Most of us are aware that sparkling and white wines should be served cold and red wine at room temperature. These are the general guidelines for wine-serving temperatures:
- Full-bodied red wine: room temperature (14–18ºC); the bottle should be cool to the touch
- Full–bodied white and light-bodied red wines: slightly chilled; 10–12ºC
- White, rosé and sweet wines: 8–10ºC; the wine should feel cold, like straight from the fridge
- Sparkling wine: 6–8ºC; like dipping your fingers into ice-cold water
Acidity is the backbone of white and rosé wines and appears crisper at lower temperatures. Therefore white and rosé wines are served chilled to preserve their freshness and fruitiness. However, aromas become mute at low temperatures, so wine should not be served too cold because the flavours are then masked. Some unprofessional restaurants may deliberately serve their low-quality wine at freezing temperatures to hide the fact that there is not much aroma in the wine. If wine is too cold, you can warm it up a little by cupping the bowl of the wine glass (like holding a cognac).
For richer white wine, where there is more complexity and aromatic compounds, a slightly higher serving temperature helps to release more flavours.
Sweet wine should also be served chilled so that the acidity balances the sweetness. Otherwise the wine will appear cloying.
Low temperatures slow down the release of carbon dioxide; the bubbles are finer and rise up the glass more slowly. Therefore sparkling wine is served slightly colder than white wine. If the temperature is too high, it becomes frothy and loses its elegance.
In addition to acidity, low temperatures also reinforce tannin. Therefore red wine feels more bitter if it is too cold, hence it should be served at a higher temperature. However, high temperatures also emphasise the amount of alcohol in red wine, which usually has a higher alcohol content. If red wine is serve too warm, it will be too heavy. When winemakers suggest serving red wine at room temperature, they refer to room temperature in Europe, which is around 18ºC, not the Hong Kong summer room temperature of 30ºC. So, during summer in Hong Kong, red wine should be put in the fridge for awhile before serving.
For lighter-bodied red wines such as Beaujolais and Valpolicella, where the alcohol is relatively low and the acidity high, they are more enjoyable when served slightly chilled (but not as cold as white wine) to highlight their fruitiness.
Port is a sweet fortified wine with a high alcohol content (20%), high acidity and complex aromas. The optimum serving temperature for vintage port is room temperature (around 18ºC), while for tawny port it is around 14ºC (slightly chilled).
Overall it is better to serve wine slightly cooler since it warms up during the course of a meal. If wine is too warm, South Africans often put in ice cubes for about 10 seconds, then take them out before they melt in order to slightly lower the temperature.
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