Serve your wine at the right temperature

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Sometimes you need to cool or warm your wine to obtain the right serving temperature. Which way is the best and how do you know how long it will take?

An interesting little booklet was published in the 1960s in Sweden by a man called Haqvin Carlheim-Gyllensköld, known for his scientific approach to cooking. The book is called “To adjust the temperature of a wine”. With more or less complex formulas and charts Gyllensköld shows us how long it takes for a wine with a specific temperature to reach the desired temperature under cold running water, in the bucket with ice and water, at room temperature, in hot water, in the microwave oven (!) etc. Here are some practical examples based on the book and my own experience.

An ice bar with champagne cooling in pure ice
An ice bar with champagne cooling in pure ice, copyright BKWine Photography

To warm a bottle of wine

In ambient air

You take a bottle from a 14 degree C wine cellar and put it in a room with a temperature of 22 degrees C. It will take 40 minutes for the bottle to reach 17 degrees.

The bottle has been in a 4 degree C refrigerator for a long time (>6 hours), so the wine is 4C. You take it out and put it in the 22 degree room. After 2 ½ hours the wine has reached a temperature of 17 degrees.

In water

If you are in a hurry to reach 17 degrees C, you can warm the bottle in water that is at room temperature. It takes about 15 minutes if the starting temperature of the bottle is 4 degrees C.

Avoid heating in hot water. Using hot (or warm) water changes the temperature too quickly so it is difficult to know when it has reached the good temperature.

An ice bucket with ice and water and two bottles of sparkling wine
An ice bucket with ice and water and two bottles of sparkling wine, copyright BKWine Photography

To chill a bottle of wine

In the fridge

The bottle has a temperature of 22 degrees C and you want to cool it to 10 degrees C. If you put the bottle in a 4 degree temperature fridge, it takes 2 ½ hours. Champagne takes longer because the bottle is thicker.

If you want the wine to go down to 6 degrees C you must keep the wine in the fridge for about three hours.

Chilling a bottle of wine takes much longer than people usually think. Putting it in the fridge for a quarter of an hour or even half an hour has very little effect at all.

A refrigerator with bottles cooling
A refrigerator with bottles cooling, copyright BKWine Photography

In water

If you chill the wine under running (very) cold water it will take 10-15 minutes to reach 6C. If it is not running water but just a bucket, then it will take a bit longer.

In an ice bucket

In a bucket with ice and water, it takes just under 10 minutes to reach 6C. It takes more time if you only have ice and no water in the bucket. It is much faster with ice and water blended.

In the freezer

Yes you can chill your wine in the freezer. It will not kill the wine, although with very old and fragile wines you should perhaps avoid it.

For example, to chill a red wine that is at room temperature (22 C) to a good serving temperature (16 C) put it in the freezer for just under 20 minutes.

To chill a white wine from room temperature to a good serving temperature put it in the fridge for 40 minutes.

There is no excuse not to serve your wine at a good temperature!

What is the “best” serving temperature?

What the “correct” serving temperature is depends of course on your own taste. There is no rule for what temperature a wine “should” be. You decide.

In our taste many people tend to serve white wines (including champagne) too cold and reds too warm. Here are our suggestions.

Red wines

Serve red wines at around 16-18C. Lighter reds, beaujolais, lighter chinatis, many pinot noirs etc, are preferably served rather cool. More powerful reds, bordeaux, rhone, barolo etc, are better served at the upper end of the scale. The temperature rises quickly in the glass.

Bottles in ice bucket
Bottles in an ice bucket, copyright BKWine Photography

White wines

Don’t serve whites too cold, especially not good quality white wines. If you serve them very cold (4-6C) they loose a lot of character.

Serve white wines at 7-16C. The lower end of the scale for simpler and lighter wines, or wines that can be over-powering aromatic (Gewurz, Vioginer…). High-quality whites with a substantial body, good burgundies, good bordeaux, chateauneuf etc, can even be served at 14-16C.

The same goes for champagne, don’t serve it too cold! Not colder than 8C and preferably around 12C, especially if it is a quality champagne.

In other words, to keep the white wine in the ice bucket all the time is not that good an idea. Take it out of the ice once in a while to make sure it doesn’t get too cold.

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4 Responses

  1. If in a hurry, how can I reach a reasonably swallowing temperature of a bottle of lukewarm
    Polish vodka from the pocket?

    Hempa asking.

  2. Hello. I looked for the author of the booklet you mentioned. I can see he was a Swedish architect.
    I can read Danish (badly) is there any chance you have a copy of this unique booklet or could reference this for me properly (ISBN number or date of publication). I’d love to have a copy and also for a Swedish friend who is a foody.

    1. As mentioned, it’s an old book. You can find more info googling his name and the Swedish title ”Att temperera vin” (that you could also find in the Swedish version of this article). I guess your only possibility would be some Swedish antiquarian bookshops.

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