There is a lot of bad information about red wine and serving temperatures out there.
You may have heard the classic and very accurate saying, “Most people serve white wine too cold, and red wine too warm.”
This is true.
Today we are focusing on the second part of the saying about serving red wine too warm.
I learned the proper way to serve red wine from my time living and working in Napa Valley, and from living in North Carolina and Florida.
In Napa, even in the summer, it gets cool at night. So in the evening when it’s time for a glass of wine, you can serve red wine at room temperature and everything is fine, because “room temperature” outside in the evenings might be 65 degrees or lower. Even in the middle of summer.
But in places like North Carolina and Florida, which are warm and have high humidity for most of the year, it is way too hot in the summer to serve red wine at room temperature because “room temperature” can easily be 85 degrees or higher, with full humidity, at night.
Because I lived in the most ideal place to drink (and grow!) wine, Napa Valley, and in less than idea places to enjoy wine, the Southeastern United States, I learned the best way to store wine for cellaring and for serving.
Why Wine Serving Temperature Matters
The temperature that you serve wine matters because the ideal temperature is how you get the most aromas and flavors, and enjoyment out of wine. The ideal temperature is also how winemakers assume you will be drinking the wine, so they take this into account during production.
Most people keep white wine in a refrigerator and serve it straight from the fridge, or a bucket of ice water, so that it’s cold and refreshing. Well, when it’s served like this, you don’t get a lot of aromas and flavors because they are muted from the cold.
Think about it.
If you are visiting a winery and tasting barrel or tank samples with a winemaker, it maybe in the 55 degree range, but it’s not in the 45 degree or colder range.
The same thing goes with red wine.
When I worked at Pine Ridge Vineyards, the front door of my office opened directly into the chardonnay barrel aging room. It was cold, but only about 50 degrees or so. The chardonnay barrel aging room was directly connected to the wine caves that barrel aged all the red wine.
The caves were a constant 55 degrees. And that was a perfect temperature to taste and enjoy red wine.
Most people will serve red wine at 75 – 80 degrees and think nothing of it. Well, not only is it not as enjoyable at 75 – 80 degrees, you are also not going to get all the aromas and flavors that the wine posses.
Should You Chill Red Wine?
In certain situations you should definitely chill red wine, and serve it chilled. This is exactly what I do. And I do this with regular bottles I buy at the grocery store, and also epic bottles I buy from straight from the wineries.
When do you want to serve red wine chilled? In North Carolina, it is hot and humid for at least 6 months out of the year. Red wine at room temperature is just not enjoyable during this time of year. And the entire point of wine is for it to be enjoyable.
I learned to store my reds in my refrigerator. Now, I have a wine fridge and a regular fridge and because the wine fridge is always full, I inevitably have to store some red wine in the regular food fridge.
The point is, either will work. A dedicated wine fridge is good and so is a regular refrigerator.
Should you pull the red wine from the fridge and immediately serve it at that refrigerator temperatures?
What I do is I pull the red out of the fridge and I open the bottle. Since nearly all wine is better if you let it breath, I just leave the opened bottle, with the cork placed back on top, on the counter to sit.
The bottle of red wine will inevitably sweat as it warms up. The sweat is water droplets or condensation forming on the outside glass of the bottle. It may cause the wine label to bunch up as well. This is fine as it does not impact that wine at all, but the appearance of the bottle.
After about 30 minutes or so I will taste and usually serve the wine. The exact time does not really matter, but 30 minutes is about the minimum amount of time that it takes a bottle of wine to open up.
If you are new to the idea of serving red wine chilled, taste the wine as soon as you pull it out of the fridge and open it. Then taste it again after it has been sitting on the counter for 30-45 minutes.
You’ll see that you experience a lot more flavors and aromas after the wine has warmed slightly, but is still colder than room temperature.
Now, depending on where you live and the air temperature that you are serving wine you may want to leave the bottle out on the counter, or you may want to place the bottle of red back in the fridge between pours.
In the middle of summer in North Carolina and Florida, I place the bottle of red back in the fridge between pours.
I developed this idea serving reds chilled on my own. I knew I was on to something when I would come back to North Carolina and visit my friends and they were serving reds from the refrigerator.
They loved my idea!
That was pretty cool.
Should You Cellar Red Wine in a Fridge?
This is a tricky question. In general a normal fridge is about 45 degrees or colder. In general that is a bit colder than you want to cellar red wine for long periods of time.
It all just depends on your situation.
In North Carolina I keep my reds in my wine fridge year round, but it’s designed for this. When I lived in Napa Valley, I did not have a/c, so in the summer there was no way to keep my apartment cool.
In the summer in Napa I would completely fill my full size refrigerator with wine, the vast majority of which was red. I had no room for food, I only had a few condiments in the door of the fridge where wine would not fit during the summer.
I did this because I didn’t want my prized reds to spoil in the heat.
In general, for cellaring purposes, you want to keep wine at cooler temperatures than at warmer temps. So yes you can cellar red wine in your fridge, but just don’t do that for years an years. Drink the wine after a year or two before it goes bad.
You might also want to read my post about how long you should keep wine before it will go bad.