People like what they like. As your sommelier, it’s my job to guide you into the best experience you can have with whatever it is that you like. You love Pinot Grigio over ice? Who am I to stop you? It’s hot outside and that actually sounds pretty refreshing now that you mention it. Squeeze a little lemon in there, why not?
Wine people love rules. Much of the industry survives on right vs. wrong—what’s the “right” way to order a bottle in a restaurant? What’s the “right” glass to use? The fear of “doing it wrong” often keeps people from fully exploring everything that the wine world has to offer! So when it comes to discussing proper service temperatures for wine, it’s in our best interest as wine lovers to be flexible and open-minded, just as with most things in this world.
The Court of Master Sommelier (CMS), the leading authority on all things in the beverage service world, outlines very specific guidelines for wine service temperatures in their educational materials. Sweet white wines, sparkling wines, and light-bodied white wines are to be served between 42 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while full-bodied white wines and light-bodied reds should be offered at 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit.
The recommendation for full-boded reds is to serve them between 58 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
In reality, how many of us are dunking a thermometer into our glasses before we get into that bottle we’ve been waiting all day to enjoy? Rather, we make decisions based on what feels and tastes right—though these CMS guidelines do have good reason behind them.
Generally, Americans consume white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Culturally, we love icy cold beverages and embrace refrigeration much more than, for instance, all of Europe. But not all white wines taste best at fridge temps. A cold temperature can mute the aromas and flavors in full-bodied whites, but it can also preserve acidity and keep fine tight bubbles in sparkling wines.
White wines that are light-bodied with high acid, like Sauvignon Blanc, tend to show much better at cooler temperatures, while full-bodied whites like Chardonnay or Viognier can lose their aromatic complexity at cold temperatures and tend to show more character a few degrees warmer. From local winery Caduceus Cellars, the “Dos Ladrones” Malvasia/Chardonnay blend shows lovely bright citrus and lemon blossom notes when served just out of the cooler, and blooms with ripe tangerine, apricot, and jasmine as it reaches that 55 degree spot.
Light-bodied reds like Grignolino or Gamay are brilliant with a slight chill—the freshness and acidity are highlighted, and these become what I like to call “chuggable reds.”
Like Chardonnay, full-bodied reds like Cabernet tend to lose their character when served too cold, but taste out of balance and overly alcoholic when served too warm. Full-bodied reds tend to show best just below room temperature, in that sweet spot between too cold and too warm.
Keeping wine stored at ideal temperatures is an excellent start to nailing the perfect service temperature when cracking open a bottle for dinner. For long-term storage, wines should be kept at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 60% humidity to keep the corks from drying out.
I like to keep my cellar at 55, which is nice and cool for my reds and big whites, and cold enough that 20 minutes in an ice bath will get my light-bodied whites and bubbles to the right place.
For efficient chilling, fill an ice bucket with 50% ice, 50% water, and dunk the bottle in so that it is fully submerged. In a time crunch, you can throw some salt into the bath to lower the temperature of the water or spin the bottle to get the wine moving around.
My best advice is to experiment with the wines you love and find the right experience for yourself. Wine snobs may insist your Cakebread Chardonnay is too cold out of the fridge at 45 degrees, but maybe that’s what tastes great to you, so that’s how you should drink it. Life is too short to enjoy wine or anything in any other way.