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swirl & savor

Temperature Matters

Beth Ribblett

Serving wine at the proper temperature is something we all struggle with here in New Orleans.  It's really an issue in the US in general; we drink our reds to warm and our whites too cold.  Especially here in the sub tropics - our reds suffer severely from the idea that they are best served at "room temperature".

The beautiful underground cellars at Antonio Caggiano's winery in Campania
The whole room temperature red wine thing came out of Europe where those lovely stone castles and chateaus, lacking in central heat,  remain a constant 60 some degrees. Then there are those cool underground cellars at where their whites rest at a perfect 55 degrees.  That is a far cry from our poorly insulated below sea level homes in our stifling humidity and 90+ degree temperatures!

So what's the big deal?  What does it really matter what temperature you serve your wines?  I guess that all depends on the drinking experience you are looking to have.  If your goal is to guzzle down a big high alcohol red so you can get a quick buzz to start your weekend, then chances are you don't really care how it's showing.  But if you really want to experience a wine at it's best, temperature matters.

When we pour a white wine directly from our frosty 35 degree refrigerators to our glass, the aromatics and flavors are suppressed. The cold brings out greater astringency, which means the wine can  tastes sharp and tart.  And our room temperature average of 72 degrees for reds?  They lose all their finesse and freshness to an overpowering sensation of alcohol and tannin.  They're flabby, out of balance and not as enjoyable as they could be with a little help.

But you don't need to have an fancy wine cellar to serve/drink your wines at the proper temperature.  If you store white wine in the refrigerator, take it out 20 minutes before you want to pour it. To cool down reds (or room-temperature whites), all you need is an ice bucket filled half with ice and half with water. If you’re in a hurry, throw in a cup of salt.  You can get to the right temperature in 10 minutes in an ice bath; or you can put reds in the fridge for about 45 minutes if you are thinking ahead, with whites, 2 hours in the fridge should be perfect.  That’s all it takes.

Kerry is more of a stickler about the red wine thing than I am - I'm usually impatient and just want a glass of wine.  Sometimes I think she waits too long and the wine gets too cold!  With whites, I like them a bit warmer, Kerry- super cold! So to help us both out, I got these little wine bottle digital temperature cuffs. You put them on a bottle, give it a few minutes and it reads the temperature of the bottle.  

So I  put one of the digital thermometers ($16 at swirl) on a bottle that is down in the dark corner where we store our wine at home and got this: 72 degrees.  Upstairs in the kitchen while we are making dinner? Yikes! 75 degrees! In the fridge 30 minutes? A perfect 63!  

Here's what we should be shooting for:  Typical temperature for serving red wine ranges from 52ºF - 65ºF, and 45ºF- 50ºF for white wines.  If you really want to get picky about this, there are different temperature suggestions for different varieties (see chart below).  But I think if we just shoot for the averages for now, we'll all be happier wine drinkers!