Over the past several weeks I visited three restaurants and a winegrower that served wines either too warm or way too cold. The winegrower is highly regarded and the restaurants otherwise excellent, so there was no excuse, but it was most disappointing. You could feel the ‘heat’ from the alcohol and more pronounced tannins and acidity dominated the whites. They all had a distinct bite to them that was a disservice to the true potential of the wines and in the case of the restaurants, the food. I’ve encountered this situation many times at private dinner parties as well. When people spend all sorts of time on money preparing and serving great food why they don’t pay more attention to something as simple as serving wine at the right temperature.
The importance of temperature was first brought home to me at a small French restaurant in Calgary back in the early 1980’s. I don’t recall the name of the establishment – it’s long gone – but my experience with the wine, a Mersault Genevrières, was etched in my mind forever. I had the same wine several times before but the real ‘ah ha’ moment arrived when they served it to me at exactly the right temperature. It was totally different, much richer in texture, incredible aromatics and length; it was a magnificent wine and a perfect accompaniment to the dinner. If I’m not mistaken we had two bottles!
By serving a wine at the right temperature you maximize the sensual pleasures it has to offer. Good wine is never inexpensive and it is imperative to serve it at the correct temperature, otherwise why spend the money?
For lighter, higher acid unoaked wines (Cabernet Franc from the Loire, Burgundian Pinot noir and Gamay from Beaujolais) 16° to 17° works best with other reds topping out at 18°. This might sound cool but the wine will warm up in your glass. A glass of red wine should feel cool to the touch.
The biggest mistake I find with whites is that they are served too cold and this makes the acidity more pronounced at the expense of other flavors and aromas. To me it even seems to change the mouthfeel of the wine. Dry whites and champagne (including fine, dry sparkling Vouvray or German Sekt) are best served at 8° to 10° and those that are slightly off dry to sweet are best at 5° to 8°. The cooler temperatures for these sweeter wines make the acidity more pronounced which counters the sweetness and creates a perfect balance. These temperatures can be decreased slightly if you are enjoying them in the heat of the outdoors as a cocktail.
By serving wines at the proper temperature you maximize their aromatics, texture and length, and get what you paid for.