The ideal wine temperature: does it exist?

Choosing the best wine temperature to store or serve wine can be a conundrum. Let’s review what the scientists found out.

When I received my wine shipment from my favorite wine club last May, the bottles were a bit warm. So, I decided to pause my wine delivery for the summer months,  and I’m now worried that the higher temperatures will negatively impact the wine quality.

Is it a justified worry? Apparently, I’m not the only wine lover concerned by the impact of external temperature on wine quality.

Let's see how scientists address these 3 questions:

  1. What’s the wine ideal temperature for serving wine?

  2. What’s the best wine temperature for storing wine?

  3. Does the wine packaging have a role in preserving the wine against temperature-damaging effects?

1- What’s the wine ideal temperature for serving wine?

While you may have learned that we should serve white wines chilled and red wines at slightly cooler than room temperature, new wine styles are challenging this recommendation.

To be honest, finding the ideal wine temperature doesn’t seem to be a topic of great interest to my academic colleagues. I searched for scientific articles seeking to understand and characterize the impact of temperature on wine flavors and its overall quality. I only found reports investigating the effect of heat during the winemaking process and not so much on the impact of temperature on the finished wine.

However, colleagues from Washington State University published a study looking at the “ Effect of serving temperature on the sensory attributes of red and white wines” [1].

But they only focused on three attributes for each wine type.

  • aroma, sweetness, and sourness for white wine ;

  • aroma, bitterness, and astringency for red wine.

The serving temperature they selected were:

  • white wine: 4C -10C -18 C;

  • red wine: 14C -18C - 23C.

The researchers created mock wines by adding an aroma or taste compound to a flavor-neutral wine (white or rosé) to create the sensory perceptions they wanted to study.

A group of trained panelists tasted the wines, using the best sensory practices recommended for wine tasting.

The panelists were members of Washington State University and had demonstrated they had normal sensory acuity. The researchers trained the panelists to identify the sensations they could perceive in wine and to measure the strength of these sensations.

What did the researchers find about the temperature effect on the wine quality?

The effect of temperature was noticeable only when panelists smelled the wines: the warmer the wine sample, the more intense the wine aroma was.

This finding was expected because aroma compounds get more volatile with increasing temperature and therefore are easier to detect.
This is why wine professionals conduct technical tastings at room temperature.

The authors were surprised that the temperature didn’t change the sweetness or sourness of the white wines or change the bitterness and astringent feeling of the red wines. My interpretation is that the wine quickly warms up in our mouth, and taste compounds, being nonvolatile compounds, are not affected by the wine temperature.

Another study found similar results when assessing the effect of temperature on six Lemberger wines from Washington state [2].

2- What’s the best wine temperature for storing wine?

Colleagues from the University of California at Davis studied the effect of storing Chardonnay wines at elevated temperatures on their aroma [3].

It is not unusual to experience high temperatures in California or any other warm climate regions. You may refer to my story at the beginning of this article.

Wines exported by ship containers between the two hemispheres go through a considerable variation of temperature during their journey at sea.

The researchers compared the flavor profile of one Chardonnay wine, stored at 5C, with two other Chardonnay wines stored at 40C. 
==> We often assume that the flavors of a wine store at 5C won't evolve and in this instead, this 5C sample is used as a control sample.

One of the wines stored at 40C had been made in contact with oak barrels while the other had not. 
==> Researchers wanted to see specifically how oak-related aromas evolved at higher temperatures.

A trained sensory panel from the University evaluated the aromatic sensations perceived in the three wines. It was a blind tasting, so no information was shared prior to the tasting.

What did they find? 

Here is an excerpt from the researchers’ report.

“Upon heating of all wines, the intensity of floral and fruity notes decreased, while aromas associated with oak and aging increased: honey, butter/vanilla, oak, tea/tobacco, and rubber.

The first 15 days of heating resulted in significant increases in the honey, rubber, and tea/tobacco attributes and decreases in citrus, tropical fruit, green apple, and floral aromas. Increasing the storage time to 30 days resulted in a further decrease in fruity aromas and an increase in honey, rubber, tea/tobacco, butter/vanilla, and oak.”

The effect of high temperatures creates premature aging of the wine. It decreases the very volatile aromas and allows the heavier notes to reach your nose. It also facilitates a change in the wine composition creating new aromas, such as leather or rubber.

Storing food and beverages at higher temperatures for several weeks is a technique the food industry uses to simulate product aging and determine product shelf-life, their best-by date if you will.

3-Does the wine packaging have a role in preserving the wine against temperature-damaging effects?

Another group of Californian researchers investigated the combined effects of storage temperature and packaging on the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon wine [4].

The experiment consisted of storing the same wine (in different containers, of course) for six months in five different types of packaging:

  • Glass bottles closed with natural cork,

  • Glass bottles closed with synthetic cork,

  • Glass bottles closed with screw cap closure,

  • Two Bag-in-Box packaging.

They selected three temperatures: 10C, 20C, and 40C.
Once again, a trained sensory panel was trusted to evaluate the aroma, taste, and mouthfeel differences they detected among the 15 wine treatments (5 packaging x 3 temperatures).

What did they find?

The panel detected changes in aroma, flavor, taste, mouthfeel, and color attributes among the wine samples. Wine temperatures seemed to have had a more significant effect than the type of packaging.

“At the highest storage temperature, all wines showed oxidized characters, independent of the wine packaging configurations, but to a varying degree. Generally, wines that received the highest oxygen amounts and storage temperatures were much lighter, less red, and more brown-yellow at the end of the 6-month storage period than their counterparts stored at 10°C."

Note that aromas associated with wine oxidation are: Sherry-like aromas, nutty, or bruised apple.

4- What is the ideal wine temperature?

The ideal wine temperature should allow you to detect and appreciate wine aromatics, by smelling the glass, or the overall flavor in the mouth; therefore, the temperature should not be too cold.

Serving at your fridge temperature will suppress the very volatile compounds. If it happens, you can warm up your glass in your hands for a few minutes to capture these subtle compounds.

Storing wines at high temperatures is a big NO-NO. A cooler temperature will enable slower aging of the wine.

While I don’t have empirical data to share, the conventional wisdom is that a dark locale, with minimum temperature variation over the year, should be sufficient to preserve your bottles nicely. 

  • The place should not be too dry as the corks may dry up, and wines will start leaking off the bottle. 
  • It should not be too damp, as mold will happily grow in the environment, get into the corks, and then the wine.

5-What other questions you may haveabout wine temperature?

Chilled reds?

Hot summers call for refreshing beverages, and drinking wine is not always refreshing. The alcohol tends to warm up our mouths rather than cool them. Lower alcoholic wines, such as Rosé or Moscato wines served cooled, are pleasant and quite refreshing during hot weather. Spritzer and wine cocktails are quite popular as well during the summer months.

What about Reds?

Should we forego red wines during the summer months? Wine specialists indeed recommend serving red wine at a cool room temperature (around 18C). It is not surprising that one-third of British red wine drinkers stated they never chilled red wine; it was sacrilege! [5, 6]

However, above 22C which happens for several months in the South, I find the experience quite dull. The first time I drank a chilled red wine was in Alsace; it was a Pinot Noir. The wine was light and fruity. I also enjoy drinking cool Gamay wines. 

Why not experiment?

Rapid chill in the freezer?

I confess to using my freezer to chill wine more often than I should. My excuse is that I am in a hurry or I forgot to chill my favorite bubbly.

However, I do not recommend leaving the bottle for more than 30 minutes at -19C. I once saw a bottle of sparkling wine turned into a big ice cube, and we had to let it thaw for a couple of days in the fridge. The tasting experience was a bit gross, to be honest.

Do you have any other questions I can answer?

Feel free to let me know by contacting me here.

Published 25 June 2017, revised June, 26 2023

[1] Ross, C. F. and Weller, K. (2008), Effect of serving temperature on the sensory attributes of red and white wines. Journal of Sensory Studies, 23: 398–416.

[2] Ross, C. F., Weller, K. M. and Alldredge, J. R. (2012), Impact of Serving Temperature on Sensory Properties of Red Wine as Evaluated Using Projective Mapping by a Trained Panel. Journal of Sensory Studies, 27: 463–470.

[3]: C. De La Presa-Owens, A. C. Noble, Effect of storage at elevated temperatures on aroma of Chardonnay wines. American Journal Enology & Viticulture January 1997 48: 310-316

[4]: H. Hopfer, P. A. Buffon, S. E. Ebeler, and H. Heymann Combined effects of storage temperature and packaging on the sensory, chemical, and physical properties of a Cabernet Sauvignon wine. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013 61 (13), 3320-3334


[6] Waters C. (June 2020) Any advice on choosing a chilled red wine as I try to keep cool this summer?

Categories: Best practices, wine style

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