Just chill: Stop overthinking the perfect wine serving temperature

Chris Coffey
By Chris Coffey
4 months ago
4 min read

Forget the numbers. Enjoying your wine at its optimum temperature doesn’t have to be a science experiment. Once you have these simple habits under your belt, you won’t even have to think about temperature any more, you’ll just be enjoying your wine that much more.

Consider where you’ve set the air con. We’re comfortable inside in a finite temperature range (which we’ve been debating fiercely around the office, of late). Some are happier a bit warmer, while others of us work better with a bit of chill and become sweaty monstrosities once a bit of a heat kicks in.

Wine is no different. Red wine is generally enjoyed best at European room temperature, or the temperature at which it’s still comfortable to wear a lightweight dinner jacket; we’re in Europe, after all, so dress to impress. 

White wine should be chilled slightly but not too much, otherwise you’ll lose its fine aromas, while sparkling may be chilled a little further again to maintain the bubbles that the winemaker worked so hard to get in there in the first place. It’s no coincidence that the higher acid wines are chilled a bit more, as high acid wines can taste harsh at higher temperatures.

In Australia, we generally enjoy white wine too cold and red wine too hot. Sure, sometimes there’s a place for a very cold glass of savvy b after a long day at the beach – it’s only sav blanc after all – but what I am saying is that you could be enjoying your “nicer” wines more than you currently are.

Start from the bottom of the wine serving temperature scale with sparkling. Rule of thumb: the cheaper the sparkling, the colder you want it. Straight out of the fridge is good because chilling suppresses aromas, both good and bad, and for cheaper wine this is often a very good thing. 

Better sparkling and Champagne can be enjoyed a little warmer, up to about 12°C before you start compromising bubbles and the acid tastes a little harsh. It’s a fine balance. White wine is the same, and lighter, sweeter whites should be chilled a bit more as they’ll be exuberant even at lower temperatures. Fuller, more neutral whites like chardonnay should be allowed to warm up to fully express their voluptuous curves.

Here’s the big twist: reds should be cooler than Aussie room temp. So if you haven’t just whipped your ’83 Hill of Grace out of your underground cellar, it’s a good idea to pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Seriously, you’ve just pulled it off the rack of your 23°C apartment. Again, the rule of thumb is a little bit cooler for lighter reds like pinot noir (say, 14°C) and a little warmer for heavier reds (18°C is good), but any warmer than that and the wine will start to taste a little flat, flabby or muddy. 

Honestly, almost no-one is going to stick a thermometer in their wine glass to make sure it’s at optimum temperature prior to their first delicate sip, so here are the general rules for you – the realist who wants to simply enjoy life and fine wine just that little bit more.

Sparkling, light whites and stickies

Chuck ‘em in the fridge at least a couple of hours before you want to drink them. If you get desperate, wrap the bottle in a wet tea towel and put it in the freezer, but it’ll still take about half an hour to get it as cold as you want. Don’t forget about it either – I can vouch for the sad, sticky results.

If it’s a better wine, let your hands on the glass warm it up once you’ve poured it – you’ll soon find that the wine is perfect drinking temp.

Rosé and chardonnay

Give them a good hour in the fridge. Again, taste it first and if it tastes a little cold, lacks aroma or is generally dull, just cup your hands around the glass and give it a jiggle for a minute. Better?

Reds

Don’t serve them warm. If it’s come from a cosy room or a toasty car, 20 minutes will do it. A quick chill to take the edge off the Aussie heat and enhance those fine aromas will make all the difference. Sucker for efficiency? Pop it in the fridge as you pull the white out for entrées.

Chill out

Relax and just give it a go, what’s the worst that could happen? Chill your wine with confidence and taste the difference as it warms up in your glass. Be mindful the first couple of times that you’re eliciting an extra dimension you may have never really stopped to consider. Next thing you know it’s a habit, and your wine will taste better without you even having to think about it.