The temperature at which a wine is served is important, and it is worth spending a few moments thinking about it. The old adage of serving white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature is a useful starting point, although not nearly detailed enough. A wine served a little too cold or a little too warm can lose an awful lot of character, particularly with respect to aroma.
Most domestic refrigerators maintain their internal environment at about 4șC, which is far too cold for most white wines. Champagne and dry white wines of quality are best served at a temperature between 8șC and 10șC (sometimes even a little higher), which is very close to the temperature in many underground cellars for much of the year. Many whites, therefore, are best served straight from the cellar, but for the majority whose homes do not possess such a feature, a bare hour or so in the fridge door will do fine here. Inexpensive white wines, cheaper sparkling wines and sweet white wines are best a little colder, perhaps 4șC to 8șC, so two hours or so should bring these bottles down to a reasonable temperature.
Red wines often also need a little chilling. The 'room temperature' which many regard as the ideal serving temperature for red wines is not an excuse to leave wines languishing in the warmth of today's insulated, centrally heated houses. The ideal serving temperature for many fine red wines is perhaps 14șC to 18șC, somewhat cooler than modern houses, although this was a common temperature indoors in centuries gone by! Many reds, unless stored somewhere cool, will benefit from half an hour in the refrigerator. This is particularly the case for Beaujolais and young Burgundy, as well as Pinot Noir from the New World. Good claret, Rhônes and other reds from warmer climes are generally fine at 16 - 18șC.
When bringing the wine to the correct temperature, its obviously important not to damage the wine. Gentle cooling in the fridge is best, and cooling in a bucket of water and ice is also safe, and more rapid. It will have the effect of bringing the wine down to 0șC, which is far too cold to appreciate the wine, so you will need to remove the bottle before it gets this far. If trying to warm a bottle which is too cold, there is a more significant risk of damaging the wine. Warm the wine gently, preferably by planning ahead and bringing the wine from its cool storage area, be it wine cellar or fridge, several hours in advance. Many are tempted to try and accelerate the process by placing the wine near radiators or other sources of heat. This is a recipe for likely disaster, with the end result quite possibly a stewed, soupy, over-heated wine, especially left their too long as the mind is occupied elsewhere.
Even the supposedly knowledgeable are guilty of wine mistreatment when it comes to storage and serving temperature. A wine waiter in a respected local restaurant at which I was eating once tried to warm a bottle just up from the cellar by placing it next to the open fire - I was quick to stop him, preferring to warm the wine in my had as it wasn't really too cold. In another, a red wine came to the table obviously too warm, it even felt warm to the touch. I suspect it had been stored somewhere very close to, if not within, the kitchen. My request for an ice bucket may have prompted some strange looks, but it was simple remedy. Five minutes later we had a wine that tasted much better for being a few degrees cooler, and once we had it at a sensible temperature we discarded with the ice and left the wine on the table.
If uncertain about serving temperature, always err on the side of caution and serve the wine a little too cold. A wine served in the way will soon warm up in the glass, probably releasing a sequence of pleasing aromas as it does so. If very cold, cupping the hand around the body of the glass will encourage the wine to warm. There is no easy way, however, of cooling a wine served too warm.