Does Temperature Really Matter? Wine Serving Survival Guide

You have everything lined up.  Flowers set on the table, the guests have boozy drinks in their hands, and your charming guest of honor (mine is usually clad in a Battlestar Galactica T-shirt) is ready to move this whole party to the next level. Ladies and gentlemen, begin the wine-ing and dining!

When you’re at a home dinner party, but want to add some restaurant-style pomp to the proceedings slightly more formal wine service can be a great addition the the experience. How’s that done? Who gets refills first? How should wine be presented on the table? And what about the specifics of serving each wine so it performs a the top of its game? Believe it or not, wine serving temperatures really matter!

Below are four reliable wine serving tips you can trust. They are respected by serious winos and etiquette hounds alike. Believe me, I know what it feels like to receive Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers from my grandmother as a birthday present, a deprecating reminder that your family knows you fail at social etiquette.

Wine Serving Temperature Chart


Does the wine taste too ‘hot’ aka alcoholic? Try cooling it down. It doesn’t have any flavor? Try warming it up! Wine serving temperature greatly affects what flavors and aromas of the wine you’ll smell. Personal preference also matters. If you like drinking everything ice cold, go for it, but check out what you might be missing at warmer temps first. Generally speaking, wine snobs don’t like white wines to be too cold or reds to be too hot.

QUICK TIP Lower quality wines can be better cooler, as potential aromatic flaws can be muted; the cooler a wine, the less aroma it will present. Bubbles are great ice-cold, but even higher-quality examples (i.e. vintage Champagne) should probably be served warmer.

Wine Serving Survival Guide

This guide covers: wine serving order, wine serving temperature, wine serving social etiquette, as well as opening and serving bottles during dinner.

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Wine Serving Order and How Much to Pour

I know you can drink a whole bottle, but can your grandma? 

  • Champagne First

    Sparkling wine is traditionally served first, in lieu of a cocktail, before people sit down. I usually start with Champagne and then a cocktail, or vice versa. You can keep drinking bubbles throughout dinner, most people would proceed to a red or white wine once the meal has started. Follow this logic if you want to fly in undetected. But if you want to be remembered, be the guy drinking good Champagne with steak.

  • 3 – 4 oz. per Pour

    (90 ml – 120 ml) A full glass is 5-6 ounces, but a proper pour is actually half-of-that. There are two good reasons for this. First, you don’t want to over serve people. I know you have great drinking habits, but your mother-in-law may not. Also, if you’re serving full pours to a party of more than five, you’ll polish off a whole bottle before the 6th person! Sucks for them, I guess. Also, since you don’t know how much people want to drink, this means that you never put too much wine in a guest’s glass who’s too polite to refuse. Also, magnums are just two bottles, so they can be great choice for larger dinners.

  • White, Then Red, Then Sweet, Try Not to Tweet!

    A serious wine dinner will step-up in a sequence that generally goes from light whites, to rich whites, to rosés, to light reds, to high tannin reds and finally to dessert wine. Not all stops are mandatory! With the listed variety of wines above, you can easily consume close to a whole bottle of wine with just 3 oz. servings. Sound like fun? Host one yourself. Oh, and… if you’re polite, you won’t pull out your phone to take pictures. But if you’re like me, you’ll always have an ipad handy. Sorry, grandma.

Get the glassware lowdown. Having too many wine glasses and not enough water glasses is not really a problem. Find out what types of wine glasses are out there.

Good Wine Etiquette Will Make You Shine

Without a wine server or sommelier managing your booze, what should you do? Here are the basics of wine etiquette.

  • Ladies First

    Start with your grandmother, end with your teenage niece… errrr, I mean 21 year-old niece. Then, serve old fogies to young bucks. Walk clockwise around the table to serve your guests until you are dizzy. Ladies get first option because they usually peeter out first (unless they are my girlfriends, then you’re in trouble).

  • Ask Before You Re-pour Yourself

    Ask your seat neighbors if they’d like a fill ‘er up before hitting your own glass. Don’t worry about your across-the-table neighbors unless they perk up. If this happens, get up from your seat and pour them more. You’ll get hero status if you do this.

  • The Last Bite Rule

    Just like with food, if there is a last pour of wine that you really want, ask. Do something like this: “Would anyone like to share this last pour with me?” More than likely, other guests with social manners will insist you enjoy it all. Aren’t you are such a gentleperson!

Madeline Puckette pours Champagne on the table
hey now, you missed the glass.

Opening and Serving Wine at the Table

Some of the finest restaurants in the world don’t actually open wine at the table. They have a separate guéridon or side table to do the dirty work. You can emulate this proper technique by opening your wine bottles before dinner.

  • How Much Should I Open?

    The usual rule is that 1 guest will drink an entire bottle of wine (3-4 full glasses) throughout a proper meal. However, there’s more to it than that. Take a look around at the scene. Do you have a long table? You should make it easy for people to drink and have a bottle within reach.

  • How Should I Open a Wine Bottle?

    I recommend watching How to Open a Wine Bottle and How to Open Champagne if you’re nervous. You’ll discover that even an explosive bottle of Champagne is a piece of cake.

  • Decanting is Just Plain Badass

    Everyone I know who is in the biz recommends decanting red wines, especially full bodied red wines. Learn how to decant a bottle of wine.  Sometimes it’s necessary if you’re dealing with an older (10 plus years) bottle of a thick-skinned red variety like Cabernet or Syrah that’s left a lot of sediment in the bottle. At the end of the day, it’s almost never a bad idea, unless you have a very old and delicate bottle that might fade in decanter before you get to it later in your meal.

More on Serving Temperature



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About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly