Red Wine Serving Temperature

The Best Red Wine Serving Temperature?

You spend time and money picking out the perfect red wine and hours teaching yourself about flavor notes, aging techniques, and proper glassware.  But are you serving yourself short?  Do you know what range of red wine serving temperature is best to showcase the wine you’ve chosen?

One of the most commonly practiced misconceptions about red wine is that it should be served at room temperature, a mistake made by amateurs and lifelong wine lovers alike.  As it turns out, red wine serving temperature has a significant effect on the flavor profile. Therefore changing the overall drinking experience – no matter which varietal you choose.  Serving a wine at room temperature instead of its optimal serving temperature deprives the drinker of the complex flavors and textures naturally present in the wine.  Reaching the optimal red wine serving temperature by whatever means you have available, be it a cooler, cellar, or fridge, is the key to getting the most out of your wine.

You are probably aware of the vast differences in flavor between grape varieties at your local supermarket.  There are actually hundreds of varieties of red wine grapes and each one has its own flavor that sets the tone for the wine being made with it.  Some grape varieties are traditional to certain areas of the world and this leads to similarities in tastes between wines produced in nearby wineries.  The wine’s color is also largely determined by the variety of grape used to make it: darker grapes make a darker wine, and lighter grapes make, of course, a lighter one.

A red wine, by its very nature, contains more bitter taste than its white wine cousins due to the presence of tannins that emerge from the grape skins, stems, and seeds during fermentation.  These tannins are what give red wines their known antioxidant content, but they also contribute a great deal of flavor and dimension to the wine.  Lighter red wines contain fewer tannins, and you’ll notice that they often taste sweeter and less astringent than darker wines.  On the other hand, wines with a high tannin content, such as the bold Cabernet Sauvignon, will leave their characteristic dry feeling on your tongue even while tasting pleasantly fruity and spicy.  These textures and flavors can become offensively strong or disappear altogether depending on the temperature of the wine as it is being sipped.

A red wine’s flavor is also strongly impacted by the oak barrel in which it aged, if any.  Oak can impart notes of spice, smoke, or vanilla to a wine, rounding out its flavor profile and helping to balance out the astringency of bolder reds.  While not every red wine is aged in oak barrels, the vast majority are and are gifted with the wide range of flavors that characterize them.  The perception of these subtle notes often changes as a wine warms up or cools down after being poured.

Each red wine varietal has a “just right” optimal serving temperature that allows its unique flavor profile to shine through without becoming either weak or overpowering.  But what actually happens when a red wine serving temperature is too warm or too cool?  Storing or serving a wine at a lower- or higher-than-optimal temperature can have negligible or noticeable effects.  A deviance of a degree or two from “just right” may not result in a perceivable difference.  Any more than that and you’ll start to notice the wine’s flavor morphing away from optimal.

How Heat Impacts Red Wine

Heat impacts flavor in a variety of ways. A warm red wine will taste too alcoholic and boozy because the ethanol more readily evaporates at higher-than-optimal serving temperatures. Serving your red wine in the commonly recommended “room-temperature” will, more often than not, result in your wine tasting flat, bland, and lifeless. A dark, full-bodied wine will lose its rich notes of tannic bitterness, while a lighter, sweeter wine’s tastes of fruit and acidity will be perceived as off-balanced.  Both light and dark varietals will become rough and tangy, reduced to a one-dimensional taste experience without the slightest hint of the flavors indicated on the bottle’s label.

Flavor isn’t the only thing affected by heat, either.  Wines left out at “room temperature” during a hot summer day, for example, can start to spoil.  Corks can dry out or shrink, leading to leakage.  The color of the wine may change from the rich red you expected to pour into your glass to an unpleasant shade of brown.  Taking the time and effort to store your wine at or near the optimal red wine serving temperature will keep your wine safe from spoilage and will ensure that you have the best drinking experience possible.

Storing the bottle in a wine refrigerator until it reaches the optimal red wine serving temperature would be ideal and helps to extend the longevity of your wine by avoiding excessive temperature changes. If you don’t have a wine refrigerator, there are plenty of other ways to cool down your wine. You can place the bottle in the fridge for an hour, or you can submerge it in a bucket of ice water for 15 minutes. Remember that the optimal temperature will vary depending on the varietal of red wine you are serving.

How to Store Red Wine at the Optimal Temperature

You may find that your basement doubles as a perfect wine cellar!  If it’s not too humid and the temperature stays relatively stable and cool, keeping your wines in the basement may be worth considering.  The wines will stay at or near the optimal red wine serving temperature and will only need to be tweaked slightly up or down a degree or two immediately before serving.

Serving a red wine at a temperature that is cooler than optimal will also have negative effects. A wine that is too cold will be overpowered with bitter tannins and acidity. A darker, full-bodied wine will take on an overly astringent taste, while the fruity tastes of a lighter wine will become muted.  Rather than taking on a “fresh” quality, a too-cool red will become harsh and tangy.  Probably not the experience you were going for.

If you find that your red wine has been over-chilled, there are a few ways that you can warm it up to the optimal red wine serving temperature. If you haven’t popped the cork yet, you can leave the unopened bottle on your kitchen counter for 30 minutes or so to slowly warm it to the desired temperature. If you’ve already opened the bottle and served the wine, simply choke up on the stem of your wine glass so that more of your hand covers the bowl of the glass, and your wine will warm up in no time.

The Optimal Serving Temperature for Red Wine

So, then, what is the optimal red wine serving temperature? It depends on the varietal of wine you are serving.  Lighter reds are best served at temperatures on the cooler end of the spectrum, while full-bodied wines are best when slightly warmer.  Several of the most common varietals have very specific temperature ranges at which to serve them for the best experience.

A lighter Pinot Noir should be served between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 – 13 degrees Celcius).  This varietal has a low tannin content, and the cooler temperature helps to bring out a bit of bitterness to balance the sweet fruity and floral notes.  As Pinot Noir is acidic and delicate, serving it at a warmer temperature will dull the balance of tang and sweetness you will exerience when it is served at the optimal red wine serving temperature.

The Merlot shines brightest slightly warmer than the Pinot Noir, between the temperatures of 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit (13-15 degrees Celcius).  This allows the earthy, oaky flavors to come to the surface, qualities that would otherwise become flat and dull at a warmer temperature and overly harsh if too cool.  Merlot’s are easily overpowered with an alcoholic taste that blurs out the dark fruit flavors that characterize this wine.  Serving it between 55-60 degrees will ensure all tastes and textures are well-balanced for a smooth drink.

The fuller-bodied Red Zinfandel, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon are best served at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celcius).  Heavier with tannin content, serving these wines too cold would result in a bitter, acidic flavor that completely overpowers the darker, spicier notes that characterize these varietals.  Serving one of these varietals warmer than the optimal 65 degrees will result in an alcoholic, boozy taste that undermines the complex flavors found in these fuller-bodied wines.

There are many other varietals of red wines not covered here.  The general rule of thumb to follow is that lighter red wines are best served at the cooler end of the spectrum, while darker reds taste best at a slightly warmer temperature.  If you store all of your wines in the same wine cooler, maintaining a temperature between 55-65 degrees Farenheit (13-18 degrees Celcius) will keep your collection as close to “ready to serve” as possible. Be sure to check out our wine cooler buyer’s guide for help choosing the best wine cooler for your needs!  Warming or cooling a bottle by a few degrees just before serving will be quick and easy.  If you’re looking into buying a wine cooler it may be worth investing in a “dual-zone” cooler, which can keep your red wines and white wines cooled at different temperatures for the best aging and storage.  

Conclusion – The Best Temperature for Red Wine

Measuring your wine’s temperature doesn’t have to be stressful.  You may find that a candy thermometer placed beside the bottle in storage is sufficient for giving you a quick and accurate reading.  Wine-loving inventors have dreamed up a few ingenious solutions too: many wine shops stock thermometers that fit around bottlenecks for a convenient, faux-proof reading.  You can also purchase readily available non-contact infrared thermometers, which can measure the temperature of the wine through the bottle.  These are fantastic options if you’re planning on delving deep into the world of wine tasting and need a reliable way to verify temperatures before serving.  Check with your local wine shop or brewing supply store for the options available to you.

But before you get stressed out about exact temperatures or properly shaped glassware, remember that optimal serving temperatures are meant to enhance your tasting experience, not subtract from it!  If you simply aren’t able to make tiny, measured temperature adjustments to your treasured bottle, that’s okay!  Simply keep it on the cooler side and away from the cliche “room temperature”, now that you know better.  After all, enjoying wine is an individual experience, and you’ll discover a favorite style and temperature over time as you indulge in your collection.

The Optimal Temperature for Red Wine

Conclusion – The Best Temperature for Red Wine

The next time you pick out a red wine to enjoy, take note of what serving temperature will allow the complexities to shine through.  Try pouring three small glasses of the wine: keep one at the optimal serving temperature, one too warm, and one too cool.  Give all three a taste, and see if you can pick out the differences in the wine’s flavor and texture.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the vast changes that can occur with only a small variation in serving temperature.  Does the wine taste boozy?  Can you tell whether or not the wine was aged in oak?  What flavors are noticeable in each of the glasses?   Which was your favorite?  If you’re a wine-loving novice, you may not notice these subtleties at first. But, your palate will be able to tell if a glass is at the optimal red wine serving temperature. Perhaps, you have a basement space that will elimate the need to purcahse a wine cooler? If not, check out this wine refrigerator comparison guide. Additionally, you might enjoy reading our how to drink wine article!