"Ahhh, perfect temperature," my boyfriend and I said at the same time after tasting the slightly cool Côtes du Rhône the waiter brought to our table. Our friends, knowing we both work in the wine business, stopped talking and looked at us curiously. "So is that some sort of wine speak? Should I say 'perfect temperature' next time I taste wine to impress people?" one friend asked.
It wasn't supposed to be a wine geek comment at all, but it seems few people know to serve red wine cooler than split pea soup. We've experienced wine temperature offences at all levels of establishments from a casual pizza place in Brooklyn to an elegant restaurant near Union Square. When red wine tastes like it was stored too close to the kitchen, we usually ask a server to put the bottle over ice for a few minutes. After this chill time, our casual wine-drinking friends always admit they like the wines better.
Warm red wine reveals too much scathing alcohol which obscures the fruit and other flavors. Bring the wine down a few degrees, and suddenly the fruit seems fresh and bright, the alcohol more nicely integrated. Serve red wine too cold, however, and the fruit becomes dull and the mouth-drying tannins too evident. Wines with fewer tannins, like Beaujolais and some Pinot Noir quaff easily around 55 degrees F. For your strapping young cabernets and shirazes with aggressive tannins as well as older wines with loads of nuance to divulge, think more like 60 to 62 degrees F.
Wine temperature should not be a concern exclusive to wine geeks. Why? Wine is supposed to be enjoyed, and the unofficial poll shows that even occasional wine drinkers find slightly cool red wine more pleasant. Next time life serves you soupy red wine, impress your friends. Ask for an ice bucket. Then you, too, can say, "Ahhh, perfect temperature." Kristin Donnelly