The Successful Collector, by Julian Hitner: Wine education for us all – Talking about Temperature

With apologies to Goldilocks:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

As absurd as this query might seem, would Goldilocks have chosen the baby bear’s wine if a glass had been placed next to its porridge? Would the first glass have been considered too warm and the second too cold? Leaving aside the fact that most of us would simply take advantage of the free booze and imbibe all three, I’m willing to bet that Goldilocks would not have been very picky. Like the rest of us, Goldilocks probably drank her wine too warm and too cold most of the time.

This issue is widespread, an epidemic that goes well beyond old Nursery Tales and poor cellaring conditions. In most private households and an egregious number of restaurants, the old axiom that whites should be drunk at refrigerator temperatures and reds at non-refrigerator temperatures remains the all-pervasive approach. The consequence is that a vast majority of wines are seldom enjoyed properly.

For reds, warmer temperatures mean three things: a suppression of aromas and the accentuation (or perception) of alcohol, as well as a considerable reduction in structural dimension, elegance, and complexity on the palate. For whites, excessively cold temperatures, while not as acute, also lead to a diminution of aromas and, more significantly in my experience, a loss of flavour components and an unnecessarily heightened perception of natural acidity. For both reds and whites, low-quality glassware doesn’t help either.

Wine thermometer from

Wine thermometer from

But getting the right temperature isn’t that difficult, so long as you stay within an optimal range—exact numbers are meaningless. For top clarets, anything over 18 degrees is too much, but most fine Bordeaux does extremely well between 16-18°C, great red Burgundy at 14-16°C (also Chianti Classico), and leading Rhône wines around 15-17°C. Finer red wines are usually best enjoyed at this range, from top Brunello/Barolo and Rioja/Ribera del Duero/Priorat (not to mention Douro) to leading Napa/Sonoma Cabernets and South Australian Shiraz/Cabernet.

White wines are a little more tricky to get right, especially when it comes to premium bottlings, which ought to be taken out of the refrigerator (or ice bucket) at least fifteen minutes beforehand. In the higher range, fine white Burgundy and premium white Graves is best enjoyed around 12-14°C. Other Chardonnays and Old World Rieslings should be consumed between 10-12°C, along with white Rhônes and Sémillon-based bottlings (the latter may even be enjoyed a bit warmer). Other wines are usually at their optimum at lower temperatures, from Alsatian Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris to the overabundant offerings of Italian/Spanish/Portuguese extraction. As for Sauvignon Blanc (not to be left out), both Loire and NZ versions are at their best around 6-9°C.

Wine on iceOutside of still wines, sparkling wine temperatures are most often determined by their level of quality. Top champagnes enjoy the highest range, usually around 8-10°C, with non-vintage bottlings at the lower end of the spectrum. Other types of sparkling wine, such as Cava and Prosecco, may be consumed between 4-6°C—in other words, just take out of the fridge and enjoy. Sweet wine temperatures are all over the place. Of ‘warmer’ versions, the best German offerings are at their prime around 12-14°C (the best of Tokaji falls slightly lower), while Sauternes performs at its finest between 8-10°C. Icewine (both Canadian and German) is imbibed even colder, at roughly 5-7°C. As for fortifieds, vintage Port does best at 16-18°C (other types typically lower), Madeira at 14-16°C, and most types of Sherry at 10-12°C.

In the end, fine wine appreciation as it relates to temperature isn’t an exact science. For every wine mentioned here, there are dozens of versions that do not conform to even the most basic of parameters. Tawny Port and Valpolicella, for instance, are both best enjoyed within the same temperature range as Grand Cru Chablis (10-12°C), going entirely against the grain of all other types of red wine. But is that not the beauty of wine appreciation, in that there is always the unexpected? Were such not the case, the entire enterprise would all be just as unfussy as my ‘fictional’ representation of Goldilocks.

Julian Hitner

A few of Julian’s selections from recent VINTAGES Releases:

Anne Boecklin 2010 Gewurztraminer, Alsace AOC, France: Representing top value for money, the 2010 Anne Boecklin Gewurztraminer is both poignant and admirable. Light lime in colour, it displays intense scents of lychee-driven white peaches (slightly perfumed), nectarines, jasmine, rose water, lemon citrus, and spice. Complex, with fine fruit, balanced acidity, and a potent hint of lychees and white peach blossom on the finish. Beautifully balanced, well-rounded, and highly enjoyable. Now-2018.

Gann 2007 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County), California: Light greenish-lime in colour, the 2007 Gann Chardonnay reveals beautiful buttery scents of apricots, pears, caramel, quince, vanilla, and a hint of lime cordial and nuts. Complex, retaining very fine, well-rounded fruit, slightly milder acidity, and a lingering hint of butterscotch and pears on the finish. Full-bodied, flavourful, and very impressive; even at 14% alcohol, the wine seems seamlessly integrated. Now-2016+.

Spy Valley 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand: Pale lime in colour, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc displays neat scents of gooseberries, lemon, dried herbs, minerals, and a hint of cat’s pee and nectarines. On the palate: good zesty fruit and acidity showing, ending with a lovely hint of gooseberries and lemon citrus (plus a few beach pebbles) on the finish. Fresh, nervy, and balanced. Screwcap closure. Now-2013.

Caprili 2007, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: Begun in the 1965 by Alfo Bartolommei, the Caprili estate is currently planted to 15.5ha of vines southwest of Montalcino. Dark garnet in colour, the terrific ’07 Brunello displays enticingly delicate, traditional aromas of finely interwoven dried wild cherries and red curranted plums; switching to cedarwood, fragrant tealeaves, forest floor, sandalwood, and spice. Very complex, carrying excellent, elegant fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a marvellously refined hint of wild red fruits and cedarwood on the finish. Superlative style, balance, and overall execution. Now-2026++.

Mission Hill 2008 Quatrain, VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada: A mixture of the standard Bordeaux grapes along with an appreciable percentage of Syrah, the 2008 Quatrain puts on a terrific performance. Opaque ruby in colour, the wine is finely toasted, delivering indulgent, modern aromas of ‘dusty’ mocha, currants, plums, black cherries, licorice, blackberry nuances, mild tobacco, vanilla, and spice. Complex, with sumptuous, finely structured fruit, very firm tannins, balanced acidity, and a lingering hint of chocolate, currants, and mineral deposits on the finish. Marvellous texture, balance, and focus. 34% Merlot, 29% Syrah, 22% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Now-2022++.

Domaine Tournon 2010 Shay’s Flat Vineyard Shiraz, Pyrenees, Victoria, Australia: Outstanding value by most estimations, Michel Chapoutier’s 2010 Shay’s Flat Shiraz is a potentially fabulous acquisition. Opaque ruby in colour, the wine offers inviting, almost contemplative aromas of ‘rugged’ black fruits, dark raspberry treacle, grilled meats, leather, hickory-like nuances, forest floor, vanilla, and spice. Complex, carrying deliciously full-bodied, surprisingly fresh fruit, firm yet reasonably supple tannins, milder acidity, and a lasting hint of black fruits and ‘rugged’ leathery overtones on the finish. Outstanding character, structure, and grace; this reminds me somewhat of a high-quality Côte-Rôtie. Now-2030.

For more reviews visit our Critics profile page: Julian Hitner