There are some basic ground rules regarding when, and at what temperature, to serve different wines to maximise your enjoyment of their flavours.
White wines are typically chilled to 8C-12C before being served, while red wines are served at room temperature.
Being more delicate than reds, white wines are served at the cooler temperatures to preserve their fresh fruity or floral aromas.
A higher temperature makes the alcohol more volatile, which masks the much-appreciated delicate aromas and flavours of white wines.
Since the phenolic compounds present in red wines mask the effect of alcohol, their aromas are not so sensitive to a rise in temperature.
Examples of the compounds are tannins, which are responsible for astringency, and anthocyanins, which are responsible for the red colour.
That is why red wines can be served at higher temperatures and still preserve their fruity or berry aromas without an over-pronounced alcoholic aroma.
Since white wines are served chilled they are best suited to hot summer days, being refreshing and lower in alcohol (12-14%). Furthermore, they pair well with salads and light meals, which are more likely to be served on summer days.
Red wines tend to be slightly higher in alcohol (13.5-16%) and thus have more of a warming effect on the body. Naturally this makes a red wine more suitable for colder winter days.
Fortified wines are even higher in alcohol (16.5-18%) and are great for those extra cold nights.
You should even consider drinking different wines at different times of an evening.
A glass of white wine is probably preferable earlier in the day, being lighter to drink and mostly lower in alcohol.
As the night progresses, you could move on to red wines. Being fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol, this tends to have a tiring effect on the body, leaving one with a sense of lacking energy.
A mistake that is often made is that people go straight for the red wine – and who doesn’t love red wine? – and think they will try the white wine later.
This is a disaster since white wine is much lighter and more delicate. As soon as your palate is used to the fuller-bodied red wine you are unable to taste the subtlety of a white wine because your palate is basically paralysed.
This is similar to eating a steak and then tackling your salad.
At a restaurant, for example, you would most likely start with a glass of unoaked white wine with your starter, have a glass of oaked white wine or red wine with your main course and end off with a red or dessert wine with your dessert.