Wine Service 101: Wine Should NOT be Served at Room Temperature

Am I becoming a curmudgeonly old man?  Am I becoming a wine snob?  Let me tell you about two things that drive me nuts when I go out to a restaurant and order wine.

The wine is not served at even the remotely correct temperature 


The correct serving temperature is important

Everyone has heard the saying, “serve red wine at room temperature”. I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  A while back I was in charge of organizing a dinner outing for a group of about 12 business associates and clients.  I chose a trendy American/Asian diner.  The food is consistently outstanding, the service is quick, the atmosphere is busy and upbeat.
Unfortunately, they have a miserable wine list which consists of only the most popular and cheap wine.  I find that in and of itself kind of odd, because this restaurant is marketed to an upscale crowd; dinner for two with drinks and dessert can run $100.  So why would they serve $7 a bottle wine for $8 a glass is beyond me.  Knowing this, I inquired about their corkage fee – luckily they were willing to at a price of only $10.  I picked up a couple of nice $40 bottles from the specialty store, came home, put them in the fridge until it was time to go to the restaurant.  That day it was a balmy 110F or 44C for you metrics.  I arrived, brought in the wine, immediately asked the waitress to pop the corks, and store the wines in the cooler in the kitchen until it was time to serve them.  She said “oh you don’t need to do that, red wine is served at room temperature”. It must have been 80F in the restaurant.  I politely repeated my request.
One of the most common misconceptions I hear is that wine needs to be served at room temperature, without any regard for the actual temperature in the room. Living in Arizona, I may be especially sensitive to the issue.  You do not want to taste red wine that is close to 80 degrees!  It tastes like something you could use as a paint stripper.
After ordering appetizers, I asked her to bring out one of the bottles.  Just before the main entrees arrived I asked her to bring out the second bottle.  With a little bit of luck the temperature of that wine rose from about 50 degrees up to about 75 degrees in about 30 minutes. Just long enough to drink all the wine and eat all the food.  The wine tasted great.
This is not the only restaurant where I have encountered issues with wine service.  Virtually every restaurant in the Metro Phoenix area seems to be completely unaware that room temperature does not actually mean the temperature of the room you happen to be in. I have seen many restaurants storing wine on shelves in the kitchen, where it’s even hotter!  It’s to the point now, where unless I know about the wine situation, I will just order an ice cold beer instead.  It’s pretty hard to screw that up.

What area do you live and have you encountered similar problems or issues with wine service at the restaurants you dine out at?

Edited by Jon Troutman

One comment

  1. Part of what I did in Phoenix & Scottsdale, while working for two different wine distributors, was *attempting* to educate owners, GMs, staff and anyone in the restaurant that would listen about service in general and wine temps in particular. As you’ve pointed out, it’s important that wine is served at the correct temperature and when living in such a warm environment as the Valley of the Sun, it’s *critical*.

    When I would hear that old saw about “room temperature,” I would use it as a “teaching moment” and remind them that the “room temp” was a room in northern Europe, where it was (maybe) 60 degrees F. That’s quite a bit of difference from the 75+ degrees that’s normal in most Phoenix-area restaurants.

    Sometimes, the lesson sinks in and sometimes it doesn’t — but we have to keep at it.

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