Science Questions

Why are wines served at different temperatures?

Sun, 22nd Nov 2009

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Karina, Quito, Ecuador asked:

Why do we serve white wine when chilled and red wine at room temperature?


We posed this question to Marjorie King, Sensory Research Technician with Agriculture Canada...

First of all, red and white wines have different chemical compositions that influence their sensory perception and their sensory traits.  The aromatic white wines and these are things like Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, some of the Rieslings, you serve them the coolest so it would be about 8įC.  They have a relatively higher proportion of aldehydes and esters and terpenes that fill up the head space of the glass and at the lower temperature.  So they will project their fruitiness which is a big part of the appreciation of those wines at a much lower temperature.  The cooler temperature accentuates a bit of the acid and so, it creates a crispier, fresher kind of impression of the wine.  If you do a Chardonnay-type wine or a wine in that style that is oaked, it can be served at a slightly higher temperature, so maybe 10įC, maybe 11įC.  And the red wines, we have the phenolic compounds in the red wines, but with the polyphenols and the tannins, contribute to the structure in the mouth feel and thatís very much linked to the appreciation in a good quality of red wine.  These components are better tasted at a slightly higher temperature.  So if you chill the red wine, itís not just that the flavour components donít come out into the head space as well, but the tannins and the polyphenols feel much more astringent and harsher in the mouth and the acid is accentuated as well.  If you serve a red wine thatís really warm, what you get then is the alcohol starts to dominate the head space in the glass and you get the perception of an alcoholic wine, and you donít appreciate all the fruity components that are in the wine.  So if we serve those at about 19įC, you get a much more pleasant overall balanced wine.


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A French wine lover (that is a French wine lover, not a lover of French wine, although he was........ I don't know where the hell I am now!) once told me the best way to enjoy young red wine is to chill it in the fridge, then open the bottle, to allow the wine to 'breath' and let it almost reach room temperature. Don_1, Wed, 18th Nov 2009


well being french i have no idea but...

drinking warm white wine is never good it kind of tastes like treacle

and its true leaving red wine to breath does improve the tastes, i suppose the is some sort of redox reaction in the bottle after opening

and with the different grape verities for white and red wine. i suppose white wine in the fridge slows down the redox reaction so the flavor stays the same and does not develop/evolve into something different geo driver, Wed, 18th Nov 2009

It must be to do with the olfactory experience of the volatiles and the texture of the wine.

Different chemicals volatilise at different temperatures, and the taste of a wine (or any substance) will depend upon the order and quantity with which different chemicals evaporate and hit the olfactory receptors at the back of the nose.

Also, temperature makes a dramatic difference to viscosity - compare the sounds made by pouring a hot and cold cup of water into a sink.

I presume, therefore, that the chemicals that tend to dominate in white wines produce the most favourable and pleasant olfactory experience when they are presented initially cold. The wine heats up in the mouth but by the time is has done so sufficiently to volatilise the heavier fractions the light molecules are already producing a smell experience.

Similarly with texture - I presume that the substances in reds work better at higher temperatures and taste smoother, whilst the molecules in whites work better at lower temperatures to create a sharp crispness...

Hmm it's only 730am and I'm now in the mood for a glass of white...could I argue that it's actually 2356 at home (I'm in Hong Kong this week) and therefore justify a glass from the minibar...?
chris, Wed, 18th Nov 2009

Most white wines are best served cold, though not too cold (unless it especially rough). A good Burgundy (like a Montrachet) has flavours that you won't get at all if too cold. Although, another Burgundy (like a Chablis) may be better slightly colder because the crisp minerality is enhanced by the lower temperature but allows the flavours to expand in the mouth. Red wines are best somewhere between cellar temperature and room temperature, depending on the wine, but generally much towards the room temperature end of the scale. The flavours of any red wine will not be there if too cold.

I'm not sure about the chemistry and the effects of temperature on taste. I would say that acidity is more acceptable cold.

Allowing wine (usually red wine) to breathe before serving can improve or damage flavours and it depends on the wine and vintage. A young wine can be improved by allowing some oxidation and it can hint at how the wine would age. Of course some wine is best drank whilst it is young and it may not be beneficial to aerate it. Deliberate aerating of the wine can then be useful if the plan is to buy some for laying down. On the other hand, it can be a mistake to buy a very good bottle of vintage wine, just right for drinking, and then let all the complexity evaporate or the chemicals to change via oxidation before you taste it. Even then it may be a matter of personal preference - the taste will change when exposed to air. graham.d, Thu, 19th Nov 2009

It's quite simple really.

You cool white wine to bring out its acidity, you keep red wine at room temperature to diminish its acidity, tannin-taste/bitterness.

Personally?  Can't stand the stuff. Haven't tasted wine so for the last three years........

Shibs, Fri, 20th Nov 2009

cris go for the wine i recommend fop you a nice crisp white chardoney from Australia as in general the french keep all the best wine for themselves

shibs come to france and experience the wine i promise you, your mouth will love you for the rest of your life geo driver, Sat, 21st Nov 2009

This has always been my suspicion. French wines I have bought in France have always tasted better than French wines bought in England. A Pauillac I bought in France was rich and creamy, while one bought in the UK lacked that creaminess.

I keep threatening to open my prized Pomerol's (1974 & 1976) bought in Le Bugue many moons ago, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Don_1, Sat, 21st Nov 2009

I know the feeling. I have a couple of bottles of the 6-7 Buckfast. Geezer, Sun, 22nd Nov 2009

Is it my imagination or is more nonsense talked about wine than just about any other foodstuff?
Anyway here's some "food for thought". Bored chemist, Sun, 22nd Nov 2009

Most of the time I serve wine very hot, as I cook with it occasionally, and do not drink!

SeanB, Sun, 22nd Nov 2009

LOL - I seem to remember some experiments done with jello (jelly in UKspeak) where the color (colour in UKspeak) was altered so that it did not line up with the flavor (flavour in UKspeak).

For example, lime flavor was colored (col.....oh forget it) orange etc.

I think the subjects were children, but they were all fooled by the colors. Green jello "had to be" lime flavor.

Geezer, Sun, 22nd Nov 2009

Don - between you and me, at the Naked Scientists we're going to have a big "10" party next year - 2010, 10 years of broadcasting and 10 million downloads. Why not bring along a bottle and we'll help you to appreciate it!

Chris chris, Mon, 23rd Nov 2009

Don - between you and me, at the Naked Scientists we're going to have a big "10" party next year - 2010, 10 years of broadcasting and 10 million downloads. Why not bring along a bottle and we'll help you to appreciate it!


Well! There you go. I think that proves my point exactly. Does Geezer get the big invitation. Not blinking likely! Perfectly good stuff too. Just because it doesn't have some la-de-dah ponsey French name glued on the bottle.

"Ho no Geez! We don't want the likes of you comin' round 'ere with your hinferior vintages. 'Op it before I calls the Rozzers." Geezer, Tue, 24th Nov 2009

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