The ‘rules’ of serving and drinking wine make sense as a culmination of centuries of experience and wisdom. But sometimes they are a fashion (think of Beaujolais Nouveau) and sometimes they are just plain wrong (like ‘coupe’ champagne glasses, as used in 1950s Hollywood movies). So what about the temperature of wine? The ‘rules’ say serve red at room temperature, serve white chilled.
I’ve already some objections. Firstly, serving white wine chilled means, for most of us, getting it out of the fridge ie, at 4 degrees centigrade. NO! That’s too cold. The volatile chemicals that give you the flavour of a wine have to turn into a gas before you can smell them. At 4 degrees they are practically frozen. 8 – 10 or even 12 degrees is better. That means getting it out of the fridge at least 15 minutes before you serve it. Have you noticed how much better a wine straight from the fridge tastes on the second glass?
Secondly, serving red wine at room temperature means, in most houses, serving it at 20 to 22 degrees. NO! For most wine that’s too warm. It feels and tastes flabby at that temperature. 16 to 18 degrees is better. So, keep it in the cellar till you are ready to drink it or at least in that north facing room where you keep it. Or put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is not a new idea for wines from the Loire. Anyone driving back to Dieppe from the continent who stops for a meal in Chartres or Blois will have noticed that they serve their reds cool. The new idea is to serve all reds cool, except those high in tannin – Bordeaux shuts down at low temperatures, as do heavy New World reds.
This has been put to the test by a wine writer called Conrad Braganza, writing on The Wine Society’s website. He tried putting various reds in the fridge for 30 minutes to one hour before drinking and compared them to the same wine at room temperature. Most wines were better from the fridge. It worked best for younger, lighter wines, not just Loire reds but also Beaujolais and other lighter Burgundies, and New World wines low in tannin like wines made from cinsault or carignan grapes. He found it gave an extra vibrancy to their fruit. But he confirmed that it didn’t work for high tannin wines.
So now we have some new ‘rules’. How long, I wonder, before they get overruled?
Incidentally, why are ‘coupe’ champagne glasses wrong? For two reasons: they allow the fizz to escape too fast; and, because of the short stem, you tend to hold them by the bowl, which warms up the wine. And while we are on the subject, they were not modelled on the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breast. They were being used in England in 1663 and only copied by the French later.