Quick guide to red wine serving temperature
- Light, fruity reds: Serve these reds slightly chilled, at 12-13 degrees Celsius (54 – 56 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Medium-bodied reds: Serve between 14 and 16 degrees (56 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Full-bodied reds: Serve between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius, (61 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit)
It can be hard to generalise among grape varieties, but you’d typically find Beaujolais (Gamay) and Valpolicella Classico (Corvina) towards the lighter, chilled end of this spectrum.
Pinot Noir is going to straddle light and medium, with some styles of Rioja (Tempranillo) in the mid-range and then the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant and Syrah / Shiraz wines of this world in the full bodied band.
Oak, ageing and structure
Certain grape varieties just have more tannin, colour and potential to create full, structured wine than others.
That said, if you have time, think about the age of the wine and also how it has been handled in the cellar. If you’ve had it before and so know the producer’s style, think about the structure and profile of the wine last time you tried it.
Is that Rioja Crianza or a Gran Reserva, with at least 18 months spent in oak barrels, for example? If you’re a fan of Piedmont, do you have a Langhe Nebbiolo or a full-on Barolo DOCG?
These are important questions, because chilling red wine will amplify any oak and tannin present. Presumably, you’d like to taste some fruit, too.
Is your red wine too warm?
Equally, a red wine can become soupy if too warm. Alcohol levels may then feel out-of-balance and the wine’s natural structure and freshness can be lost. Where did that acidity go?
Wine is a question of personal taste, but these are generally considered undesirable qualities.
Many of us have probably experienced a soupy red wine at one time or another, whether on holiday in a warm climate or in a restaurant that hasn’t got its wine cellar under control. Don’t be afraid to ask for the ice bucket for a few minutes.
What does ‘room temperature’ mean?
The old adage about room temperature is a red herring.
If you can, it’s better to stick to specifics. A wine fridge with temperature control is obviously the gold standard here, but a simple wine thermometer can also help, or knowing the temperature of the room you’re in.
Trust your gut instinct, too. ‘I can’t recall the last time I used a thermometer either at home or in a professional environment,’ master sommelier Xavier Rousset told Decanter in 2016.
Aside from obvious faults, how balanced does the wine taste?
If a red wine needs warming up slightly, then you can always cradle the glass in your hands to improve things.
Watch out for temperature changes during drinking, though. ‘The temperature of wine rises dramatically in the glass, so your classic 18ºC Bordeaux becomes (depending where you are) 22ºC or more in the glass very quickly,’ said Rousset.
‘The hardest thing by far is to maintain the correct temperature throughout the time of consumption.’