Have you ever sipped on a glass of white wine that froze your tongue? Has there been a time you drank red wine that made you sweat? Serving wine at the proper temperature can make all th difference.
The proper temperature for serving various wines is hard to pin down, though. I'll argue that it's not worth trying to make an exacting science out of this. The important thing to aim for is a general understanding of how temperature affects wine and determining your own preferences from there.
I have often been served white wines straight from the refrigerator. At 40 degrees F. I can't even taste most whites and very few are supposed to be served like this. If, for example, you are served a glass of ice cold Chardonnay, just cup it in your hands for a few minutes to warm it up. Hopefully, as it warms slightly, layers of scent and flavor will emerge. Experimenting with this can be interesting, as many whites seem to be flat at refrigeration, then very enjoyable between 45-55 degrees F., then flat again toward room temperature. To some degree, this is a matter of preference and one that you will undoubtedly discover on your own. Generally speaking, wines do have a recommended temperature range. If you want further study on this, The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson is one good resource. Johnson provides a matrix that shows recommended serving temperatures for nearly every wine category in existence.
My pet peeve isn't cold white wine though because it's easy to warm up. I also understand that restaurants tend to chill or even store whites in a refrigerator. What bothers me is a really warm red. It is difficult to chill, even after requesting an ice bucket for the bottle. Often, this is a sign of poor storage conditions somewhere in the kitchen or back room. To me, "room temperature" (meaning 70-74 degrees F) red wine often tastes bad. In particular, the powerful red varietals like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec give off strong alcohol characteristics at room temperature that mask the bouquet. And honestly, I'm not that picky. I just want the wine to be served a little below room temperature where it performs the best. As an experiment some time, try this: refrigerate a bottle of red, pour a glass, and sip on it as it warms all the way up. You just might find it changes qualities several times along the way and you can make your own determinations on when it tastes the best. This is actually an easy experiment when you have a half-finished bottle some time. Just tuck it away in the fridge overnight instead of leaving it out. In the summer, I often do this with half-finished red wines anyway.
Although a matter of preference, there are some general guidelines to wine serving temperature. In general, warm up the whites and cool down the reds. But not too much! Try these basic guidelines:
40-45 degrees: Muscats, Sparkling Wines, Asti
45-50 degrees: Champagne (the real stuff), most Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
50-55 degrees: White Burgundies, top Chardonnays, top German Riesling, Beaujolias Nouveau
55-60 degrees: Beaujolais, Chianti, Cotes du Rhone reds
60-65 degrees: Red Burgundies, Red Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel
Don't stick a thermometer in the glass, just do your best to get the wines to a suitable temperature. And enjoy! Raise a glass!