The Wine Wise Guy has had it—for the last time!—with people drinking their Chardonnay straight from the fridge.
America, you are drinking your white wine too cold! I’ve ranted plenty over the years about wine serving temperatures, shaking my fist in the air as I decry the belief shared by far too many of my fellow countrymen (and women) that red wine should be served at “room temperature” while white wines should be served “chilled.” This philosophy is not just wrong, it’s illogical. And all it takes to disprove it is serving the same bottle of wine at various temperatures. I’ve demonstrated this dozens of times; in fact, I once hosted a seminar at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen called “Temperature Tantrum.” (Yeah, I’m a little passionate—okay, obsessed—about discrediting this misinformation.) All it takes to impress imbibers is progression of red wines tasted from “room temperature” down to around 55 degrees. Every time, without fail, people prefer cooler red wines.
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White wine is often a bigger surprise. That’s because most folks follow the directive that whites should be chilled. But pay attention to that word: chilled. As in, cooled down. Not "served a few degrees above freezing," or "iced into oblivion." The truth is that kitchen refrigerators are typically set at around 38 degrees F., which is way too cold for white wines. Serve a white at 38 degrees and you know what it tastes like? Alcoholic water. There’s no flavor: that level of chill kills it dead. So what’s the correct temperature, then? That depends. The rule of thumb—and this goes for all wines, white or red—is the lighter the wine, the colder it should be served; the bigger the wine, the warmer. That’s why a ripe, rich, California Cabernet blend tastes better at around 60, while a lower-alcohol, less robust Oregon Pinot Noir tastes better in the low 50s.
With white wines, lighter (and typically unoaked) varieties like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio taste great around 45 degrees, while Chardonnay, which has more body and substance, shows its best more toward 50. And, should you need proof of this information beyond the fact that I am telling you it is absolutely true, here’s how to get it. Put three glasses on the kitchen counter. Mark them “1,” “2” and “3” (I use china markers; you could also put a small piece of scotch tape on the glass and write the number on it with a felt tip pen). Take your bottle of tasty Chardonnay from its 38-degree home in the fridge and pour some into glass #1. Put the bottle back in the fridge for five minutes, then take it out and pour glass #2. Put it back, wait another five minutes, then pour glass #3. Now swirl, smell and taste all three glasses. You’ll see that the one you poured first—which has had ten minutes to warm up to a more reasonable temperature—is easily the most expressive of aroma and flavor. Now you know, and from now on your entire life will be infinitely better.