Many wine lovers used to believe that temperature was only important when it came to cellaring, but that’s all starting to change. So what temperature should we drink our wines at, and why does it matter?
In 2015, when Australian wine brand Taylors Wines released thermal technology on the labels of bottles as low as $19, they were making a statement. You don’t have to be a wine expert with an expensive cellar to learn how to enjoy wines at the right temperature.
Now almost everyone has had their say on what temperature we should be drinking our wines. For many in the industry, this is not news – just ask Bob Campbell MW, who first wrote about it back in 2007 – but it is becoming more widely accepted.
Here at RIEDEL, we have been promoting and advocating for correct serving temperatures for many years. In every tasting we conduct, we go to great lengths to ice every bottle of wine – yes, even reds – so they are the perfect temperature when it comes time for the guests to taste them. The difference it makes is astounding.
Our philosophy is that there are many simple things that you, a wine lover, can do to get more out of the wines you love. Our grape varietal specific glassware was designed on this principle: by using a glass made for a particular variety of wine, you’ll get a better balance of aroma and taste, leading to greater enjoyment.
In fact, 70% of your flavour experience actually comes from aroma, and this is where temperature becomes so important.
Our reds are too warm
The myth surrounding drinking wines at ‘room temperature’ comes from the days when wine was consumed in medieval European castles. In current day Australia, with thanks to the convenience of modern heating and cooling, we aim for room temperatures of around 21-23°C / 70-74°F. Outside in the middle of summer? You can add another 10°C/ 50°F to that.
Generally speaking, wine aroma can be broken up into four categories: fruit and floral, earth and spice, oak or tannin, and alcohol. Within a good glass, they organise themselves in layers that present a balanced picture of the wine’s characteristics.
Temperature plays havoc with these layers; once heat is added to the equation, the alcohol begins to overwhelm everything else. Ever smelt a wine and felt like your nostrils were burning? Yep, that’s the experience we’re talking about. Wine Companion’s Campbell Mattinson calls it a “plume of pollution.”
On the palate, the wine will be dominated by heavier characteristics like tannin, and lack any finesse or elegance. Continued exposure to heat also plays havoc with your wine over time; temperature fluctuation is the quickest and surest way to prematurely age your favourite bottles.
Here’s an easy way to think about it: if it’s warm enough for you to comfortably sit around with bare arms, it’s too hot for your reds.
If you discover your wine is too warm after opening and don’t want to wait 30 minutes while they cool in the fridge or freezer, the quickest way is an ice bucket, half-filled with ice and topped up with water.
Our whites are too cold
The flipside to this is that icing our wines and drinking them straight out of the fridge isn’t doing it any favours either. Imagine holding an ice cube in your mouth then attempting to taste something full of flavour; the principle with over-chilled wine is essentially the same.
It's fair to say that the majority of wine drinkers consume for flavour and enjoyment. We hone in on what we like and when we find a magical bottle, it disappears pretty quickly. While drinking an icy cold white won’t be unpleasant like drinking a warm red, it certainly won’t be all that interesting - and isn't that a waste of good wine?
Try it for yourself and see
Grab one of your favourites, pour a third to keep out on the bench and put the rest in the fridge. It’s not a test about whether you can smell more red fruit in your Pinot Noir or more mint in your Cabernet, but purely about which wine you’d rather drink another glass of.
Once you discover the enjoyment that comes from drinking wines at the correct temperatures, you won’t want to go back. Remarkably, there are still many great bars and restaurants that don’t pay attention to serving temperature. Don’t be afraid to ask for a half-ice/half-water bucket for your reds! You’re paying for the wine so you should drink it as you like.