If you want to start a lively discussion among wine lovers, ask them what temperature their favourite tipple should be served at.
A few will insist that reds be served at room temperature. That may be fine in a temperate climate but, in Hong Kong, natural room temperature would be about 30 degrees Celsius for much of the year.
Most would recommend serving wines at about 13 to 15 degrees – because that’s the optimal temperature they are stored at in a winery, chateau or wine cellar.
Getting the temperature right is important; if wine is served too cold, the flavours will be muted, but too warm and the vapours – predominately alcohol – will be too strong, which will overwhelm the fruit aromas.
Champagnes and white wines are usually sipped at a cool temperature – about seven to nine degrees. Some people prefer them cooler than that, while others like them slightly warmer so they can detect more of the subtle aromas.
Reds are served slightly warmer than cellar temperature, although on a hot day they can be chilled slightly.
Fortified wines such as sherries, madeiras and ports are best at cellar temperatures. These wines have higher alcohol content and a lower temperature “tempers” the alcohol so you don’t notice it as much as the other flavour and aroma components of the wine.
Ideally, the wine will be the correct temperature before it’s poured. So what to do if it’s not? How to quickly cool down a wine that’s already been poured? The first thing that comes to mind is to use ice. But don’t just drop an ice cube into your wine, which would dilute it. Instead, use a few cubes to cool an empty glass, throw the ice out and thentransfer the wine.
Another option is to put the ice into a small ziplock bag and drop it into your glass. Or you can try reusable plastic ice cubes, which cool wine without diluting it; after each use, give them a good rinse and back into the freezer they go. There’s also a posher version in stainless steel, which I’m sure works equally well, but I would worry that an overly eager swirl of the glass might break it, as these cubes are much heavier than the colourful, BPA-free plastic ones.
And what to do if a wine is too cold? Cupping your hands around the glass and breathing out into the bowl seems to help. Or you could just be patient and wait.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.