Warm Wine – No Thanks!

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Our recent Tuscan trip was basked in heat that ranged from 30-38C. It was glorious coming from a grey, cool London; however, for wine tasting, it was another story. These incredible temperatures and very little air conditioning in tasting rooms produced red wines that were frankly not cool enough. This was particularly apparent when tasting the exuberant 2007s.

Warm and sunny vintage conditions produced many wines that are rich with alcohol and fruit. At room temperature, they come across as almost New World-like with their gregarious personalities. Yet, when they are served slightly cooler, they become tame, more balanced and practically purr out of the glass. It is as if their hot tempers have been soothed and they are completely different wines.

So why do many people not make an effort in serving wine at the perfect temperature? It is a question that has baffled me, particularly with professionals and most notably when the outside temperatures are searing. Fortunately for us, we were not unlucky our entire trip, and we were wowed on many occasions when wines were able to find their sweet (cool) spot. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least and hats off to those producers who are meticulous about serving their wines in the most pristine conditions.

So, here is a general guide which may come in handy when the UK temperatures turn blistering (for the UK, that means anything above 24ºC!)

– Red wines 14% and above taste more balanced when they are cooler than room temperature, so stick them in the fridge or an ice bucket if necessary. Don’t be shy!
– If restaurants serve wine that is too warm, complain and tell them you want it cooled down. This is particularly irritating if they have trained sommeliers. This can even be done if the wine is already in a decanter.
– It is always better to have a wine that is too cool than too warm. It can always gently warm up in its glass or decanter.
– The cold can mask unsavoury flavours and poorly made wine so if you get served wine that is too cold for its type (whether white or red), the restaurant or your host may be trying to hide something.
– Tannin surfaces more with the cold so heavily structured reds can seem even more tannic than they really are with the cold.

Ideal temperatures for wine really need to vary depending on your own personal taste. But generally, they are approximately as follows:

-Dry, crisp whites and Champagne – 7º-8ºC
-Medium to full-bodied whites like grander White Burgundies and Bordeaux – 8º-10ºC
-Light reds like Sancerre Rouge, Beaujolais, some Dolcettos, etc can be served cooler due to their softer structure – 12º-14ºC
-Medium to full-bodied reds – 14º-16ºC (simpler or less robust reds as well as higher alcohol, fruit driven wines are often at the cooler end)

Final temperature tip: to store red wines once they’ve been opened, its freshness is much better retained if you plop a cork back in it and stick it in the fridge. It is even better if you can decant it into a smaller bottle with less head space. Take out it out and let it warm up slightly before serving. Leaving it on the counter will only make the wine oxidise quicker.