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  Corkscrew Issue 1, October 2002   
Serving TemperatureServing Temperature  Contents 
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Serving Temperature

Serving a wine at the right temperature is very important: even though it can be considered as a personal preference, drinking a wine at the right temperature means, first of all, to appreciate it at its best conditions

 One of the most important aspects of the wine service is the temperature at which it is drunk. Wine's temperature is often subject of dispute among wine lovers and, just like everything concerning human beings, every opinion, made of personal and subjective preferences, are very hard to change. However there are general rules that can be applied with success in almost every and usual circumstance and that can satisfy everyone's preference and taste. The sure thing is that wine is often, too often, served at the wrong temperature: whites are served too cool and reds too warm.

 Before talking about the definition of “general” temperature levels for every wine type, it is better to focus on the reasons why a specific wine should be served cooler or warmer. Besides this, it is important to note that there is a difference between serving temperature, that is the temperature used when the wine is served with the only purpose of drinking or appreciating it, and the tasting temperature, that is the temperature used when the wine is being analyzed and evaluated by tasters in order to determine its organoleptic characteristics, its real value and quality. This report will focus on serving temperature only, the ideal temperature to be used to properly serve a wine at the best condition possible in order to be properly appreciated and enjoyed, hopefully well matched with a proper food.

 

Effects of Temperature in Wine

 Temperature represents a critical factor and it is a very important aspect in all wine's life cycle, from cellar to glass, it is a determinant factor for a proper development while it stays in the bottle, as well as allowing a proper appreciation when it is poured in a glass. This report will focus on the effects of temperature in wine in this “ultimate” phase of its life and the way it can alter the sensorial perception of the qualities. In particular, we will focus on effects of the temperature in the perception of smells and flavors.

 According to a logical order of evaluation, when the wine has been poured in a glass, the first thing done is taking a look at it, then it is smelt and tasted, and finally an overall judgment, according to the preceding analyses, is expressed, or, in case the wine is being matched with food, the balance of the combined sensations of food and wine left in the mouth are considered. If we consider the average time needed to have a wine at its right serving temperature, usually a short time, this factor does not influence or alter the aspect of the wine in a significant way, therefore we will not discuss this particular subject on this report.

 A truly important thing to understand is the effect of temperature in the perception of wine's smells and aromas. As a general rule, we can state the following:

 

  • The lower the temperature, the lesser the perception of smells

 therefore:

 

  • The higher the temperature, the greater the perception of smells

 These two simple rules let us understand that a wine having few aromas, or having a scarce intensity of aromas, can be improved by serving it at a higher temperature. A higher temperature will help aromas' development and perception; this also means that bad smells, defects and faults will be more evident as well. On the contrary, a wine rich in aromas and smells, such as the ones produced with Muscat Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Brachetto and other aromatic grapes, can be served at lower temperatures with no problem and without compromising the development and the perception of its smells.


 

 The application of these two simple and fundamental rules can turn smells perception into an extraordinary pleasure or into an absolutely boring one. However it should be noted there are temperatures, in particular too high or too low temperatures, that can greatly compromise the perception of smells and the joy of tasting a wine. Smell perception in a wine is drastically diminished when the serving temperature is lower than 8° C (46° F), except when the wine is exceptionally aromatic. Serving a wine at a temperature lower than this is an explicit invitation to ignore the olfactory analysis, as well as ignoring, or better, hiding, all the defective smells because of scarce quality as the wine's smell will be greatly diminished and scarcely perceivable. On the contrary, a temperature higher than 20° C (68° F), according to the above rules would make one think about an amplification and enhancement of aromas, would make a wine's smell not very attractive, dull and coarse as the main odor perceived would be the one of the volatilization of alcohol; the bouquet and the finesse of the wine would be coarse, while boosting the pungency of alcohol instead. By evaluating these considerations, the right serving temperature that allows proper perception and development of fine aromas usually ranges from 8° C to 18° C (46° ÷ 65° F). In case a full bodied or tannic wine is being served, as well as special and robust reserve wines or wines aged for a long time in bottle having a complex bouquet, the serving temperature can exceptionally be as high as 20° C (68° F).

 Temperature greatly influence the perception of flavors as well. Just like smells, the perception of flavors can be defined by means of simple rules that will help us understanding and choose the right serving temperature.

 

  • High temperatures increase the perception of sweet flavors and diminish the perception of bitter and salty flavors
  • Low temperatures increase the perception of bitter and salty flavors and diminish the perception of sweet flavors
  • Perception of acid flavors does not change with temperature; however an acid flavor is more enjoyable at low temperatures
  • Low temperatures increase the sensation of astringency caused by tannins in red wines
  • Low temperatures diminish the aggressivity and the perception of alcohol whereas high temperatures increase this sensation

 By considering these rules it is clear the reason why tannic red wines, that is the ones that are astringent in the mouth, are not served at low temperatures. Another fundamental consideration can be stated for acid flavors. Pleasantness of an acid beverage, and remember, wine is an acid beverage, is more acceptable and enjoyable when served cool or at low temperatures. This consideration let us understand the reason why a white wine, usually more acid, or more fresh, crisp or lively according to wine tasting parlance, and less astringent of a red wine, is usually served cooler.

 The rules considered so far can also make us understand that an alcoholic and sweet wine, such as a passito, when served at a low temperature, the sensation of “hot” caused by alcohol will be more tolerable and the excessive sweetness will be diminished. The application of these rules let us understand that red wines can be served at a low temperature only in case they are not tannic or astringent, and this is the case of the so called “light red wines”, with little body and few tannins, as well as the “new wines” such as the Beaujolais Nouveau.

 Another important component found in wine and in variable quantities according the type, which perception and influence on taste changes according to the temperature, is the carbon dioxide (CO2). Every wine, including the ones considered as “still”, that is non sparkling, have some carbon dioxide which is naturally produced during the fermentation process. This component is easily and evidently perceived both at sight and in taste, in every sparkling or lightly sparkling wine. Visibly, the presence of carbon dioxide is evidenced by the development of a chain of tiny bubbles in the glass, whereas in the mouth it is perceived as a more or less pleasing “itch” according to the total quantity. This component has a relatively simple flavor and it is lightly acid, has the capacity of enhancing acid flavors as well as astringency and attenuates sweet flavors. The acid flavor of carbon dioxide will be evident, and unpleasant, as the temperature gets higher; this is a good reason to serve sparkling wines at low temperatures. Temperature influences solubility of carbon dioxide as well. Carbon dioxide is easily released at high temperatures whereas at low ones it is released in small quantities. One of the pleasing aspects of a sparkling wine is the “bubble's chain of pearls” running along the side of a glass. At low temperatures, carbon dioxide is freed more slowly and in lower quantities, therefore the “perlage” of a sparkling wine, according to the wine parlance, will be more persistent and lasting.

 Keeping carbon dioxide as long as possible in a sparkling wine while it is being tasted is essential because it will help the perception of acidity and of freshness, factors that are always welcome and enjoyed in this kind of wines. This can be easily done by serving this wine at a low temperature; however it is good not to get temperature lower than 8° C (46° F) or the main thing perceivable in the wine will be the “itchy” sensation of the carbon dioxide, whereas all those refined and elegant flavors and aromas developed with time will be attenuated and scarcely perceived.


Wine Thermometer
Wine Thermometer

 To better understand the importance of temperature and its effects in the perception of smells and flavors, we can make the following experiment. To make the experiment more interesting, we need a wine thermometer (see figure ), however, the experiment can be made even though a wine thermometer is not available and without significantly compromising the result. Take two bottles of wine, one white wine and one red wine: to make things easier in finding these wines, let's take a bottle of Chardonnay as a white wine and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon as a red wine. Both wines must be young. The area where the wines come from is not important at this time, so every area will work. We also need four glasses, preferably tasting ISO glasses.

 Leave both bottles at a room temperature, preferably at 18-20° C. (64° ÷ 68° F) Uncork bottles and pour some white wine and some red wine in two different glasses. Close both bottles and keep them at hand. Cover both glasses with a saucer and put them in the refrigerator until they reach a temperature of about 5° ÷ 6° C (41° ÷ 43° F) Take both glasses out of the refrigerator and pour some of the wine at room temperature in the remaining glasses. Smell the wine contained in the glasses that were in the refrigerator and compare the aromas and the olfactory sensation with the wine contained in the glasses at room temperature. Difference between the finesse and elegance of aromas should be evident. Now taste the cool wine and try to concentrate on perceived flavors and tastes. Do the same with the wine at room temperature; the second wine should be more “coarse” and less pleasant if compared to the first wine. Do the same test with the red wine. Astringency of the cool wine will be exaggerated and unpleasant, whereas the one of the warmer wine will be more acceptable and appropriate.

 In case you have a wine thermometer, try repeating the tests on cool wines every time the temperatures is raised of about 2° C (3° ÷ 4° F) You will realize that even an apparently insignificant temperature as little as that can really change the sensorial perception, it can increase or diminish specific sensations, both olfactory and gustatory.

 

White Wines

 White wines are usually more acid than red wines and, as opposed to them, they have less tannins and, therefore, the sensation of astringency will be low, practically imperceptible. As an acid beverage is usually more pleasant when served at low temperatures, white wines are not generally served at high temperatures. Preferred temperature for this type of wines usually ranges from 10° C to 14° C. (50° ÷ 57° F) Young, fresh and aromatic white wines can be served at 10°C (50° F) whereas the least aromatic ones are served at 12° C (53° F) Smooth and mature white wines, aged for some years in bottle, can be even served at higher temperature, from 12° C to 14° C (53° ÷ 57° F)

 Serving a white wine at a higher temperature than these, would allow its “sweet” character to come out more evidently and the acid character, welcomed and appreciated in whites, will be diminished.

 

Rosé and Blush Wines

 The service of rosé wines usually follows the same rules applied to white wines. However it is important to consider the quantity of tannins sometimes contained in this kind of wines; in this case it will be better to serve them at a higher temperature in order not to increase astringency. Young rosé wines, not tannic, are served from 10° to 12° C (50° ÷ 53° F) whereas the more robust and structured ones as well as mature ones, can be served from 12° to 14° C (53° ÷ 57° F).

 

Red Wines

 Serving temperature for red wines is dependent on many factors, but as they usually have a “tannic” nature and are less acid than white wines, they generally are served at higher temperatures. Young red wines, having little tannins, are served from 14° to 16° C, (57° ÷ 61° F) whereas full bodied and tannic ones can be served at 18° C. (65° F) Red wines aged for years in bottle, having a full body and lots of tannins, can be served at 18° C (65° F), or, exceptionally, at 20° C. (68° F)

 Young red wines, having little tannins and structure, can be served from 12° C to 14° C (53° ÷ 57° F) at this temperature they can be enjoyed without any astringency. This rule also applies to “new wines”, such as Beaujolais Nouveau: thanks to the wine making process used to produce them, they have little tannins and good aromas, therefore they can be served at low temperatures.

 

Sparkling Wines

 Because of the many types of sparkling wines available, stating a general rule valid for every type would not make much sense. White sweet and aromatic sparkling wines, such as Asti Spumante, can be served at a temperature as low as 8° C; (46° F) as these wines are very aromatic they can tolerate low temperatures without compromising bouquet.

 Red sweet sparkling wines, such as Brachetto d'Acqui, can be served at temperatures ranging from 10° C to 12° C; (50° ÷ 53° F) the same general rule about smells is applied here as well, the most aromatic red sparkling wines tolerate temperature as low as 8° C (46° F), whereas the tannic ones should be served at higher temperature and as high as 14° C. (57° F).

 Dry or Brut sparkling wines produced with the “Charmat Method” or “Martinotti Method”, such as the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene e Conegliano, can be served at temperatures ranging from 8° C to 10° C. (46° ÷ 50° F)

 Particular attention should be paid to sparkling wines produced with “Classic Method”, such as the Franciacorta, as well as for the ones produced with “Méthode Champenoise”, such as the Champagne. This wines are usually served at temperatures from 8° C to 10° C, (46° ÷ 50° F) however when vintage or “millésime” wines are being served or important sparkling wines aged for some time, the temperature can also be 12° C (53° F) in order to encourage the development of complex aromas that were patiently and slowly formed and developed during the course of time.

 

Fortified, Passito and Sweet Wines

 The common characteristic found in these style of wines is, generally speaking, the high quantity of alcohol and, most of the time, they are sweet as well. However there are fortified dry wines, such as some types of Marsala and Jerez (Sherry) Finos, that, although they have some sugars in it, they are not generally and significantly perceived. The serving temperature for these wines should be determined according to what it is wished to be perceived the most. In case it is wished to accentuate the sweet taste of the wine as well as the complexity of aromas and their austerity, it will be best to serve them at a high temperature, from 14° C to 18° C (57° ÷ 65° F) but remember that the alcohol will also be accentuated as well. In case it is wished to accentuate their freshness, or in case of an exceptionally sweet wine where this aspect should be diminished, it will be better to serve them at a lower temperature, from 10° C to 14° C. (50° ÷ 57° F)

 Fortified dry, fresh and young wines can be even served at a lower temperatures even lower than 10° C: (50° F) in this way the perception of alcohol will be greatly diminished; however it is wise remembering that the lower the temperature, the lower the development and perception of aromas. The pleasantness and the complexity of these wines' aromas, is a welcome and interesting aspect: serving them too cool would explicitly scarify this aspect.

 

How to get a wine at the right temperature

 Before talking about the right techniques to chill or warm a wine in order to get it at the right serving temperature, let's make things clear about a common concept which is usually and erroneously used and applied to wine: room temperature. The custom of serving wine at room temperature has originated in the past centuries, when houses of those times, even because they completely lacked of an effective heating system as well as the not so good isolation with the outside, room temperature was rarely higher than 20° C (68° F), except for, of course, summertime. In our modern houses, having heating systems, often exaggerated, as well as a good isolation with the outside, it is pretty easy to get temperatures higher than 23° C (74° F), a temperature which is not ideal for serving wine. Things get worse in summertime when room temperature can get as high as 30° C (86° C). This means that we need to chill red wines, not only white wines, before serving, and we better forget, or change our idea, about “room temperature” when applied to wine.

 Another important factor to be considered when serving wine is the temperature of glasses. When they are left on the table, their temperature will be as high as the one of the environment or room, needless to say, too high. When the wine is being poured in a glass, it rapidly gets warmer and in a short period of time its temperature will be raised of about 2° C (about 3° F) The wine's temperature will continue to raise, of course, for all the time it stays in the glass until reaching room temperature. For this reason, when a wine is being chilled or warmed at its serving temperature, it is good to make sure that the wine in the bottle is having a temperature of about 2° C (3° F) lower than its usual serving temperature, this is particularly true when room temperature is quite high.

 During warm seasons and whenever the temperature is high, it can be a good idea, when allowed by the type of wine to be served and by its organoleptic characteristics, to serve a wine at a slightly lower temperature, because the wine will get warmer sooner and because with high temperatures cool beverages are usually welcome.

 There are two methods used to get a wine to its right serving temperature, the first one, and the most obvious and frequent one, is to chill it, whereas the second one, even though it could be considered as absurd, is to warm the wine in case it is too cool. In both cases the job is accomplished by means of a wine or ice bucket and water.


Thermal bucket or \emph{``glacette''
Thermal bucket or “glacette”

 The best way to chill a bottle of wine is to fill an ice bucket with water and ice and then to submerge the bottle until it gets to the serving temperature. Make sure the bucket is sufficiently tall in order to let the bottle to be completely submerged; make sure the neck of the bottle, but not the capsule, is submerged as well. Using water is essential because it lets the wine to chill faster and the conduction of low temperature generated by the ice will be improved. Generally speaking, ten to twenty minutes will be enough to get a wine to its serving temperature. The amount of ice to be used and the amount of time are both dependent on the serving temperature to be reached; room temperature and starting wine's temperature play a determinant role as well. As a general rule, the bucket is usually half filled with ice and the rest is filled with water. Check the temperature in the bucket with a wine thermometer and, in case a lower temperature is needed, add more ice; in case a higher temperature is needed, add more water or take out some ice cubes.

 In case it is preferred to chill a wine in the refrigerator, it will be enough to leave the bottle inside it for a time ranging from 60 minutes to 4 hours, the amount of time depends on the starting wine's temperature, capacity and efficiency of the refrigerator and, of course, serving temperature. Anyway, never leave or keep wine bottles in the refrigerator for long periods of time: the refrigerator should be used only to get a wine to its serving temperature, so the bottle should be put in the refrigerator just before the service and only for the needed time. A refrigerator is not a cellar. Keeping or storing wine in the refrigerator, that is leaving the bottles in it for a very long time, this means many days, weeks or months, it is a sure and infallible way to definitely ruin it.

 As the wine gets to its serving temperature, it can be served and left on the ice bucket; this will help the wine to stay chilled, however it should be remembered that in case the water's temperature in the bucket is lower than the serving temperature, wine will continue to chill down. In this case the bottle can be put in a thermal bucket (see figure ) and served. This handy tool, also known as “glacette”, is a bucket as tall and as large as a bottle and it is coated by a hollow space that limits temperature dispersion as well as insulating the inside with outside's temperature.

 The ice bucket is also used in case a too cool wine is to be warmed. In this case the bucket will be filled with plain water, or lukewarm water when needed, and then the bottle is submerged until reaching the serving temperature. This practice is usually used for red wines. A “disgraceful” and “terrible” practice about warming a wine, too often seen in many restaurant, is to put the bottle on a radiator. This practice is very bad for the wine and it must be avoided in any case. The high heat, as well as the sudden temperature change, particularly on the side being in contact with the radiator, gets fine aromas and flavors coarse and accentuate the alcohol's aroma and taste.

 




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  Corkscrew Issue 1, October 2002   
Serving TemperatureServing Temperature  Contents 
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