by Doug Frost
Ronald Searle, one of wine’s great illustrators, once created a great series of posters, with a poster devoted to each of two dozen or so countries. His Brazil poster depicted two men in an equatorial setting, staring at a steaming bottle of wine. The caption read “Brazil – facing up to room temperature”.
The idea of serving wine at “room temperature” has always been wrong-headed. The term should be “cellar temperature” because rooms in America are far warmer than the drafty British castle that was the proper location for that room and its temperature.
Wine, even red wine, prefers a cool place for storage and consumption. Generally, wine lovers will shoot for about sixty-five degrees (in Fahrenheit) for red wines, fifty five for white wines and forty-five for sparkling wines.
But few room thermostats, unless it’s the dead of winter, are set to sixty-five degrees. And red wines often wait in a warm kitchen until they are brought to the table. I’ve seen more than a few bottle racks perched above a hot and humming refrigerator. Hot red wine should either be served as a mulled wine, or not at all.
When a wine is warm, many of the prettier aromas are buried beneath an alcoholic blast. Conversely, when wines are served too cold (this typically happens with white wines) they taste of almost nothing at all.
My methodology is to take any white wine out of the fridge thirty minutes before I plan to drink it. Assuming the room is warm, the wine will warm up just enough to (hopefully) show its lovely, evanescent aromas and flavors. For a red wine, I usually put it in the fridge for a half hour before I serve it. Maybe my fridge is older and less efficient than yours, but the wine generally comes to the table cool and fruit-laden.
Perhaps it seems all too fussy: not too cold, not too hot. But wine is nothing more than fruit juice with alcohol in it. Grape juice, too, tastes rather disgusting when it’s hot. And too much heat can destroy a wine. I will admit to a few episodes of involuntary wine-slaughter; I’ve left bottles of wine in my car on a hot summer day, for what was intended to be only a few minutes. Twenty minutes later, the inside of the car is boiling and wine has expanded and has seeped past the cork. If you see a bottle in that condition, avoid it. It will likely taste more like cabbage than wine, with fruit that tastes cooked and vegetal. Vegetal flavors chiefly belong on the plate and not in the glass. Keep your room as warm as you like but a cool glass of wine is far more likely to show fresh fruit. And freshness is the truest hallmark of modern and popular wines.