It is commonly thought that the rule of temperature for serving wines is: red at room temperature, white chilled in the fridge. Though common, these guidelines are, without being too judgmental, wrong. The mistaken idea that red wine should be served at room temperature evolved out of the intended wisdom that red wine should be served at cellar* room temperature. Whereas we like to keep the temperature of rooms in which we actually spend time around 70 to 72 degrees F, cellars tend to be much cooler because they are insulated by the earth. And wine, when extracted from these underground caverns and served above ground in a dining room for example, will have a refreshingly cool sensation on your palate.
White wines, as well, are often served too cold. When you serve a white wine right out of the fridge, its flavors will be subdued and your palate will be slightly numbed by it… which is a great trick if you’re serving swill, but not if you want to enjoy a nice wine to it’s fullest. Whites too should be served right around cellar temp.
So how cold is cool? Technically speaking, somewhere between 55 and 65 degrees F – generally 55 to 60 for whites, 60 to 65 for reds. As a frame of reference, if you went to the beach right now and stuck your feet in the water you might let out a yelp… but ocean temp in Southern Cali right now is around 56 degrees F… perfect for a nice Sauvignon Blanc.
*For those of you from Los Angeles, a cellar is a room, or series of rooms, under the ground floor of a house. In other parts of the world these things are common and are also known as basements. Good places for storing wine, rat poison, and unwanted children.