Bottle Temp & Wine Geeks

By / Magazine / August 25th, 2008 / 1

When my husband brings home a bottle of red wine, he won’t let a corkscrew near it until it’s had a few hours to reach room temperature. Do we really have to wait that long?

Your husband must be a real history buff, because his wine-serving techniques are right out of the 1900s. That said, let’s give him a bit of a break because, like so many old wine tales, there is a hint of truth lying somewhere between the past and the present.

Back in the day, upper-crust English people were big drinkers living in large manor houses, ventilated like modern-day wood sheds. Their idea of “room temperature” was actually pretty close to the ideal serving temperature for their favourite tipple — reds from Bordeaux.

A typical twenty-first-century house has a room temperature of 21°C. That’s way too high for wine as a general rule of thumb. While your bottle might be a hot little number, the only heat you should feel is from the glow of the trendy drop — not from the liquid in your glass.

A red should never come across hot or even warm in the mouth; nor should it feel ice-cold either. If served at too high a temperature, the juice will be steamrolled by the booze and be more flabby than anyone would like. If served too cold, red wine will head into hibernation with any nuance and expression frozen into non-existence.

Ideally reds should be drunk somewhere between chilled and lightly cool — it all depends on their body depth. Light, juicy reds, like those from Beaujolais, benefit from a noticeable chill and should be served around 12°C. At the opposite extreme, beefier, tannic styles like New Worlders made with Cabernet or Shiraz really show their stuff when drunk around 18°C.

So, tell hubby to get with the times. Odds are those reds he’s bringing home may need some time in the refrigerator rather than on the kitchen counter.

I’ve asked every wine geek I know for recommendations but I just can’t find a red that will pull me out of my white wine rut. Any suggestions?

To paraphrase an old newbie adage, “You’ve got to sip before you slurp.” So you’re either not being specific enough with these wine aficionados of yours or they really are geeks.

When approached for recommendations far too many “experts” will point you in the direction of wines that they feel are great for them and their experience level rather than for you and yours.

As you’ve already discovered, there’s a lot to love and hate about reds, so the place to start is with lighter wines. Once you’ve got a taste for the light side, you can take off the training wheels and begin working your way up to the heavy hitters.

For you, ground zero is Beaujolais. The reds of this French region — made with the plump and juicy Gamay grape — are sophisticated quaffers with a flavour profile wrapped in ripe strawberry fruit. As I mentioned in response to the first question above, Beaujolais blossom when served chilled, making them an accommodating food partner as well as a relaxed everyday drinker.

Italy’s Valpolicella region in Veneto is also famous for its smooth, easy-going reds made from a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. Though they don’t drop as big a fruit bomb as the wines of Beaujolais, the reds of Valpolicella are fresh, fragrant and packed with bright cherry/berry flavour.

After you’ve got a taste for these two styles, make the move to a Pinot Noir from California, South America or New Zealand. Thanks to its co-starring role in Sideways, Pinot producers the New World over have the spotlight aimed in their direction. Though Tinseltown may have moved on, the grape has gained a whole new audience and offers lots of body and a deep berry expression that acts as the perfect bridge from soft and subtle to big and brawny.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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