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The Ultimate Guide to
Serving Wine

Photography by Ben Dearnley

Why Temperature is Important

To obtain the most enjoyment from your wines, it's essential to serve them at the optimum temperature, which can be different depending on the style of the wine.

White Wine

It’s often said that Australians serve their white wines too cold and their reds too warm. It’s a fairly accurate statement. Serving a barrel-fermented chardonnay at ‘beer fridge’ temperature kills its complex flavours, leaving the tannins derived from oak to stand out like a sore thumb. Serving it at 12 or 13 degrees will bring the chardonnay to life with the balance between its multi-layered flavours and tannin frame restored. However, a fresh, young riesling or sauvignon blanc relishes a good chill, with the lower temperature taming its fruity flavours and accentuating its bright, acid-driven finish. Mature rieslings and semillons should not be over-chilled; serve them at a similar temperature to a chardonnay to fully appreciate the lip-smacking toast and marmalade flavours.

Adapt the service temperature of your white wines to the occasion and the food. A mid-summer lunch with friends on a sunny balcony calls for fresh seafood and salads paired with light fresh whites or increasingly, a crisp rosé. As the temperature creeps towards 30 degrees, an ice bucket is certainly appropriate; a tepid pinot grigio is less than tempting.

Red Wine

Red wine served at over 20 degrees tastes awful – the flavours fat and flabby, the tannins harsh and bitter. Dropping the temperature down under 20 degrees restores its balance with the tannins tamed and the wine’s true charm emerging. Alcohol accentuates the problem with a super-charged Barossa shiraz or McLaren Vale grenache often topping 15% and tasting like ‘rocket fuel’ at that mid-summer family barbeque. To serve a red at ‘correct’ temperature for a wine cabinet is one thing, keeping it at that optimum temperature another. A ‘wine-sleeve’ works well or an ice bucket, not filled with ice but with water and just a handful of ice cubes.

Lighter bodied reds are in demand with pinot noir leading the way and gamay/Beaujolais riding on its coat-tails. The structure of these highly slurpable reds is similar to a chardonnay with a palate of refreshing acidity, but with red berry fruit flavours. Tannin generally plays a minor role, so it makes sense that the service temperature should ideally be 12-16 degrees. Once again, keeping an open bottle in the right temperature ‘zone’ may be tricky – the water/ice bucket method works but popping the bottle back in a wine cabinet is the best option, if it’s in close proximity.

Champagne & Sparkling

The joy of Champagne and sparkling wine is the bubbles – but they need taming and temperature is the best ‘tamer’. Store your Champagne and sparkling wines below 10 degrees and keep the opened bottle in your wine cabinet on a hot day. The idea of chilling the glasses is worthy, though some purists would frown. After all, those effervescent bubbles are best in your mouth, not oozing down the side of the glass.

That said, vintage Champagne and late disgorged sparklings open up as they head towards ambient temperature in the same way as a good chardonnay. It’s a treat to see them reveal their hidden charms as they reach the mid-teens in temperature. A simple rule: serve non-vintage styles below 8 degrees, the high end vintage stuff a tad warmer.

Dessert & Sweet Wine

The service temperature of dessert wines and fortifieds depends on the wine style and accompanying food. Riesling-based sweet wines run from off-dry, that go well with spicy food or as a mid-morning apéritif, to luscious, intensely sweet botrytised styles that suit super-sweet desserts or a blue cheese. Their service temperatures follow a similar sliding scale - the light (and less sweet) styles should be served at less than 10 degrees with the sweeter styles served a little cooler to tame the sweetness and emphasise the zest of acidity to prevent a cloying aftertaste.

Sauternes and similar styles are typically made with highly botrytised semillon grapes and aged in oak barrels. They need richer food like custard-based desserts and blue cheeses but their balance can be marred by serving them icy cold. 12 degrees is ideal. Fortifieds like muscat and topaque should be served cool but not cold – sub 20 degrees is fine with Port and Australian tawnys at a similar temperature. Sherries are best served at a similar temperature though light, dry fino styles can be chilled at 10-12 degrees.

Temperature Guide

Full-bodied reds (Bordeaux, cabernets, shiraz, durif)
Lighter-bodied reds (Burgundies, pinot noir, Chianti)
Light, young and fruity reds (Beaujolais, grenache)
Full-bodied whites (Grand Cru Burgundies, chardonnays),
Vintage Champagnes
RosÉs, Semillon, Viognier, Sauternes
Riesling, Verdelho
Dessert wines
Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Non-Vintage Champagnes, Ice Wines

After seeking out worthwhile wines for future enjoyment, don’t let your investment go to waste by allowing them to deteriorate in less than perfect storage conditions.


Labels from my old bottles became damp and damaged in the underground cellar. Does this deplete their value?


Yes, if you wish to sell them on the secondary market, but if you plan to share the wine with friends, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, a cellar with high humidity is much better for wines sealed with a cork, as it keeps the corks moist and wards off premature oxidation. However, the best solution is a wine cabinet designed to ensure both the temperature and humidity is perfect. Just be sure the bottles remain on the racks without touching the back of the cabinet, otherwise a little condensation may occur on the bottles and stain or warp those pristine labels.


I am just starting to collect wine. What Australian wines should I put away for the future? I like reds and whites, and I’d like to add value to my collection.


There’s an abundance of ‘cellar worthy’ Australian wine but as a new collector it’s probably best to stick to the classics. Seek out sparklings from Tasmania, rieslings from the Clare and Eden Valleys plus Western Australia’s Great Southern region. The Hunter Valley is the ‘go to’ region for semillon while chardonnays from the cooler sites of Victoria (Yarra Valley, Macedon and Mornington Peninsula) age well. Pinot noir likes these same cool climate regions, too - with Geelong and Tasmania also good options. Shiraz spreads its charms across the country with spicy styles from Canberra District, Central Victoria and the Great Southern, and bolder versions from Heathcote, Barossa and McLaren Vale. Margaret River and Coonawarra lead the cabernet stakes with the Clare and Yarra Valleys worthy alternatives. Just remember to store them well.

In Their Cabinets

Peter Bourne

Full-bodied reds 2013 Barolos, 2014 Margaret River cabernets and 2015 spicy Victorian shirazes.
Lighter-bodied reds
2015 Mornington Peninsula pinots and any Mount Etna Rosso I can find.
Light, aromatic whites Grüner veltliner from both Austria and Australia, Canberra District rieslings and Piedmontese arneis.
Full-bodied whites Tasmanian chardonnays, the last of my 2009 Hunter semillons and a handful of skin contact whites.

Judy Sarris

Full-bodied reds 2017 Hunter shiraz and the 2018s (when released) are looking good.
Lighter-bodied reds
Tasmanian and Victorian pinot noir, Morgon gamay – serve slightly chilled.
Light, aromatic whites Frankland River and Eden Valley rieslings.
Full-bodied whites Yarra Valley and Margaret River chardonnay.


I have just moved to Queensland and have realised that my wines won’t survive the summer heat stored under the stairs. I don't have the space to build a cellar. What are my options?


There’s a wide range of wine cabinets – some designed to hold a small number of bottles ready to drink with dual–temperature zones for reds and whites. However you need a larger (and simpler) cabinet with a single temperature setting – ideally below 16 degrees. These cabinets run up to 10-15 dozen wines and come in a variety of shapes to suit tight spaces.


I have a mixture of wines sealed with screw cap and under cork and, of course, some Champagne. Do these need to be stored differently?


All wine needs to be cellared in a dark environment and at a cool temperature - ideally 12-14 degrees. Light (both UV and especially fluorescent) can upset the chemical stability of wine while extreme heat literally ‘cooks’ the wine, prematurely ageing both reds and whites without building the character and complexity that evolves slowly in cool, dark conditions. Too cold, however, and the ageing process is slowed. Cork sealed wines need to be stored on their side to ensure the cork remains moist and doesn’t allow air to oxidise the ageing wine. Champagne corks suffer the same fate, so store them horizontally, too. Screwcapped wines can be safely stored upright. A good wine cabinet can accommodate all bottle shapes and sizes, just look out for those massive red wine bottles used by some producers. Those under cork are sometimes a challenge to lay down on metal shelving with individual niches.

INBUILT Liebherr 688L Side-by-Side Fridge with Dual-Zone Wine Compartment, SBSES7165, $10,999.

As our fascination with the grape grows, wine cabinets are becoming a standard inclusion in more and more homes.

Chilled Living

Of late, our nation’s taste in wine has become far more sophisticated and so has the way we look after it. Proper wine storage solutions have become just as important to the occasional drinker as they are to the wine buff. As such, wine cabinets and fridges have increasingly become desirable, even essential inclusions in modern homes. Whether fitted discreetly or designed to become a feature, the choice of wine cabinets and fridges has never been wider.

Interior Design

Now, it’s not unusual for recently built or renovated houses, apartments and even some offices to come equipped with their own wine cabinets as a standard part of the kitchen or dining facilities. But, if this isn’t the case, it is relatively simple to incorporate the wine cabinet of your choice into an existing kitchen, or indeed, into any part of your home, including some outdoor areas.

Wine cabinets come in all manner of styles, sizes and finishes, and most can either be custom fitted into your joinery or can simply stand alone.

Big or Small

Most reputable makers of kitchen appliances now include wine cabinets in their ranges. Whether you’re after an enormous walk-in facility to store up to 20,000 bottles, or a more modest wine cabinet or wine fridge to hold 30 bottles under your kitchen bench, there’s a wide selection to choose from. Consider what suits your home environment better. You may find, instead of buying one larger cabinet, for say around 60 bottles, two smaller ones, sitting side by side are more suitable for your needs and the space available.

Temperature Zone

There are single-temperature cabinets that replace traditional cellars, for the purpose of storing and ageing wine at the ideal 12–14 degrees. Multi-temperature cabinets allow you to chill your reds, whites, rosés and sparklings in one facility, but in different temperature zones, meaning that wines are ready to serve at the correct temperature straight from the wine cabinet – a boon for those who regularly entertain.

Insider Tips

Wine cabinets may contain either adjustable wooden shelving or metal shelving on which you can either lay down your bottles, an essential for those under cork, or boldly display bottles and labels in all their glory to be easily viewed. If shelving comes with niches, it's wise to check that these suit the format of your bottles before committing to them.

WINE AND DINE Vintec 170 Bottle Multi Zone Wine Cabinets, V190SG2EBK, $3,999 each.

Head to the experts at Harvey Norman for advice on the wine storage system to suit your requirements.

Where to Get Advice

Harvey Norman has a vast range of wine cabinets and fridges, as well as knowledgeable staff to advise you on the best choices for your particular space. If you are renovating your kitchen, it is worth booking a consultation with their Design Specialists who can recommend and action design concepts for your kitchen, including cabinetry and appliances.

Your Checklist

  • When considering the size of the wine cabinet you require, take into account that your wine collection may grow.
  • Choose shelving to suit the typical bottle sizes you buy, remembering wines under cork need to be laid on their sides, while screw caps can stand up.
  • Measure the space allocated for your wine cabinet, allowing for clearance behind and either side.
  • Decide if you want a single-temp or multi-temp system to suit your needs.