It’s okay to chill red wine

June 23, 2014 by John Brown

After a winter when I wondered whether the weather would ever warm up, summer has come and now I feel obligated to complain about the temperature- not outside- but rather the temperature at which my favorite beverage is being served to me in restaurants.

It is extremely important any time of the year to serve wine at the proper temperature, but in summer it is especially critical so that both whites and reds are not only cool to the taste, but also provide a pleasing counterpoint to the warmth of the accompanying food.

Here is a universal and unfortunate truth: White wine is served too cold and red wine too warm.

In my estimation, the problem is twofold: for whites it is the ubiquitous convenience of refrigeration; and for reds it is our confusion over the term “room temperature.”

Let’s start with white wine and the almost fervent belief by some that if we have the capability to make something cold, then we should therefore serve our liquids – including white wine – at Arctic temperatures. Drinking wines that are served at just above freezing will give you a headache and, worse, you won’t even be able to taste them.

Martini Cab

I’m sure that many flawed wines benefit from this chilling effect, but the delicate flavors and nuances of taste in say, a riesling, gavi or sauvignon blanc, will be absolutely neutered by excessive chilling. The good news here is that if you wait 10 or 15 minutes, the wine will warm to a reasonable temperature.

So what is the proper temperature to serve white wine? Whites served at between 48 and 53 degrees Fahrenheit are about ideal. However, since most of us don’t carry thermometers with us, the easiest way to judge the proper temperature is to drink them when they are cool, refreshing and you can actually taste the flavor nuances of the wine.

There is one exception to this rule and that is Champagne or sparkling wine. These “fizzers” actually benefit from colder temperatures (around 45 degrees F), where the chilling effect blunts some of the carbonation yet still allows you to enjoy the complex flavors of these wines.

Red wine is a bit more complicated. In fact, you can trash the old axiom that proclaims red wine should be served at “room temperature.” Why? Well, that room temperature rule was adopted in the middle ages when the average castle, lean-to or hut’s temperature was about 55 degrees F. – in the summer.

Unfortunately, some individuals and restaurants assume room temperature means somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees. When you are at home, this problem is easily resolved by simply refrigerating the wine for 15 to 30 minutes, which should bring the temperature down to around 60 degrees.

But what if you are in a restaurant and you’re served red wine that is too warm? While there are a few establishments – Noah’s Eclectic Bistro in Charleston comes to mind –  that actually keep their reds at the proper temperature both summer and winter, the overwhelming majority do not. In this case, you should simply ask for an ice bucket to chill the wine for a few minutes.

However, don’t be surprised if you’re lectured by some clueless waiter on the “proper” serving temperature of red wine. Don’t laugh, there are restaurants with award-winning wine lists where hundred dollar bottles of red wine are served lukewarm.

So, while dinning at your favorite restaurant this summer, insist on reds and whites served at a temperature that is both refreshing and also complimentary to the food you are eating. And don’t be embarrassed to ask for an ice bucket to chill your red if it is served to you at “room temperature.”

Here are two wines I think you will enjoy this summer:

2012 Buty Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc/Muscadelle ($33) This complex white blend is from Washington State. It’s a medium-bodied wine with aromas of ripe pear and slate, and a rich, creamy mouth fill with anise and citrus flavor nuances. Try this wine with ripe tomatoes drizzled with the best Tuscan extra virgin olive oil you can find and topped with fresh mozzarella and basil.

2011 Louis Martini Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) – Ripe blackberry and cola flavors highlight this balanced and very approachable cabernet. Decant and chill this tasty wine in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving it with a grilled rib eye rubbed with garlic, coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt.

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