Tips on Serving Wine
To Chill or Not to Chill...
Most people even vaguely familiar with wine appreciation know about the "red meat-red wine/white meat-white wine" "rule." Correspondingly, temperature recommendations do 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, is fermented and aged in oak barrels and thus 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 temperature. Refrigeration will decrease a bottle's temperature 4 to 5 degrees each half hour in the first 60-90 minutes. After that, temperatures will drop 2-3 degrees per half hour. Riesling should be chilled for 4 or 5 hours, a chardonnay for 1-2 hours, merlot for an hour and cabernets for a half hour or less. If time is short, a freezer will drop the temperature about 6-8 degrees every fifteen minutes. However, it is best to set a kitchen timer in the event the party is so festive that you forget and find a broken bottle of very fine wine in your freezer the next morning. Adding a little water to a tableside ice bucket will chill the wine about three times as fast as using cubes straight out of the refrigerator. Choosing appropriate wineglasses will also help. Holding the stem will help maintain the temperature of chilled wines, cupping the bowl with a hand will warm too cold wine quickly. On warm summer days, serve smaller portions and refill glasses more often. Finally… some folks chill their wine by adding ice cubes or a splash of cold soda. The wine "experts" may cringe but for those who enjoy wine that way should "go for it." The most important rule is: wine that is most enjoyed is best enjoyed.