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Wine serving temperature: A matter of degree
But one rule that makes sense, most of the time, is the custom of serving red wines at room temperature and white wines cold. While this may sound like the ultimate in arbitrary advice, it's actually simple enough to test in the real world: If you doubt it, stick a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in the refrigerator for a few hours before dinner, or serve a rich, buttery Chardonnay straight off the wine rack. It probably won't take you more than one sip to decide that cold reds seem flavorless, almost dank, while warm whites come across as fat, even flabby, and lacking the refreshment that we crave.
But how precise do we need to be? This issue, like many others, seems to separate wine lovers into opposing camps. Many experts, including the prolific British wine writer Hugh Johnson, propose a careful, almost finicky calibration. In his Pocket Encyclopedia of Wine (which, by the way, is one of my most highly recommended wine-reference books), Johnson takes a stern position, stating, "No single aspect of serving wine makes or mars it so easily as getting the temperature right."
To guide us, or at least those who concur in this strict policy, Johnson provides a little chart with recommended serving temperatures ranging from 64F (18C) for "best red wines especially Bordeaux" down through 61F (16C) for red Burgundy to 54F (12C) for lighter reds like Beaujolais, 48F (9C) for dry whites, and a chilly 43F (6C) for most sweet whites and 41F (5C) for sparklers.
With all respect to Mr. Johnson, who's one of my favorite wine writers, this ultra-specific hierarchy would almost require the wine lover to carry a thermometer around. It's the kind of rule that makes me want to go get a cold (33F, 1C) beer.
In my opinion, it's as simple as this:
Our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth this week takes on an aspect of this topic, focusing specifically on quality red table wines. I hope you'll drop by http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth to add your opinion to the question, "At about what temperature do you prefer to drink most red wines?"
If you have a comment or observation about wine serving temperature, feel free to chime in on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where there's an active topic on this question at
We hope you'll invite your wine-loving friends to register for their own free weekly copy at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor.
Fresh young Vouvray
In a white-wine world where Chardonnay seems utterly dominant with Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps, in distant second place, it's an occasional pleasure to remember what a delight some of the less aggressively marketed varieties can be. This Vouvray, a Chenin Blanc from France's Loire Valley, is an excellent example. A very pale brass color, it offers fresh, light honeydew melon aromas and a crisp flavor with just a hint of fresh-fruit sweetness well balanced by lemony acidity. Delicious now, but unlike more fragile whites, will improve and gain complexity with a little cellar time. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Oct. 29, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with a simple, light autumn dinner of fettuccine tossed with butter and finely chopped fresh sage.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
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Vol. 2, No. 41, Oct. 30, 2000