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.
Here at RIEDEL, we have been promoting and advocating for correct serving temperatures for many years. In our tasting events we ice every bottle of wine, so they are the perfect temperature when it comes time for guests to taste them – and that includes reds.
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.
70% of your flavour experience actually comes from smell, and this is why the temperature is so important.
The myth surrounding drinking wines at ‘room temperature’ comes from when wine was consumed in medieval European castles. These days 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.
Generally speaking, wine aromas can be divided into four categories: fruit and floral, earth and spice, oak or tannin, and alcohol. These aromas will organise themselves in layers within a well-designed glass, presenting a balanced picture of the wine’s characteristics.
Temperature plays havoc with these layers. Ever smelt a wine and felt like your nostrils were burning? That's the alcohol aromatics taking over and will often come from serving wine at the wrong temperature.
On the palate, the wine will be dominated by heavier characteristics like tannin and lack any finesse or elegance. Temperature fluctuation is also the quickest way to age your favourite bottles of wine prematurely.
Here’s an easy way to think about it: if it’s warm enough for you to have bare arms or legs, it’s too hot for your reds.
If you discover your wine is too warm and don’t want to wait 30 minutes while they cool in the fridge or freezer, half fill an ice bucket with ice, top up with water, and plunge your bottle in for 10 minutes.
So should we be serving every wine icy cold?
Imagine holding an ice cube in your mouth then attempting to taste something full of flavour. Not much to see here! 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. So while drinking an icy cold white won’t be unpleasant, it certainly won’t be that interesting - and isn't that a waste of good wine?
Grab one of your favourites, pour a third to keep out on the bench and put the rest in the fridge. When at the right temperature, pour yourself a glass of each.
This test is not 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 more 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.