How do I mess up white wine - the Shivering Syndrome

In a recent post we talked about the basic mistake of serving your great red wine too hot. What applies to red cru’s, also applies to white wines: most (if not all) white wines are served at the wrong temperature, which makes for a very disappointing experience. Fine fruit-driven wines lose their excitement and finesse. But where with red wine the thermometer indicates almost always too high a temperature, white wines often struggle with the opposite phenomenon: they are served too cold, even sometimes freezing cold. And thereby lose most of their charm. 

Not only in the private sphere, but unfortunately too often in restaurants, hotels and brasseries many white cru’s do not get what they deserve, namely a correct serving temperature.

Correct means in the first instance that the wine, very much determined by the dominant grape variety, should never fall below the absolute limit of 45°F (7°C). So not be served ice cold like you would serve a lemonade.

Because if this “Alaska“ strategy is applied - deliberately (to camouflage mistakes in the wine) or unconsciously (by novices) - the head and tail of the wine suffer especially from this cold.

Chart with ideal serving temperatures for white wine

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The delicate wine balance disturbed

As a starter, the bouquet is completely silenced. After all, most aroma nuances are suppressed by the cold and the characteristics of the grape or the richness of the aromas become hardly traceable.

Possible vinification errors therefore remain largely hidden. The middle taste then remains flat and monotonous, but it is mainly the aftertaste that apparently disappears. Recently I was confronted with this phenomenon during a tasting for my annual wine sales guide, where, in my absence, the white bottles were placed in a cooling room for food storage for about 2 hours. The temperature of the wine therefore dropped to around 39,2°F (4°C), after measuring the liquid in the bottle with a wine thermometer.

When I discovered this, it was too late: for at least 2 to 3 hours, the cuvées could not be properly tasted, whether they cost 15 dollars or 50 dollars. We tried it, but the reactions were unanimous: little or no aromatic expression, almost no flavor relief and without exception ultra short in terms of finals. The test results from identical bottles a week earlier were incomparable. In short, the distinction between a simple and complex white wine becomes considerably smaller when the wine is poured and drunk ice cold.

Simplicity versus complexity

Another basic rule for white is identical to that of red wine. Structurally simple ‘secs’, who rely almost exclusively on their fruity and zesty freshness and therefore should be served and enjoyed maximum 1 to 2 years after being harvested - can be served colder than cuvées with more complexity, concentration, age and /or oak bearing. For these more complex wines, the mercury may sometimes even approach the ideal cellar temperature, such as a large Burgundy or Graves. We are talking here about 50°F (10°C) to 53.5°F (12°C), and even 55.5°F (13°C).

The same principle also applies to sweet dessert wines. For example, the aroma and taste shades of nougat, quince, hazelnuts, vanilla, candied apricots, flowers, etc. of a beautiful Sauternes will only mani- fest itself when the bottle does not come straight out of the refrigerator, or has been drowning for hours in an ice bucket.

Ideal serving temperatures for white wine terroir

Do you want to enjoy your wine at the optimal temperature and taste, and take out the guess work?  Check out QelviQ,Your Personal Sommelier. 


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"Hi l am Wim, sommelier, and wine enthusiast just like you! My fellow sommeliers understand the importance of serving wine at the correct temperature. They know that if wine is too warm, it will lose its flavors and complexities, and if wine is served too cold, it will numb your taste buds. A few world renown sommeliers and myself will explain this further, and share some interesting (taste) case studies."

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