Does the temperature at which you store and serve wine matter? Yes.
If you’ve been to Cork, the Chandler restaurant I own with my wife, Danielle, you’ve probably noticed the giant wall of wine. The wall is behind a large panel of glass, and all of the wine inside is stored at 60 degrees. Why? Because wine should be stored at cellar temperature, not room temperature.
First, let’s take a look at room temperature. What is it, exactly? At my house, it would probably be cooler than 76 degrees — if I had complete control of the thermostat. However, my wife gets cold easily and constantly turns it up to 78 degrees. Prior to central heating and air-conditioning, average room temperature was lower — some records indicate as low as 55 degrees. Wine became extremely popular in the United States after World War II, when U.S. soldiers who spent a lot of time in Europe were exposed to the juice. They returned home with a taste for it, and the rest is history. This was a time before central heating and air, so it is probable that it actually was OK for my grandparents to store their wine at room temperature.
As you can see, room temperature differs a bit. Something that is pretty constant, however, are the caves and underground cellars used to store wine in Europe. After limestone was carved out of the earth to build a winery, a large hole was left. Ingenious French wineries decided to take advantage of the space and store their wine there. They found that if they kept the wine between 50 and 60 degrees, it would age best. Storing wine too warm can increase aging, causing it to lose flavor; the same is true of wine stored too cold. If wine gets too hot, it can actually cook and end up with a burnt orange or brown tinge and port-like characteristics.
Storing wine at 60 degrees is one thing, but should it be served at that temperature? If it is a red wine, yes. Imperfections in wine can be easier to notice if the wine is consumed at a temperature higher than 65 degrees. Aside from not being able to distinguish flavor profiles, the alcohol content comes through as flavor and can really detract from your wine-drinking experience.
White wines are also affected by temperature. More commonly, the opposite effect occurs with white wine storage. We often store white wine in a refrigerator, at less than 40 degrees. Many fridges are set just above freezing. The proper temperature for most whites is 45-50 degrees. Flavors are restricted when whites are served too cold. It is best to let your wine warm up a bit by holding the glass in the palms of your hands and swirling it.
If you’re still unconvinced, do a little experiment: Take any bottle of red wine you like to drink, pour a glass at room temperature and then put the bottle in the fridge for 20 minutes. Pour another glass. Taste the two side by side. In the cooler wine, you should be able to smell and taste fruit flavors, as opposed to strong alcohol.
Too many times, I’ve been sitting at a bar and seen their red wines sitting on top of a beer cooler (which is bordering on 80 or more degrees) and ordered a beer instead. When designing Cork, Danielle and I knew that we wanted to serve our wine (even wines by the glass) at proper serving temperature, and so the design for the wine wall was born.
So, what if you can’t afford or don’t have room for a wine fridge? Use your regular fridge. When having guests over, a good rule of thumb is to put your reds in the refrigerator 30 minutes before they arrive and take your whites out 30 minutes before they arrive.
• Robert Morris is owner and manager at East Valley restaurants Cork, BLD and Stax Burger Bistro. Reach him at (480) 883-3773 or CorkRestaurant.net.