Read part 1 of the series, How to Choose the Best Wine: How Temperature Affects Wine.


Jamie Oliver, Gwyneth Paltrow, and, oh … let’s say, Paris Hilton, are on their way over to your house for dinner in an hour. You’ve got a lovely white burgundy for Jamie, an exquisite full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon for Paris, something pink for Gwyneth, and some bubbles to cap the evening. You’ve just brought them all home from the shop and they’re what we call “room temperature.”

These friends are probably a bit more particular than your average guest, and you want to ensure they really enjoy the wines you so carefully chose for them. You think to yourself, chill the white and the Champagne, and just leave the Cab out on the counter. Is that the right answer?  Without hovering over your wine like a helicopter mom with a thermometer determining the wine temperatures, here are some suggestions to ease your worried mind.

Put Red in the Fridge

When this edict was issued back in the Middle Ages, medieval castles had room temperatures significantly lower than today’s typical comfort zone. Chilling red wines temperature down just a bit from contemporary room climates will tame the tannins and ensure the most attractive bouquet.

A regular 750 ml bottle of red wine that has not been refrigerated will benefit from 20 minutes in the refrigerator, bringing it down to between 55°F/13°C and 65°F/18°C. If, upon tasting the wine, that supple red proves just a bit too tight, not to worry. It will warm in the glass and Paris will be drinking a dream within five minutes.

Chill Out That White

Cool temperatures tone down the sweetness in white wines and reduce the bitterness of alkaloids. That’s why chilling them, especially if a youthful or inexpensive wine is at hand, is a good idea. That strong, sweet, room temperature white you obligingly nursed down at that last wedding would have been almost tolerable had it been chilled. A warm white often tastes flabby and oversweet, with a high aroma of alcohol. Not good.

You probably didn’t know this but Jamie’s trigeminal receptor, a sensor in his neurological system, will be pleased by the cool wine temperature in your chilled bottle. That TRPM8 receptor will respond to a cool mouth feel quickly, noting the change as it rapidly warms past the 20°C mark during the swallow.

Put the Chard in the fridge for 2-3 hours before serving, which will drop the wine’s temperature to the neighborhood around 52°F/11°C to 54°F/12°C. Similar treatment of a rose brings a pink wine to a respectable serving temperature, pouring Ms. Paltrow a near-perfect glass.

Uh-oh, don’t have that much time do you? Jamie and Gwyneth will be there in an hour. Not to worry. Gently submerge the bottle up to the foil in a bucket filled with ice and water. Voila! Twenty minutes later you’ve got a nice chill on. This same trick works for red, doing the job in 10 minutes, and with Champagne, properly chilled in half an hour.

Pop Go the Bubbles?

A festive pop, followed by a jet stream of bubbles as you open the Champagne may be grand for photos and celebrations, but it’s curtains for the wine. Opening the bottle with a gentle twisting motion, easing the cork out, keeps Champagne happy.

It works even better if the bottle is chilled about three hours in the fridge. That will bring it down to the recommended 44°F/7°C – 48°F/9°C temperature, enhancing its toastiness, increasing the prickling sensation from the effervescence, keeping the bubbles tiny and giving them a nice, long, fluffy life in the glass.

Words of Wisdom

Drinking and tasting wine should be fun. Use these guidelines as just that. If you must, err on the side of too chilly. That cool red will soon be warm and friendly on your palate, just by being swirled in the glass. Never warm wine in the microwave, or set it near heaters or radiators. Warming too quickly serves up a cooked or stewed wine, robbing it of its character.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to request a chill for a red that’s brought to your table at “room temp.” Waiters may look at you funny, but sommeliers will understand. And for those few who, for some unknown reason, end up with leftover wine, cork the bottle or seal it tightly, then put it in the refrigerator. The oxidation-reduction chemical reaction that takes place in an open bottle will be slowed by as much as 6 to 12 times, making it drinkable into the next day. Cheers!


KL Turner

KL Turner

KL Turner writes about water and the things we do with it, like making wine. She also writes about sailing, travel, and luxury markets through the lens of sustainability. A veteran of 20+ years in the Rocky Mountain West and the Sawtooths of Idaho, she recently traded her skis for sailing gear and life on the magnificent Florida gulf coast.

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