White wines should be served chilled and red wines at room temperature.
However, abiding by this simple rule will probably mean you’ll never really enjoy your wine at its best. Nothing spoils a wine more than serving it at the wrong temperature.
On the one hand, a Chardonnay served at 5°C (41°F) instead of 11°-12°C (52°-54°F) will be stripped of all its enchanting aromas and flavours, and on the other hand, serving red wines at room temperature in Australia (24°-25°C / 75°-77°F ) is, well, a very common mistake…
When the French recommend serving your full-body reds “chambrés” (at ambient room temperature), they’re actually referring to room temperature as it was in European dining rooms in the medieval times: that is before central heating existed, so 15°-18°C (59°-64°F).
Served at 25°C (77°F), red wine will lose all its finesse and freshness to an overpowering sensation of alcohol. This is why it makes perfect sense to give your reds some time to cool down in the fridge before service (20-25 min). Of course, if you store your wine in a wine cabinet at cellaring temperature (12°C or 54°F), this is no longer necessary: just take it out 15 minutes prior to serving. If in doubt though, it’s always better to serve your reds a little cooler, as you can always warm up the glass in the palm of your hand.
For whites, 2-3 hours in the fridge is perfect, but no more, as white wines should never be served under 5°C (41°F): if they’re coming straight out of a 2°C (36°F) fridge, the only thing your taste buds will ever register is acidity.
So rather than leaving a bottle in the fridge as you leave for work in the morning (so you can uncork it as soon as your work day ends), fill a bucket with ice and cold water when you get home, drop in your white wine and it will be at perfect serving temperature in no time: that first sip will be all the more rewarding served at the right temperature.
Note: If you have precise control over the serving temperature with the help of a wine serving cabinet, aim for 2° degrees less than what is recommended, so that the wine will be in the right temperature range during the entire meal.
Table describing serving temperatures of different styles of wine
Each wine style has an ideal serving temperature. Served below its ideal temperature, tannins will be harsher and acidity will be stronger. Served above its ideal temperature, aromas are stripped of their youthfulness and hidden by the sensation of alcohol.
- Full-bodied reds (Bordeaux, Napa Cabs, Shiraz, Zinfandel) : 17-19°C or 63°-66°F
- Lighter-bodied reds (Burgundies, Pinot Noir, Chianti) : 14-16°C or 57°-61°F
- Light, young and fruity reds (Beaujolais, Merlot) : 12-14°C or 54°-57°F
- Full-bodied whites (Grand Cru Burgundies, Chardonnays) : 12-13°C or 54°-55°F
- Roses, Semillon, Viognier, Sauternes : 10-12°C or 50°-54°F
- Riesling, Verdelho, Vintage Champagnes : 8-10°C or 46°-50°F
- Dessert wines: 7-8°C or 45°-46°F
- Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Non Vintage Champagnes, Ice Wines : 6-8°C or 43°-46°F