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Why Aren't Reds Served Cold?
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed December 13, 2001. For more information go to

Any time I hear someone say, "Do this because that's the way we do it," I have a naturally skeptical tendency to ask, "but, why?"

So when I caught myself on the verge of giving a reader a "just because" reply to a common wine question the other day, I decided it was time to put on the old lab coat and conduct a simple experiment.

The question was simple: "Why is red wine supposed to be served at room temperature?"

The stock answer is simple, too: "Because it tastes better that way."

But does it really? I couldn't recall the last time I tasted a cold red wine (other than Australian sparkling Shiraz, a unique product that grows on you if you let it). Could this possibly be one of those snob things, a tradition so enduring that people follow it unthinkingly, never daring to test the conventional wisdom?

A simple trial put the hypothesis to the test. Having a particularly good red wine lined up for tasting, I opened it before dinner. I poured two glasses, set one on the counter at room temperature and popped the second into the freezer. A half-hour later I had ice-cold wine in a frosted glass, ready for a side-by- side tasting.

It didn't take much tasting to conclude that the standard rule makes sense. Chilling seemed to kill all the wine's aroma and most of its flavor, leaving an ice-cold, thin and very acidic beverage that wasn't enjoyable at all. As it warmed in the glass, it gradually recovered, although even a slight "cellar temperature" chill still seemed to emphasize tangy acidity over the wine's good fruit and earthy character.

Now, why do WHITE wines seem to benefit from chilling, in contrast with reds? That's an experiment for another day!


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