside is likely to be around 22ºC even with the aircon on. The old ‘room temperature’ myth is believed to stem from ye olde times in France, where room temperature would be much closer to mid-teens. If we all had a wine cave then we could pull the wine straight off the shelf and be ready to pour. But in our current lives we may need to consider the temperature before serving our red wines. You might need to pop your red into the fridge or ice bucket for a short time, or if you’ve got a wine fridge that is set for cellaring at a certain temperature, you might even need to let it warm up slightly before serving.
If a red wine is too warm, then it can accentuate the alcohol and make the wine look ‘flabby’ by hiding all the lovely fruit characters. If a red is too chilled then tannins can be very astringent and aromas will be muted.
A guide for reds:
12-14ºC – – lighter reds, can include our GSM and Western Ridge Grenache Carignan which can be slightly more chilled due to the lower tannins
(also includes Pinot Noir – but remember friends don’t let friends drink Pinot!)
15-18ºC – – full-bodied reds – Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot
ICE CUBES IN WINE?
Well, this surely initiates an interesting conversation around a table. The great Harvey Steiman from Wine Spectator is ok with it – check out this piece he wrote https://www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/48287.
I was part of a panel conducting a public tasting. It must have been a sultry 95° F in that room, so hot that all the wines just tasted like soup. The small pours had already matched the elevated room temperature. As we each had glasses of ice water, I transferred an ice cube into the first glass, swirled it around and removed the ice. Voila! The wine tasted fresher and much more appealing. I repeated the process just before sipping each successive wine, and the distinctions among them became much clearer.
Extract from Harvey Steiman piece ‘Shocking, Absolutely Shocking’
He does take the cubes out once they’ve done their job. I’ve even got some whiskey stones in our freezer to use in a similar way, given that they don’t melt.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
I always like to say, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, as long as it works for you (especially when it comes to wine!) So experiment a little with your favourite wines and find your perfect serving temperature. And this may change depending on the weather, what you’re eating, whether you had a beer already etc. We just want you to enjoy your wine!