Wine: Some Reds Need to Chill Out

Chill Out: For some reds, cooling them improves their drinkability and can also act to prevent heat damage


Published:

 

When a bottle of red wine is brought to the table at a restaurant and presented by a server, I often ask to feel the bottle.

Nothing kinky here. I just want to sense the temperature at which the wine was stored because, more often than not, even in good restaurants, red wines are kept too warm. This concern is not about aging, but about drinking.

If the bottle feels warmer to the touch than about 70 degrees, I ask for ice and a bucket and that the wine be chilled for 10 or 15 minutes. A lot of times, I get odd looks from the staff but, sometimes, the wine specialist in the house appreciates why I’m doing it.

Chilling red wines has always been suggested for certain reds, such as Beaujolais. In France, restaurants often offer Brouilly or Morgon or other Beaujolais as either “frais” (cool) or room temperature. Chilling can also be particularly desirable for many of today’s popular American-style wines that are ripe and high-alcohol. Cooling them down tends to mask that searing alcohol and restrain the heavy jam-like character, making the wine much less aromatic, and more palate floral and drinkable, in my book.

If your preference in reds runs to lighter and somewhat restrained wines, cold serves as a kind of rebalancing that makes them more pleasant. This tends to be particularly true for inexpensive reds.

In some ways, it’s not surprising that restaurants keep and serve overly warm wine. There are, of course, excellent restaurants with wine cellars, good storage conditions, and someone, usually a sommelier, who oversees the wine area and updates the list. The majority of restaurants, however, buy and sell their wines on a move-them-in, move-them-out basis, so they don’t keep them long enough to warrant spending money on a designated specialist or a temperature- and humidity-controlled space. The result: Often, wines are stored in or near the heat of the kitchen, which leads to the occasional spoiled bottle. When you add poor storage to the popularity of these lopsidedly styled ripe wines, the chance of earlier disintegration or just the plain-old need for a little help to be drinkable increases greatly.

Some years ago, I was invited to speak at a wine conference in Maui, Hawaii. One of the speakers on another panel was Bob Cabral, then the new winemaker for the great California pinot-noir house, Williams Selyem.

Cabral was scheduled to pour his expensive boutique wines (even back then they sold at about $40 a bottle) for the vast outdoor gathering on a lawn overlooking the Pacific.

The problem was that the outdoor temperature was a breezy 93 degrees. The panic in Cabral’s eyes was quite clear. Somewhere, he found a giant metal tub, asked for it to be filled with ice and water, and quickly took an entire case of his costly pinot noir and stuck the bottles in the icy bath and then moved the tub under the shade of a table. The wine was terrific — no sun or heat damage.

Chilling wine is not a panacea, and it’s not for all grape varieties. For instance, one that doesn’t do well with too much chill is merlot. In others, the fruit pops up nicely.

What’s surprising is how much cold a wine can take without being damaged. One caution: Don’t try this on aged red of more than five or six years old. That could be trouble.

If you enjoy the monthly content in Hour Detroit, "Like" us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Trending: Wine in a Can

A Western Michigan winery serves their summer wine in convenient packaging

Leelanau Wineries to Celebrate Wine Pioneer Bernie Rink

The former owner of now-shuttered Boskydel Vineyards will be honored during a July tribute

Michigan's Wine Industry is Adding $5 Billion to the Local Economy

There are more than 130 wineries statewide

Making Bad Wine Extinct

Better education and new technologies are improving nearly everyone’s output

DIY Home Vineyard

Become a home vintner with just a fraction of an acre
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Makings of the Shinola Hotel
    When the Detroit brand’s first foray into hospitality opens its doors, it’ll offer customers...
  2. My Two Christmases
    An Armenian-Iranian, Detroit-based writer reflects on transposing the holiday across continents
  3. New Year’s Eve, Brooklyn Style
    Tips for celebrating 2019 from the pros at Brooklyn Outdoor
  4. An Hour with ... Carmen Harlan
    Broadcast journalist and founder of the Carmen Harlan Collection
  5. Main Review: SheWolf
    Born in Detroit but inspired by Rome, SheWolf takes diners on a culinary journey
  6. Hour Detroit and Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour 2018
    Hour Detroit and Detroit Home’s third annual Downtown Living Tour took place September 7th-9th....
  7. Cocktail Recipe: Toddy Incarnata
  8. Meet the Makers: Tait Design Co.
    How an after-work hobby ascended to a booming business
  9. The Art of Gifting
    Metro Detroit tastemakers from all walks of life offer a glimpse of what’s on their holiday...
  10. Comeback Catering
    Dish, in Detroit, pushes through hard times with consistently delicious food