What is Room Temperature?

This last Saturday, my house received 6” of wet snow.  As I was shoveling this lovely wet mix from my driveway, I was thinking of my next article to talk with you about.  It’s amazing the thoughts that go through your head while you are doing this activity.  My thoughts were related to the cold, and I would not have to be doing this if I was living still in the South.  In fact, my mind wandered to the warmer temperatures and a glass of wine sitting on a patio somewhere just relaxing and not having a possible heart attack.

What would I drink?  Since there are so many options, my mind somehow went back to my first wine in South Carolina.  Here’s the story.  I moved from Texas to South Carolina to work for USC.  My first day there after a two day long drive, I craved a glass of wine.  One of the people I met that day suggested that I go to a wine bar in Columbia.  After a long day of working to get paperwork done for the school, finalize where I was going to live and other activities related to moving, it was time.  So I went to the bar and received the wine list.  Can I tell you that the selection was amazing and a heck of a lot cheaper than Austin?  I settled on a really nice Cabernet that was brought to my table, opened and served. 

The wine was off.  Not due to bad storage or service but due to temperature. The bottle was about 78° F because in South Carolina when it’s approaching 100° F, it happens.  However, if you ever hang out with me, you will find out quickly that I’m sensitive to temperature.  How did I know the bottle was 78° F?  Because I pulled out my wine temperature gauge (yes, I own one) to check the temp of the bottle.  Yes, I’m one of those. 

As I called the server back over and asked if she had any form of chiller for the bottle.  The shop did not have one.  I therefore asked for a glass of ice cubes.  She looked confused but pleasantly grabbed me a glass filled with ice cubes.  In front of her, I placed one of the cubes in my beautiful wine glass with a beautiful Cabernet to watch the shock on her face.  I was not disappointed because I did get a shocked look.  I asked for her to get an empty glass so I could show her the temperature difference between with wine she poured and now chilling wine.  After getting clearance from her manager, I hosted an impromptu training session for all of the staff about wine temperatures and how to serve.  One of them asked about serving red wines at room temperature.

So What is Room Temperature? 

This is an interesting question for everyone that I always ask when I teach wine classes.  Instantly, the answers that I get are related to someone’s personal house setting.  Everyone is different in regards to what temperature they keep their house at.  In Michigan, I’m keeping the house at 65° F in winter and 78° F in summer.  Why you ask?  I do not want to spent huge amounts either heating or cooling the house to other temperatures.  When I lived in Austin, it was 60° F in the winter and 80° F in the summer.  Everyone is different but in the wine world, there is a common statement and it refers to the storage of wine.

Years ago when we would discuss storing a red wine and serving it, it was at cellar temperature.  Your cellar normally stayed constant at 60-65° F all year round.  Especially if it was buried in the ground like a basement or built into a hillside.  This temperature was important because fluctuating temperatures in wine would lead to spoilage.  So as we modernized, the room temperature statement stayed in place but really was never clearly defined.  Now, everyone confuses it with their house temperatures so we have lots of wine being stored incorrectly and served wrong.

What temperature should I serve my wines at?

I can see you thinking.  In this quick reference below, these are the ranges that you should serve your wines at:

  • Sweet white wines from 42°- 50 F
  • Sparkling wines from 42 – 50 F
  • Light body whites from 42 – 50 F
  • Full body whites from 50 – 59 F
  • Light body reds from 50-59 F
  • Medium body reds from 55-62 F
  • Full body reds from 58-65 F

As for storage, I’m going to write a separate article on this in the near future explaining wine ageing but the easy thing to remember is to keep your wines between 50° – 60° F and you will be ok.

The Peak

Let me continue with the story.  As I’m training the staff about temperatures, I always want people to think about an important fact.  Living in the South, generally it’s always above 65° F.  So let’s look at my story in detail.  Even if the wine was stored at 60 °F, we still have a problem.  I want you to really think about this.  The wine’s optimum temperature for service is (in this case) 62 °F.  The room is at 75° F.  So taking a wine that was stored at 60° and pouring it into a glass at 75° F is a big problem.  I have never been to a shop where the glasses are chilled.  So now, you have taken a properly stored wine and served it into a 75° F glass in a 75° F room.   Therefore, the optimum temperature (or peak as I like to call it), is gone.  The wine is served too warm so all you get to taste is muted aromas along with big acids and tannins.

Here comes the controversy and I may get a few people mad at this but I’m a big believer in chilling reds colder, almost to mid-50’s sometimes.  This gives me a few options:

  • I can let the bottle warm up out of the cellar for a few minutes before service, if it’s really cold.
  • If I’m serving it on the patio, I can pour a very small amount of the wine in the glass and keep the rest chilled. For service, I will keep making small pours.
  • I can direct pour the wine into the glass knowing it will warm up and teach people to drink it soon so it does not get too warm.

In all of these options, I’m doing my best to make sure that my customer gets the right amount of wine in the glass at the right temperature and not let it get too warm.  I’m really big on this.  In teaching wine, I purposely chill a red down to 50° F and pour the wine and have student’s taste it.  Then over the next 15 minutes as the wine warms up, I have them taste it periodically as it approaches optimum temperature and then above this as well.  I want them to see what happens with wine over time along with temperature changes.  Most importantly, I want them to experience wine at its peak since I don’t think we get to do this when we are out.  Think about when you have been served a wine at the right temperature.  I can guarantee not every time and probably bet you could count the number of times on one hand.

Summary

To finish the story, I spent about 10 minutes with the staff teaching them about temperatures.  I went back a few weeks later and had the same server take care of my wine order.  Her comment was that she had doubled sales in the last two weeks.  She took an extra few minutes to focus on wine temperatures and customers ordered more.  She then served me another great red that was chilled and asked if I wanted an ice carafe to keep it chilled.  I was elated and drank that great bottle with a big smile. 

Now that I’ve finished the shoveling and my breathing is slowing down, I’m thinking of having a glass of wine.  I know that the Pinot Blanc that I’m going to have with my Chinese food will be a great pairing, especially at 52°F.  Please take a moment to attempt to see what the peak of a wine is.  You will be amazed at what aromas and flavors are present.  It’s a whole new experience.

@artofthepair