Most people even vaguely familiar with wine appreciation know about the “red meat-red wine/white meat-white wine” rule. In addition, temperature recommendations make a difference in how wines are best enjoyed by most tasters.
Wine experts advise that white wines be served at 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, light reds at about 60 degrees and more complex reds at “room temperature” or 65 to 70 degrees. Remember, the phrase “room temperature” predates the days of central heat and air conditioning, so it generally refers to the “cellar” temperature of an earlier era.
Chilling helps preserve and highlight fresh, fruity flavors of varieties like Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Chardonnay, on the other hand, though white, is more complex and fermented and aged in oak barrels. Thus, it is usually served at the upper end of the “white” scale.
Full-bodied Cabernets should be served in the 70-degree range. The warmer temperature allows the complexity of intense reds to come through as they are swirled, sipped and savored. Lighter reds like chambourcin or merlot are less complex, so are best appreciated just slightly chilled.
Again, there is logic behind these recommendations. Following picking and crushing, red grapes are fermented on their skins, primarily to extract color. (There is little or no color in the berry, rather the color exists in the skins of the grapes.) While color is extracted, so are a myriad of other components including tannin — which provides astringency, complexity and adds longevity to the finished wines.
Conversely, white grapes are picked, crushed and their juice is pumped directly to cold fermentation tanks. Different cellar techniques enhance the complexity of reds and help to preserve the light, fruity, refreshing characteristics of most regionally produced whites.
In planning a festive gathering, consider several ways to attain the “correct” wine serving temperature.
DONNIELLA WINCHELL is executive director of the Ohio Wine Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.