All wine writers and analysts agree: one of the biggest mistakes, probably even the single biggest issues preventing you from enjoying a great glass of red wine, regardless of price, style, origin and reputation, is the temperature it is served at. Even if you are the proud owner of a wine cellar or wine refrigerator, you can wreck this divine synthesis between man, terroir and grape in the “last mile” of its journey i.e. when you serve it at the table.
Every year my team and I try 3,000 bottles – priced from 5 to 500 Euros ($5-500), and I sit around 80 restaurant tables in Belgium and abroad, from simple bistro kitchens to 3-star restaurants. And it strikes me that, while many wines in the past decades are technically far better, vinified in all production stages - from cultivating the grapes, grape picking, fermentation, bottling to storing the wine, the slip up many wine lovers and even wine connaisseurs make is at the last stage is serving the wine at the right (prescribed) temperatures.
I am talking for example about restaurants where a red wine is brought to the table at 20°C-21°C (68°F-70°F), which is already way too hot. Once poured out, it heats up gradually to 24°C-25°C (75°F-77°F) or more, due to the temperature in the room. And this transforms even the most brilliant Cru into ordinary grape soup.
Up until recently the rule of thumb for red wine was to serve the bottle ‘at room temperature’. But this period is long behind us. In Victorian houses or buildings in the early 20th century it could indeed be icy cold at times, but in our modern, well-insulated houses with central heating, the average room temperature is much higher. Too high to bring a wine, without distinction from its origin, to the starting line. In restaurants nowadays, especially the ones that are popular, you can add even more (body)heat. No wonder sommeliers and restaurant owners become desperate as they are unable to control the ideal serving temperature. Wine is their primary source of revenue but they can not serve it properly. It would be as if they would serve the meat dish cold and the salad hot.
Nevertheless, a large part of the wholesale distribution and apparently still many wine producers as well, believe in this ‘room theory’. Because how often do I not discover on the back of the label the wrong suggestion to serve a Cuvée preferably at room temperature, which is from 68°F (20°C) up to 75°F (24°C)?
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Death to red?
Experience shows us that there is actually a range of correct serving temperatures for red wine.
Ranges from 54°F (12°C) (for very simple, fruity wines with no storage potential) to around 65°F (18°C) (for the cru’s with more complexity, wood, ripening and concentration). Deviations below or above these thresholds should be reduced to a minimum if you want to enjoy a red wine.
Because the deterioration process of a red Cru in the glass at too high a serving temperature goes fast, even a novice wine enthusiast will notice it quickly. A Cuvée too hot will become aromatically bipolar.
Lost in a big ‘Cru’ are all the fine nuances of cassis, raspberries, wild strawberries, grilled hazelnuts, black cherries or oriental spices.
What remains and dominates, especially in red wines with high alcohol percentages of 14% (or more), is a sultry taste. Translated into impressions of overripe fruit and pepperiness and in terms of taste profile: the palate is mainly occupied by black/white pepper, liquorice or stewed fruit.
If the wine has been conserved in oak barrels for a long time, the bitterness of the wood will dominate the fruit factor, and the balance and structure of the wine therefore disappears.
In summary: the red wine can not show its ambitions. And the consumer will no longer crave a second glass of this divine drink.
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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."