Too warm? Too cold?
Wine, it seems, is something like Baby Bear's porridge in the story about the Three Bears: Sometimes it's too warm, sometimes too cold, and only occasionally is it just right.
As we move into spring in the Northern Hemisphere while our cousins Down Under are seeing signs of autumn, this would be a good time to take a fresh look at the temperatures at which we serve our wine.
The standard rule of thumb is simple: Serve red wines at room temperature. Serve white wines chilled.
But just how warm is "room temperature"? How cold is "chilled"? It's my opinion that the standard wine references, like the otherwise reliable Hugh Johnson's "Pocket Wine Book," go overboard when they insist that you serve your Bordeaux at 64F (18C) while cooling your red Burgundies down to 54F (12C), and so on down the Fahrenheit scale to an exact 41F (5C) for sparkling wine. This strikes me as the kind of overly precise pedantry that puts people off wine and that would require us to pack tiny thermometers alongside our pocket corkscrews.
Instead of being overly finicky about the details, let's simplify: Most of us tend to serve our red wines too warm and our white wines too cold.
Standard "cellar temperature" is about 55F (13C), which not coincidentally is also the temperature of natural caves. This is the ideal temperature at which ageworthy wines mature most gracefully in long-term storage. And, certainly in the centuries before central home heating and air-conditioning became commonplace, both red and white wines customarily were served straight from the cellar to thirsty diners waiting in drafty chambers where "room temperature" was probably not all that much warmer than the cellar.
I certainly don't advocate serving all wines at 55F. But "cellar temperature" makes a useful starting point for both reds and whites. Quality red wines are best served comfortably above cellar temperature but sufficiently below modern room temperature that your glass will feel cool to the touch.
For good white wines of complexity and balance, it isn't really desirable to serve them much colder than cellar temperature. Ice-cold wine stuns the taste buds, and you'll notice that the advice "serve well chilled" appears on the labels of only the cheapest wines.
Without falling into the trap of recommending exact serving temperatures, these general guidelines work well for me:
And of course, if you have a temperature-controlled wine cellar (or a natural cave), you can simply serve your whites straight from the cellar and give your reds just a few minutes to warm up a bit.
For today's tastings, I experimented with two decent but affordable French wines, a white Burgundy from Macon and a simple red from the Cotes du Ventoux, where the Southern Rhone meets Provence. Served ice-cold, the white seemed thin and tart, but as it warmed toward cellar temperature it blossomed, showing unusual complexity and a fine balance between fruit and acidity. Allowed to warm to room temperature, it remained palatable, but a touch of sweet oak, imperceptible at cooler temperature, began to intrude. The red, in contrast, was aromatic but light-bodied, and when chilled to cellar temperature it seemed almost too light and thin. A half-hour of warming time brought it into textural balance, and it seemed more refreshing at that point than it did after warming to room temperature.
Again, don't let serving temperature worry you. These are subtle issues, and you can ignore them entirely if you wish. But if you like to play with your wine, I think you'll find it interesting to experiment. Try a favorite wine served warm, cool and cold, and decide for yourself how you like it and why.
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Verget 2002 Macon-Bussières Vieilles Vignes de Montbrison ($15.99)
This clear, straw-color wine shows glints of rich gold in the glass. Apple and spice aromas add a whiff of honey on the nose, but not the palate, where it's dry, crisp and tart. Fresh apples and juicy lemons mingle in the flavor with an intriguing touch of stony minerality. A zippy lemony tang persists in the long, clean finish of an unusually complex white wine. U.S. importer: Vintner Select in Cincinnati, North Berkeley Imports in California, and other regional importers. (April 19, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with poultry or pork, it made an exceptionally good match with the bold flavors of Cantonese-style shrimp in lobster sauce with black beans and garlic.
VALUE: Facing the reality of the shrinking dollar against the Euro, even the purportedly low-end white Burgundies from Macon are moving well into the middle teens. That being said, this one stands out against its competition for quality, complexity and balance, and I would buy it again at this price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink and enjoyable now. White Burgundies, even the relatively lightly regarded Macons, can benefit from careful aging, but good cellar conditions are mandatory if you plan to keep it more than a year or two.
WEB LINK: Verget's Website, which appears to be available only in French, is online here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Locate vendors and compare prices for Verget Macon-Bussieres at Wine-Searcher.com,
Cuvée des Messes Basses 2000 Côtes du Ventoux ($8.99)
This dark garnet wine shows brilliant red-violet flashes against the light. Perfumed red-berry aromas add a distinct, lush floral note of gardenias. Its flavor carries the red-berry theme with a dash of black pepper, tart and snappy but surprisingly light-bodied, an unexpected textural contrast with the heavy floral scent. U.S. importer: J et R Selections Ltd., Mount Pleasant, Mich. (April 20, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's light body and snappy acidity made it a natural with a free-range chicken roasted Greek style with garlic, oregano and lots of lemon.
VALUE: A price well under $10 makes this one a bargain.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not meant for long-term cellaring, this 2000 vintage may be already on the downhill side; drink over the next year or so.
WEB LINK: The importer's Website has a page about its producers at
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The U.S. importer lists distributors by state here:
Locate vendors and compare prices for Cuvee des Messes Basses at Wine-Searcher.com,
Burgundy in May?
Last-minute discount now available
In the interest of filling the last couple of seats on our May 24-30 tour of Burgundy and Champagne, my associates at French Wine Explorers have decided to offer an attractive discount (on a space-available basis) for last-minute reservations.
This weeklong tour will offer an exceptional introduction to the vinous and gastronomic world of Burgundy (plus a bonus side trip to Champagne). We'll enjoy VIP-style visits at several top producers plus four-star lodging and meals at some of Burgundy's top restaurants including the classic Lameloise.
If you've been wishing you could join us on this memorable tour but felt the price was a bit beyond your reach, please contact me by E-mail (email@example.com) ASAP, and I'll be delighted to provide more details. For more about the tour, visit the French Wine Explorers Website,
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Wednesday, April 21, 2004