Here in the U.S., we drink our white wines too cold and our red wines too warm.
Restaurants tend to be the worst offenders. White wines are generally stored in a beverage case at 45-48 degrees, cold enough to induce permafrost. When they are removed from storage and taken to the table, the customer is likely to request an ice bucket as well. Few restaurants have proper wine storage, so reds tend to be served closer to 75. I’ve been in chain restaurants where wine was actually stored in the kitchen, above the stoves.
You may wonder what the fuss is about—don’t consumers have the right to drink wine at any temperature they please? Extreme cold saps whites of any aromatic and/or flavor qualities. Many reds today are too alcoholic to begin with, bottled at 14-16% rather than the standard 12.5% of yesteryear. High temperatures exaggerate the effect of alcohol and tannin, making the wine even more disjointed and unbalanced.
Much confusion arises from the old adage that wine should be consumed at “room temperature.” Historically this referred to European room temperature, or around 65. If you have correct wine storage at home, your wine will be kept at 55— a perfect temperature for many whites. For reds, simply allow the wine to warm up to 65. For those who lack wine storage, the twenty-minute rule is a good fallback position: remove whites from the fridge 20 minutes before serving, and chill reds for the same amount of time.
In restaurants, the scenario is a bit trickier, although most servers won’t blink an eye if you request that a bottle of white wine be placed on the table. Many consumers don’t feel comfortable requesting that a red wine be placed in an ice bucket, but it’s your wine, after all. Remember that the server isn’t the one who’ll be spending a pile of money on an alcoholic, unpleasant red. In many restaurants the wine storage is visible to people sitting in the dining room, and a quick look around may determine whether your red wine is being cooked along with the broccoli.