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Over the years I have attended numerous wine tastings, mostly informal tastings hosted by wine estates and a handful of formal blind tastings as well. Each wine presented at a tasting would be at its ideal temperature. Some of those would be well chilled, some slightly chilled while others were served at room temperature. This left the question of which wines should be served at room temperature and whether there is a way to decide if a wine should be served at room temperature or not.
Full-bodied red wines with high tannins and low acidity taste their best when served at room temperature. The process of chilling a wine amplifies the tannins and mutes acidity, making an already high-tannin wine taste worse when it is chilled.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors that determine whether a wine should be served at room temperature so that you can get the maximum enjoyment from your next glass of wine.
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First of All: Is All Room Temperature The Same?
All too often we hear about a wine that is supposed to be served at room temperature. But what does that even mean, is the temperature in your room the same as the temperature in my room? How do we determine what is the correct room temperature? Maybe you live somewhere that is warmer or colder than where I live so our respective rooms may very well be different temperatures.
If we look to the Oxford Dictionary for the precise definition of room temperature they tell us that it is 68° F or 20° Celsius.
However, if we look at wine-specific publications such as Wine Folley by sommelier Madeline Puckette, we see that what is defined as room temperature when it comes to serving wine has a range of temperatures between 15 and 18 Celsius or 59 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re somebody that lives in the south of Spain for example, even in the middle of winter daytime temperatures in the shade only get down as far as 71° F, or 22 degrees Celsius.
So, in that instance, what is defined as the official room temperature range for serving wine is a good few degrees colder than the ambient room temperature during winter.
If we look to the summer temperatures where things are constantly over a hundred Fahrenheit, we have temperatures that are far above the recommended temperature range for serving room-temperature wine.
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Which Wine Should Be Served At Room Temperature
If we remember that the temperature range for room temperature when it comes to drinking wine is between 59 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, we see that most red wines fall into this range as do sweet and fortified wines such as Sherry and Port.
If the temperature of the room is somewhat warmer than this optimal temperature range for serving the wine that you have then it may be prudent to even keep those room-temperature wines in a wine cooler to keep the temperature range between 59 and 64°.
When it comes to robust, full-bodied red wines such as Petit Sarah, Tannat, or Cabernet Sauvignon that have a higher tannin content, we can get away with serving those wines at slightly higher temperatures because the tannins can overpower the other flavors of the wine way when served at colder temperatures.
However, there’s a fine line between slightly higher temperatures and being too warm when the alcohol vapors completely overpower all other aromas of the wine.
This is especially true for New World wines which in general tend to have a higher alcohol content than the wines from France for example. This higher alcohol level is due to the grapes having a higher sugar content at harvest time thanks to warmer weather.
I have found that when I taste medium-bodied red wines like Tempranillo, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc I get the best results when sticking more strictly within the 59 to 64-degree range.
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Light-bodied red wines like Pinot Noir or Gamay (Beaujolais) tend to taste better at the lower end of the room temperature range.
This is in line with the 2008 study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies that compared the sensory impact of red wine at 57°F (14C), 64°F (18C), and 73°F (23C) – in other words below, at, and above room temperature.
The results of the study indicated that the astringency associated with the tannins in red wine was less pronounced at or close to room temperature.
Is Red Wine Best Served At Room Temperature?
For the most part, red wine is best served at room temperature, which is between 59 and 64 Fahrenheit. If the temperature gets very much warmer than that the alcohol vapors from the wine tend to overpower the fruity flavors and make it slightly more unpleasant to drink.
From a personal perspective, this sensation of having alcohol vapors overpowering the fruity flavors of the wine is why I hardly drink mulled wine during winter.
At the opposite end of the temperature scale, red wine becomes increasingly more unpleasant the further you chill it below room temperature. Colder temperatures mute the fruity aromas and increase the sensation of tannins to the point where you can have tannins overpowering all other flavors.
The more robust and full-bodied the wine, the higher the tenant levels and the more important it becomes to serve and drink that wine at room temperature.
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Why Red Wine Should Not Be Chilled?
The simplest way to explain why it is a bad idea to chill red wine to below the recommended room temperature range is that red wine becomes increasingly unpleasant to drink as it gets colder.
The reason why it is a bad idea to chill red wine is simply that as the temperature of the wine drops the tannin levels increase while at the same time, the fruity aromas of the wine become muted.
I’ve heard some winemakers say that you pick up more tannins because the aromas are muted. Either way, you can taste the muted aromas and higher tannins.
So, you don’t want to drink your red wine too cold otherwise the tannins overpower the wine and you can’t enjoy the full range of flavors that your wine will have to offer.
If you live in a hot climate then I’d suggest having your red wine ever so slightly chilled so that you can keep it within the optimal drinking temperature range. Don’t keep your red wine in the refrigerator as that will be way too cold and it’ll be unpleasant to drink.
Do Any Red Wines Need To Be Chilled?
The process of chilling a wine affects the taste of the wine in 2 distinct ways, the acidity in the wine gets muted and the tannins get amplified. Using this as a basis, look for 3 characteristics in a specific red wine and if it has all three then it will benefit from being chilled. These are:
- High acidity
- Low tannins
- Lower alcohol
Traditionally it has been certain Italian reds that have been served chilled. However, it isn’t only Italy that produces red wines that have all the characteristics that indicate that they will benefit from being chilled before serving.
Before we start looking at specific wines that benefit from being chilled, I want to point out that these are all old-world wines. The reason why new-world wines don’t make our list is that they have higher alcohol because the grapes are harvested with higher sugar due to warmer weather.
When I think of red wine that can be enjoyed chilled, I immediately think of Lambrusco which tastes best at between 45 and 55°F (7 – 12C).
However, other Italian reds taste their best when chilled to cellar temperatures of between 55 and 60°F (12 – 15C). These include Valpolicella, Frappato, and Barbera. These make great red wine choices during the warm summer months.
As sommelier Madeline Puckette points out, Italy is not the only country that produces wines that meet the 3 criteria for chilling to cellar temperatures. Austria has Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch. The Hungarian Kekfrankos can be chilled. There are even French wines that fulfill the criteria for chilling such as Poulsard and Beaujolais.
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Is It Bad To Put Wine In The Fridge?
A refrigerator has an operating temperature of 35°F (2C) to keep dairy products and perishable food from developing harmful bacteria. This is substantially colder than the serving temperatures of the coldest wines such as Asti Spumanti at 41°F (5C) or Champagne at 45°F (7C).
Therefore, generally speaking, it is a bad idea to store wine in the fridge. Despite that general guideline, I put my unfinished open wine in the fridge to enjoy again the next day.
However, in these instances, I will always take my wine out of the fridge up to 90 minutes ahead of time so that the wine can warm back up to serving temperature.
I make a point of not drinking any wine straight from the fridge as it is almost always an unpleasant experience. All of the aromas and flavors of the wine get muted to the point where I can taste the tannins and nothing else.
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Do Italians Chill Their Red Wine?
Italy produces some superb light-bodied wines that have low tannins and higher acidity, the 2 factors that improve when a wine gets chilled. Drinking these wines slightly chilled mutes the acidity without amplifying the tannins too much.
Many people think that chilling a red wine means bringing the temperature down to that of crisp white wines. With perhaps the exception of Lambrusco that is not the case.
In nearly all instances a chilled red wine is a wine that is served at cellar temperature which is just a few degrees below room temperature.
The Italian wines that benefit the most from being served chilled come from either northern Italy or Sicily in the south. Valpolicella, Schiava, and Barbera all come from the north while Frappato and Nerello Mascalese are from Sicily.
Why Do Italians Chill Red Wine?
Before I get into why Italians chill their red wine I want to emphasize that Italians do not chill all their red wine. They only chill their light-bodied red wines that are low in tannins and higher in acidity. Plus those red wines are chilled to cellar temperatures and not to the same extent as white wines and roses.
A slightly chilled light-bodied red wine is more pleasant to drink on a warm summer day than a full-bodied red that is higher in alcohol and tannins.
Slightly chilled light-bodied Italian red wines pair perfectly with pasta dishes and even pizza.
Do Spanish Serve Red Wine Chilled?
Generally speaking, Spanish red wine is served at room temperature as Spanish red wine tends to be lower in acidity and higher in tannins. Both of these rank negatively when you chill a wine.
What I will say from personal experience is that some of the Spanish Tempranillo that I have tasted are more medium-bodied with smoother tannins and can benefit from being slightly cooler.
By cooler, I mean at the bottom end of the room temperature range or even at cellar temperature.
Chatting to a Spanish winemaker, he concurred saying that serving wine at cellar temperature during summer when the ambient temperature is consistently above a hundred degrees means that your wine won’t be too warm by the time you get to the end of your glass.
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