Be cool when it comes to wine serving temperature
Serve white wines chilled and reds at room temperature. You’ve probably heard this bit of “advice” as many times as you’ve heard “serve white wines with fish and reds with meat.” The serve this with that rule is now pretty much ignored. The serving temperature one is a bit trickier to come to grips with, mostly because chilled and room temperature are hardly universal measures. One person’s room temperature can be another’s blast furnace. Yet considering it’s now okay to serve red wine with oysters (okay, that’s actually a really bad idea, but humour me, I’m being dramatic), how important is the serving temperature of wine, anyway? Turns out, pretty, actually.
Justin Taylor, third-generation Director & Export Manager for Australia’s Wakefield Wines, was in Toronto recently to lead a lunch and tasting event called “Celsius”, held in the historic Distillery District. The aim of this exercise (outside of enjoying some good wine and food) was to demonstrate the rather radical effects temperature can have on the enjoyment of wine.
“About 78 percent of wines served around the world are served at the wrong temperature,” Taylor maintained, before putting his money where his mouth is (so to speak) by leading us through a first-hand demo of how incorrect serving temperatures can undo everything a winemaker strives to achieve.
Having primed our palates with a crisp, dry, citrus and floral Wakefield Estate Riesling 2019, we got down to business over a first-rate lunch prepared by Distillery Events first with the Wakefield Estate 2018 Chardonnay served at two temperatures – the correct one (around 12ºC) – and the wrong one (way too cold). Not surprisingly, the too-cold version was aromatically muted and showed unbalanced acidity in the mouth, while the warmer sample let the baked apple and peach nuances shine though (and brought some of the toasty vanilla/oak nuances courtesy of ex-Louis Latour Burgundy barrels to the forefront).
If the Chardonnay took a beating from being served too cold, both the Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2018 and the Wakefield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 suffered somewhat similar fates when served too warm. The Shiraz came off as overly alcoholic and soupy; the Cab seemed weedy and disjointed. When presented at the proper temperature – about 16ºC (and probably a fair bit cooler than most people are used to having their red wines), both wines got back in line, with the Shiraz showing more typical blackberry/coffee notes with a dash of peppery spice, and the Cabernet regaining form with classic cassis and cedar/cigar box nuances. While “refreshing” typically isn’t a term used to describe red wines, serving both of these a pretty cool “room” temperature made them seem much more vibrant and alive.
For those of us who’ve been in the game a while, what Taylor demonstrated is probably not all that eye-opening. However, it did emphasize that a) temperature absolutely has an impact on the overall enjoyability of both red and white wines; and b) when in doubt, start both red and whites off on the cooler-than-ideal side. Letting both styles of wine gradually warm to the right temperature is probably easier and more practical than trying to chill them down if they are served too warm. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for an ice bucket if the establishment you are dining at has chosen to serve your red wine at “blood” rather than “room” temperature.
This article was originally published in March 2020