When it comes to storing and serving wine, keeping it at the proper temperature is perhaps the most important factor in terms of keeping the wine at optimal quality.
A high-quality bottle of wine can quickly turn from a sought-after masterpiece to a spoiled mess if left in the trunk of a hot car for 20 minutes, and many wine enthusiasts are unaware of the best practices when it comes to storing and serving wine correctly.
To avoid the spoiling of wine, we will take a look at the ins and outs of wine storage and serving temperature to make sure you get the most out of your bottle.
Wine Storage Basics
One of the biggest obstacles that wine enthusiasts and collectors face when storing bottles of wine for an extended period is the threat of heat. When wine becomes too warm, it becomes irreversibly damaged and the taste changes significantly.
This is the primary reason that people started storing their wine in underground cellars hundreds of years ago, as the temperature underground is both generally cooler and less prone to swings in temperature compared to above ground.
As soon as a wine reaches the 70-degree mark, it begins to become susceptible to heat damage and the flavor can change significantly, especially over long periods of time. The temperature inside a car can quickly reach this mark, and wine is often spoiled by being left behind in a car.
If a bottle of wine becomes even warmer and reaches the 80-degree threshold, it begins the process of “cooking” and begins converting itself into a vinegar-like substance. A wine that has reached this temperature becomes sour and undrinkable.
While heat is the primary concern when it comes to wine storage temperature, storing wine in an environment that is too cold is also detrimental to its overall quality. While liquor can be kept in the freezer due to its high alcohol content, wine can easily freeze.
When a bottle of wine is stored at a temperature that is too cold, the wine can begin to freeze inside the bottle. This causes it to expand slightly and can begin to push the cork out of the neck, or even crack the bottle itself.
If a wine is stored at too cold of a temperature and it freezes, the biggest threat to the wine’s quality is due to the integrity of the bottle being damaged. If there are no issues with the container, wine can usually be thawed out and enjoyed regularly.
When the cork becomes too loose in a wine bottle, or the bottle itself breaks due to the expansion of freezing wine inside, the integrity of the seal is broken. As oxygen interacts with the wine, it kicks off the oxidation process and wine can go bad within hours.
While storing wine at the correct temperature is an important consideration to make, fluctuations in temperature should also be avoided as they can be detrimental to the quality of the wine as well.
It is best to choose a wine storage area that is not susceptible to swings in temperature, and in some cases, it can actually be better to choose a wine storage option that is less ideal in temperature range if it is less prone to temperature swings than others.
Another reason that wine storage in underground cellars has been a common practice for hundreds of years is the fact that contact with direct sunlight can also damage wine over prolonged periods of time.
For this reason, it is best to store wine in a cool and dark place that does not come into any contact with direct sunlight. Humidity is also a factor, though far less important when compared to temperature and light.
The general consensus among the wine community is that the best humidity for a wine storage area is somewhere around 70 percent or higher. This is thought to keep the corks from drying out, though this is a much smaller risk factor for most wine collectors.
Wine should also always be stored on its side, especially when being cellared for long periods of time. Keeping a wine bottle on its side allows for some of the wine to always stay in contact with the cork which keeps it from drying out and losing integrity.
Temperature-Controlled Wine Storage Options
As early as Roman times, people have been taking steps to preserve their wines as best as possible. Ancient Romans used to keep their best wines in small smoke-filled rooms, which was thought to have a preservative effect on the wine.
As the years went on, it was determined that there were three primary factors that caused wine to lose its integrity over time. The first is oxygen, and advances in glass-blowing technology lead to the advent of airtight glass containers.
The addition of the cork to blown glass bottles solved the oxidation issue, as the microscopic openings in the porous cork are tight enough to keep the majority of oxygen out, while allowing tiny particles to enter and exit the bottle.
Once the issue of oxidation in wine was taken care of, the advent in popularity of the underground wine cellar solved the other two issues of temperature and light. Underground cellars are cool, damp, and dark – making them ideal environments for the storage of wine.
Wine cellars are dimly lit, often employing the use of candles to make the room easier to navigate without emitting any bright or harsh light near the bottles. French winemakers in Champagne were some of the first to employ this idea and repurposed old Roman caves to store their sparkling wines.
Today, many people choose to repurpose existing basements into wine storage cellars, and some people even construct their homes with this in mind. Underground wine cellars are fantastic options, as they are efficient and less prone to swings in temperature.
While a dedicated wine storage basement is one of the best possible options, it is not possible or feasible for many people with their current living setups. There are many different options for more practical wine storage options at home.
Some people choose to turn small temperature-controlled rooms or closets into wine storage areas. This requires a bit of planning and conversion but can be done for those that have both the space at home and a sizable wine collection.
One of the most common and practical ways that people choose to store wine in their homes and apartments today is the use of small kitchen appliances called wine coolers. These units are essentially small refrigerators that are optimized for the storage of wine.
Wine coolers come equipped with racks that help to maximize storage space while keeping bottles sideways for optimal storage. They also often feature simple temperature controls, and some have dual-zone cooling technology for different wines.
The smallest wine cooler options are sleek enough to fit into just about any home and usually hold 12 to 24 bottles. There are also larger options that are larger than home refrigerators, and can store enough wine to supply an entire restaurant!
White Wine Serving Temperature
The majority of wine enthusiasts are aware that white wine should be served at a cooler temperature when compared with red wines, but many do not know the optimal temperature at which it should be poured.
Different styles of white wine will taste better when served at different temperatures, but the majority of them will taste best when served between 40 and 50 degrees. While this general rule applies to all white wines, certain styles will benefit from different temperatures.
Light white wines and Rosé wines will most often reach their optimal tasting profile somewhere around 45 degrees, while sparkling wines should be served a bit colder at around 43 degrees Fahrenheit.
More full-bodied and oaky bottles of white will benefit from being served a bit warmer, with 47 degrees being one of the best possible serving temperatures for oaky bottles like Chardonnay from California.
One of the biggest challenges people face when it comes to keeping white wine at the proper serving temperature is the bottle warming up once it has been brought out and put on the table.
A single bottle of wine contains four generous pours, making serving wine at the correct temperature much more simple when serving four people when compared to one or two. Many bottles of wine quickly fall out of ideal temperature after one or two glasses have been poured.
One of the best ways to avoid this issue is to place the bottle of wine back into the wine cooler after serving and push the cork back into the top. Replacing the cork will not only keep the wine from spilling, but it will also keep oxygen out of the bottle leading to better taste.
There are many situations where it is either not possible or practical to bring the bottle back and forth to the table from the refrigerator over and over, which is why ice buckets, bags, and other wine-cooling innovations exist.
There are a number of different products on the market today that are designed to keep bottles of wine on the go, and designs range from simple to upscale. Ice buckets and bags hold the bottle of wine along with a small amount of ice to keep the bottle chilled.
There are also high-tech options on the market that employ the use of freezable gels and liquids to offer portable cooling without the need for ice. Others are insulated and work by retaining the coolness that is already inside the bottle while keeping out the heat.
Red Wine Serving Temperature
When it comes to serving red wine, many people have heard that the best way to serve it is at “room temperature.” While the idea behind this rule is correct, it does not always apply as different reds benefit from different temperatures.
It is also tough to designate a simple term such as “room temperature” as the correct range, as rooms can fluctuate greatly in terms of heat. Room temperature in a Canadian winter will be very different from that of one in Brazil or Hawaii.
It is also true that many people prefer their homes to be kept at different temperatures, regardless of region or surrounding weather. For this reason, room temperature is generally considered to fall somewhere between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
In reality, the majority of red wine will reach optimal taste when served a bit cooler than the ambient temperature of most rooms, with the ideal red wine temperature range falling between 54 and 65 degrees depending on wine style.
Wines that are light in body, fairly fruity or both will benefit from being served somewhere around 55 degrees. This applies to light-bodied wines like Pinot Noir, as well as fruitier varieties of red wine like Gamay from Beaujolais.
Medium-bodied red wines like Merlot and Zinfandel will greatly benefit from a serving temperature of somewhere around 57 degrees. This is a great temperature range for the majority of red wines and the number many restaurants and wine bars use.
Full-bodied bottles of red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot will taste best when served a bit warmer than other styles, and there is some disagreement within the wine community as to the actual ideal serving temperature.
While the exact temperature to serve full-bodied red wines has not been agreed upon, the general consensus is that it falls somewhere between 62 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, we always recommend serving full-bodied reds at 63 degrees.
Cooling a Bottle of Wine
There are many different ways to cool down a bottle of wine, but the most common of them takes a fairly long time to actually get the bottle down to the correct temperature. There are many different instances where a bottle of wine needs to be cooled in a hurry and a refrigerator will simply not do the trick.
The best and fastest way to cool a bottle of wine begins with filling a medium-sized bucket or bowl with ice and adding water. While many people choose to keep wine bottles on ice, the water stays in constant contact with the bottle keeping it cooler.
One of the keys to the proper rapid bottle cooling process is to add salt to the ice and water mixture. Salt allows the water to get colder than 32 degrees without freezing, leading to extremely cold water that the bottle is submerged in.
Once the bottle is sitting in a chilly mixture of ice, water, and salt, the final step is to spin the bottle inside the ice. Moving the bottle around in circles will work to cool the wine more quickly, and this trick is commonly used at wine bars and restaurants.
Some people choose to add ice cubes to their wine in an effort to achieve a cooler beverage, but this is not the best practice and will ruin the taste of the wine. As the ice cubes melt, water is released into the wine diluting the product and changing the tasting profile.
The best option for cooling wine in a pinch without the use of an ice bath is to use frozen grapes. Keeping a bag of frozen grapes around is a great way to cool down a glass of wine without changing its taste while also adding a nice decorative garnish to the glass.
Wine Storage and Serving Temperature – Conclusion
The temperature of a bottle of wine is one of the most important factors when it comes to both storage and serving, and it is the single most important factor when it comes to quality wine storage. T
he serving temperature of any given wine will also have the most significant effect on its taste, which is why quality restaurants and wine bars are so particular about serving wine correctly.