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How to Serve Wine

Temperature

The temperature of the wine is extremely important, as it greatly affects both the taste and smell. Chilling a wine will: reduce its smell (aroma), reduce its sweetness, emphasize its acidity. and emphasize its tannin. In a fruity wine chilling will reduce the fruity taste. Warming a wine will obviously have the opposite effect (more smell, sweeter, less acid, less tannin, more fruit). Consequently, one should choose a temperature which matches the characteristics of the wine, for example:

  • Red wines generally have more tannin than whites, so are served at a higher temperature to prevent the tannin from overpowering the other flavours.

  • Sweet wines tend to be low in acid, so are served chilled as otherwise the sugar is too dominant

  • If you have a white wine with an unpleasant smell (or taste), chilling it will tend to mask the smell.

  • A wine (red or white) that is to tannic can be served warmer to hide this defect.

  • Older wine tends to be less fruity than younger wine. If you are one of the many people who prefer fruity notes in their wine, you may want to serve older wine a bit warmer to bring out its remaining fruit aromas.

The following table is an approximate guideline of suitable temperatures. There are no absolute rules and different people would add or subtract a degree from what is shown below. If you don't want to go to the trouble of using a wine thermometer, just use this as an indication of when to take wine out of the fridge or put it in (e.g. a Bordeaux at room temperature could be put in the fridge for half an hour before serving it whereas a Champagne should be in the fridge for several hours to properly cool; a Bordeaux which is already in a cool wine cellar needs to be removed several hours before in order to warm up whereas a Sauternes needs to be moved from the wine cellar to a fridge to properly cool).

Wine Style

Serving Temperature (degrees C)

 Strong red (e.g. Bordeaux)

16-18

 Medium red (e.g. Burgundy)

15-17

 Light red (e.g. Beaujoulais)

11-13

 Full, dry white (e.g. a fine Burgundy)

13-17

 Medium, dry white (e.g. ordinary Burgundy)

11-13

 Full, sweet wines (e.g. Sauternes)

8-12

 Champagne

6-10

One needs to be careful about assigning a given temperature to a wine based on its region. It is true that most Bordeaux red wine is strong and as such should be served relatively warm, but it is false to say that all Bordeaux should be served at room temperature as there are also lighter Bordeaux which should be served cooler. The temperature should be based on the wine's characteristics rather than its region or origin.

The temperature should also be based on personal preferences. A sweet wine is normally served chilled but if you dislike acid and like to savour the fruity notes of a wine, there is no reason that you shouldn't drink it cool rather than cold.

Order of serving wine

Light wines are generally served before strong ones. The reason behind this is that if a strong wine is served first, it leaves a taste in the mouth which will interfere with the taste of a lighter wine. More specifically:

  • White wine is normally served before red, as red wine generally has the stronger taste

  • Young wines are normally before old, as old wines tend to be more powerful

  • Dry wines before sweet, so that the sugar of a sweet wine does not impinge on the taste of a dry wine

  • Light reds before heavy reds

If wine is being served with food, in order to match the wine to the food it may be necessary to break this guideline. For example, many people enjoy a sweet wine with foie gras, which is served as an appetizer. In this case, a glass of water will help to clear the palette before the next wine course. Also, if one is breaking this guideline, one probably doesn't want the follow-on wine to be an exceptional bottle (e.g. one might serve a white wine after a red, but it would be a shame to serve an expensive white immediately after a tannic red as the subtly of the white for which one has paid will be lost).

More about wine

For more information, click on Wine & French Wine, which will take you to our home page for this topic.

 
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