Why are wines served at different temperatures?

22 November 2009

Question

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

Answer

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 8Ã?,°C. 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 10Ã?,°C, maybe 11Ã?,°C. 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 that's 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, it's not just that the flavour components don't 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 that's 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 don't appreciate all the fruity components that are in the wine. So if we serve those at about 19Ã?,°C, you get a much more pleasant overall balanced wine.

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