Throwing a successful dinner party is as much about how you serve your wine as what you serve. Too many people pour wine at the wrong temperature and, even worse, into plastic cups, destroying its decadent flavors and aromas.
It’s time to step up your entertaining game. Serve your bottlings at perfect temperatures and in proper stemware. Here’s everything you need to know.
Sparkling Wines (Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, etc.)
Bubblies benefit from chilling. Keeping them at 41–45°F helps preserve the bottle’s effervescence, bringing out its fresh citrus notes and acidity. With vintage Champagnes, serve a bit warmer, 45–50°F, to enhance those toast and biscuit notes.
Time in Fridge: Up to two hours before serving
Stemware Tip: The tall, thin flute is designed to highlight Champagne’s fine, yeasty bouquet, concentrate its creamy textures and preserve its effervescence. Wine tasters sometimes choose a white wine glass—stemmed with a bowl—to allow the sparkling to breathe, magnifying its rich aromas.
Light, Dry Whites (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, etc.)
Serve at 45–49°F. Tip: The lighter the wine is in color and style, the colder it should be served to maintain its acidity and freshness.
Time in Fridge: 1½ hours
Stemware Tip: A stemmed glass with a U-shaped bowl captures and distributes the wine’s floral and fruity aromas. The rim directs the wine to the front of the palate, balancing acidity and fruit, and the small opening keeps the wine cooler.
These are best slightly warmer than light whites, between 48–53°F, because of their complex fruit flavors and mild tannins. Since rosés can be produced from a number of varieties with different characteristics, the same rule as light, dry whites applies: the lighter in color and style it is, the more chilled it should be.
Time in Fridge: Up to 1½ hours
Stemware Tip: A stemmed glass with a bowl that’s slightly tapered at the top works best for mature, full-bodied rosés. A slightly flared lip benefits younger, crisper and sweeter rosés. The lip directs sweetness to the tip of the tongue, where taste buds are most sensitive.
Full-Bodied Whites (Chardonnay, Albariño, Trebbiano, Viognier and Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, etc.)
Serving these complex whites at 50–55°F enhances their layered aromatic characteristics and rich flavors. Tip: The less oaky the wine, the closer to 50°F it should be served. White Burgundy and well-oaked Viogner should be served closer to 55°F.
Time in Fridge: 1 hour
Stemware Tip: The classic Chardonnay glass—stemmed, with a rounded bowl and wide rim—dispenses the acidity and bold flavors evenly to the back and sides of the tongue. This wider-bowled glass, similar to a red-wine glass, can also be used for older vintage or well-oaked whites.
Light- to Medium-Bodied Reds (Beaujolais, Valpolicella, Chianti, Dolcetto, Côtes du Rhône, Pinot Noir, Nero d’Avola, etc.)
The vibrant aromas and flavors of these reds are best highlighted at 54–60°F. If poured too warm, their luscious fruit flavors will taste tart and acidic, ultimately overpowering.
Time in Fridge: 45–60 minutes
Stemware Tip: A Chianti-style glass, stemmed with a slightly tapered rim, best accentuates light-bodied wines that are fruit and mineral forward with buoyant acidity. A wider-bowled Pinot Noir glass is perfect for more complex, medium-bodied wines with delicate qualities.
Full-Bodied Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot, Tempranillo, Malbec, etc.)
There’s a misconception that big reds should be served at around 70°F, a temperature that allows the alcohol to dominate flavor. When served at the proper temperature, 60–65°F, full-bodied wines reflect a lush mouthfeel, rounded tannins and well-balanced acidity.
Time in Fridge: 25 minutes
Stemware Tip: Big, bold wines need wide-bowled glasses with greater surface area. It allows the wines’ high acidity, rich fruit and oak characteristics, and alcohol to breathe and sit in proper balanced.
Fortified Wines (Port, Sherry, Madeira, etc.)
Again, the lighter in color and style, the cooler it should be served. Delicate tawny Ports and fino Sherries are best enjoyed at 57–60°F, while Madeiras and vintage Ports express their dark, complex characteristic best at about 66°F.
Time in Fridge: 20 minutes for the bolder selections; up to 45 minutes for the lighter styles.
Stemware Tip: Because fortified wines have higher alcohol levels than still or sparkling wines, the ideal glasses have short stems and small bowls. The narrow, short opening dulls the alcohol while enhancing the sweetness and subtle nuances on the nose and palate.
Keep in Mind
Time in Fridge reflects a starting temperature of about 72°F, or room temperature. If your bottles are stored in a cellar or wine refrigerator, chill your whites and reds for 30 minutes. Serve the whites immediately. Let your reds sit in room temperature for another 30 minutes before serving.
Use a Bucket filled with equal amounts ice and water to chill wines that were resting on a rack. White wines should be chilled for 20 minutes and red wines should be chilled for 10 minutes before serving.
Decant young, tannic reds and old-vintage wines for about 30 minutes. The young wines’ tannins will soften, and secondary characteristics will shine through. Aged wines with loads of fruit character and heavy oak treatment will open up and express a well-balanced mouthfeel.