Contrary to popular belief, all wine is better after some time in the refrigerator.
Many of us suppose that only white wine should be chilled, while our reds taste better at room temperature. As a consequence, our whites are usually too cold, and our reds too warm.
Now, the refrigerator issue is not just another sommelier’s nuance. The temperature protocols for different types of wine are there to optimize our tasting pleasure and save wine that didn’t make it to the glass immediately.
As always with wine, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
SERVING TIME: DO YOU REFRIGERATE WINE BEFORE OPENING?
Absolutely yes, you should always chill your wine before serving. The only “room temperature” suitable for wine drinking can be found in European wine cellars or dedicated wine cabinets.
Otherwise, note that most of our indoors have one too many degrees, which can significantly affect wine’s taste, aroma, and texture.
Generally, when a wine is served too warm, “alcoholic” flavors are accentuated – leaving you with a “thick” ethanol-like mouth feeling. However, if drunk too cold, many delicate notes and scents can be simply muted and unable to reach your tongue.
But it’s not just about consumption.
When wine is refrigerated, many chemical processes go into the arrested state, slowing down the degradation course. This means that a chilled wine will live longer even upon opening.
However, if you’re not going to be popping the cork on the bottle any time soon, keep your wine in a cool, dry place and not in your kitchen refrigerator. Its humidity levels are too low, which will cause the cork to dry out, let the oxygen in, and accelerate the corruption.
Ideally, you’ll want to put the bottle lying because the cork should be in contact with the liquids to preserve its moisture level.
Follow the guidelines in the next section to determine just how long you should chill your wine before serving in the kitchen refrigerator.
TEMPERATURE PROTOCOLS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINE
As we mentioned earlier, all wine should be chilled. But, because different types have a different “backbone” (chemical structure), both ideal serving temperatures and recommended refrigerator times will vary.
Except for a few fragile exceptions, you should be safe following general protocols for reds, whites, roses, and sparklings.
Refrigerating Red and Fortified Wine
We cannot stress this enough – our reds suffer the most because of our misconceptions concerning the ideal wine consumption temperature. At the same time, they are the trickiest of all types to get to optimal sipping conditions.
The perfect serving temperature for all reds ranges between 55-65°F, and it’s closely related to the wine’s body.
Light-bodied reds shine at lower temperatures and should be left in the refrigerator for 90 minutes.
For full-bodied and fortified wines, this chilling time should be shorter. Refrigerate the bottles of Bordeaux, Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon, or of Madeira and Port for 45 minutes before serving.
Whites in the Fridge
Chilling whites is all about tempering the acidity and lifting up delicate fruity aromas.
But, be cautious not to overdo it. When too cold, whites’ taste profile tends to be muted.
The lighter and fruitier the wine, the more time it should spend cooling in the fridge. Most Italian whites, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigo – for example – taste best when they were previously refrigerated for two hours (serving temperature of 45-50°F). Full-bodied, sweet, and rich whites need a bit higher temperatures (50-60°F) to harmonize their sweetness and mineral qualities. Put them in the fridge 90-120 minutes before serving.
Apply the same temperature protocols for your rosés, as they have the same chemical “backbone” as white wine.
Also, it’s a good idea to give your bottles of white some rest after the refrigerating time – take them out 15-30 minutes before serving so that they can warm up and unmute their magic.
As you probably know, sparkling wine is traditionally served from ice buckets because the chilled bubbles give this variety its unique crispness.
Lukewarm conditions will cause those bubbles to fade and lose their edge. To prevent this from happening, serve sparkling wine, such as Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco, at a temperature of 45-50°F, which equals two hours in the refrigerator.
DOES WINE NEED TO BE REFRIGERATED AFTER OPENING?
Once again, absolutely – all wine should be left in the fridge upon opening. The only exceptions are fragile reds, such as Pinot Noir, that can’t afford to wait for the next serving and need to be drunk immediately.
To preserve leftover wine effectively, the first thing you need to do is secure the bottle and prevent any oxygen from entering.
Because squeezing that original cork back in can be nearly impossible (it expands on room temperature), having a couple of spare new ones is handy. Also, many specialized wine stoppers do an excellent job in sucking out all the oxygen from the bottle.
Don’t fall into despair, though, if you don’t have any of that handy stuff at your hand. A simple plastic wrap and a rubber band will do the trick.
Another hack worth noting is transferring the leftover wine into a smaller bottle. That way, you could be dramatically reducing the oxygen levels in the container, thus preventing the wine from going “bad.”
But, alas, whatever you do, the lifespan of an open wine bottle is limited. Unfortunately, wine can’t last forever after it has seen the light of the day.
Generally speaking, sparkling wine live shortest upon uncorking – 1 to 3 days. The same goes for fragile light reds such as Pinot Noir. Drink those up as fast as you can.
Whites will live anywhere between 2-5 days, depending on their bodies. Chardonnay (full-bodied) can wait in the fridge for 2-3 days, while lighter-bodied white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, can endure for 3-5 days.
As for full-bodied reds, it’s not recommended to preserve them for more than 3-5 days.
The fortified wines (think Madeira, Sherry, Ports) have by far the most extended post-opening life. Although some of them are said to last forever, it might be wise to limit this eternity to some 28 days.
Be cautious, though – the more time you’re opening the fridge, the shorter you can preserve that open bottle.
Also, don’t worry about perceiving the signs of decomposition – they are pretty obvious. When white wine goes bad, it turns yellow, even gold. Reds become brown and brickish.
Naturally, a “bad” wine’s taste will say it all.
TIPS, HACKS, AND TRICKS
Refrigerating and preserving wine in a way we’ve just described applies to most consumption situations. However, there are a few tips to keep in mind when drinking wine is out of the “ordinary” (if you can say that for a wine). As a bonus, here are a couple of handy pieces of advice.
- The freezer is suitable for emergencies.
It’s not blasphemy to put your bottle in a freezer if you’re in a rush. Reds should be in there for 6 minutes, while 20-25 minutes will do for white and sparkling wines.
But, whatever you do, set the timer to remind yourself to take the bottle out. Although nothing bad will happen to your wine, a cork might pop out under pressure, causing a giant mess.
- Ice baths are a great hack.
Another great way of cooling wine rapidly is giving it a nice ice salt bath. It is exactly as it sounds like – fill the bucket with some ice, add water and table salt (to absorb the heat from water), and chill your wine for 15 minutes or less.
- Wine refrigerators are a worthy investment if you’re dealing with a more expensive type of wine.
Specialized wine refrigerators operate in a way that doesn’t disturb wine: they provide optimal temperature ranges, have silent and less vibrating motors, and – of course – are reserved for wines only (meaning the risk of all of the funky smells is gone).
There are many affordable ones on the market, and they do pay off if you’re aging a nice and expensive wine.
- Chill the glasses.
You probably know this one – wine glasses should also be chilled. Don’t underestimate the heat they might give your wine, and keep them in the fridge for 10 minutes – if you’re serving white or sparkling, or for 2-5 minutes – if you’re going to be sipping a red.
- Champagne stoppers are different kinds of stoppers.
Perhaps this tip doesn’t fall in the same category as the previous four, but it’s definitely worth knowing.
Do not use regular wine stoppers for Champagne. We repeat, do not use regular wine stoppers for sparklings.
Stoppers designed for sparkling wine have arms that “hug” a bottleneck and prevent the ejection that might occur unexpectedly due to CO2. When in a refrigerator, sparkling wine should be safely guarded by those arms.
WHEN IN DOUBT, CHILL AND SIP
Although we tried to cover all the refrigerating scenarios that you might encounter, a real-life tasting experience can always yield additional questions.
The best advice is to answer them by yourself. Tasting wine is a delicate science, but it’s also a fun experience. Cool your wine and see if you like it. Repeat the process to satisfy all your senses.
The worst thing that can happen is sipping “bad” wine, which is basically vinegar.
In a word, care aside and sip with joy!