Lesson 03 – What is the correct serving temperature for each type of wine?

Is drinking a glass of fine Champagne at 15˚C room temperature really insane? That depends whether you know what you’re doing and more importantly why you are doing it. We’ll get to that later. First, let’s cover some less controversial grounds about wine serving temperatures.

Everybody knows that “serving red wine at room temperature” is a grossly generalized answer to a complex question of “at what is the right temperature for wine to be drunk?”

Complex, yes but difficult to understand, it certainly is not once. All we need to do is to look into how temperature can alter the effect of wine have on our palates. The temperature-sensitive aspects of wine include alcohol, tannin, acidity and body. Here is a table showing their how temperature’s effect on wine-palate interactions:

********** Serving Temperature **********

Tannin Round, supple Bitter, harsh
Acidity Volatile, tart Milder, flat
Alcohol Less pronounced more prominent, hot
Body Lighter Full or heavy
Aromas More intense but dissipates quicker Subdued but persistent
Flavors Exaggerated Less intense

Admitted it is slightly oversimplified but this table handles 90% of the situation that the average wine connoisseur will encounter most of the time. I don’t know about you but for me, memorizing anything more is a lost cause.


None of that information will help us much if we don’t know anything about the wine that we’re about to serve. That’s why a sommelier is paid what he/she is paid – usually quite a tidy sum, I’m afraid. When faced with an unfamiliar bottle at home or in a restaurant, remember to taste it first, at the benchmark temperature of 15˚C or red, 12˚C for white and 5˚C for Sparkling. Far too many restaurants make the far too common error of asking them to “taste” a wine at an inappropriate temperature. After that you can decide to adjust the drinking temperature up or down a little depending on the results of the tasting. Let me explain with a couple of examples.

For example, if a red wine imparts too much bitter astringency on your palate, you could warm it up by 2-4˚C to make it taste “sweeter”. If you find a white wine (or a very old red wine) to taste far too tart for your palate, you can chill it down a bit more to “calm” the acidity but once the fruit flavors start to disappear, you know it’s too cold. If you have tried very hard to smell a wine and nothing is coming back, you might warm it up a little increase its vapor.

If you don’t have a sommelier following you around all the time to answer your questions about the characteristics of the wines you choose, here are some standard serving temperatures for popular wine styles.

Wine/Style of Wine
Serving Temperature
Champagne esp. Vintage Champagne
New-world Sparkling, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt
Lean Whites – Chablis, Chenin Blanc, White Bordeaux, Riesling
Fino Sherry
Medium Whites and older than 10 yrs – Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Cold climate Chardonnay
Full Whites – Condrieu, Hermitage Blanc, Corton-Charlemagne, Warmer climate whites
Coteaux du Layon, Monbazillac, ice wine other med-body sweet dessert wine
Sauternes, Trockenbeernauslese and rich sweet wines
Beaujolais Nouveau
Rosé, Beaujolais Village, light-bodied reds
Light-bodied and older reds; Beaujolais Cru
Beaujolais Cru, Dolcetto
Burgundy Village and older crus
Young Cote de Nuits and crus
Burgundy Grand Crus and new-world Pinot Noir
Gran Reserva and Reserva Rioja
Medium-bodied and 10-yrd-old reds; Barolo
12 -14˚C
Amontillado sherry
Ordinary Tawny Port
Full-bodied reds
Very young reds
Chianti, Brunello
Young (5 years) Rioja, new-world reds
Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy
LBV and 10-yr-old Tawny
Vintage Port
Zinfandel, Amarone, Red above 15% ABV

Serving temperature is like make-up in a way: it can make a beautiful wine very ordinary and it can cover up a lot of flaws for not-so-perfect wines. When done properly, it simply brings the best out of a good bottle of wine without changing its personality.

Now back to drinking Champagne 10˚C warmer than recommended, it is not insanity but slightly masochistic perhaps unless you are doing this to taste the wine behind the bubbles. There is “wine” beneath all the fizz and at the near-freezing temperature that we tend to enjoy our bubblies, the qualities of the white behind that goes into making Champagne are somewhat masked. Once we warm it up to 13 or 15˚C, the “wine” starts to emerge. However, Champagne is one of the most “acidic” wines. Low serving temperature is necessary to make it enjoyable. We save a little Champagne to drink warm only to check the quality of its base wine. There’ll be more on this subject when we devote one entire lesson on Sparkling wine next week.