Indulge me for a brief moment. Imagine it’s a warm day and you’ve put together the quintessential summer dinner: baked potato with butter, sour cream and chives, fresh green salad with tomatoes and blue cheese dressing, a perfectly barbecued steak, and to accompany this, a full-bodied California Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe this is a wine that cost $20.
This is a simple meal, and oh so delicious. You pour the wine and take a sip before tasting anything else. The first thing you notice is a sharp burning in your throat and a harsh drying in your mouth. This is almost enough to put you off red wine … almost. The steak, the blue cheese, and the sour cream help smooth the wine, but you have gone through the trouble to make this nice meal without preparing the wine. And by not preparing the wine you’ve missed that elusive goal in wine and food — the perfect pairing.
Ok, here’s another scenario. You go over to a friend’s house and they offer you a glass of Chardonnay. You think, “Ack, white wine — it’s either too sweet or too bland,” and ask for a beer because every other time you’ve had a Chardonnay it’s been disappointing. Why? Because someone forgot to prepare the wine.
Now, you might be thinking I’m going to say you should let your wine breathe. Everyone’s heard of that for reds but letting a white wine breathe? Strange. Indeed, that would be strange. No. Pulling the cork and letting the wine breathe does little if nothing to improve a wine.
Decanting — that does something, but that will have to wait for a different column. I’m talking about serving temperature. Serving the wine at the right temperature is the best way to prepare it.
The biggest problem I see with wine service, either at home or at a restaurant, is serving the wine either too cold or too warm. Reds are served at room temperature, which is often much too warm, and whites are served at refrigerator temperature, often 35 degrees, and that is too cold. The perfect temperature to serve a bottle of wine, for either a red or a white, is 55 degrees. This is cellar temperature and at this temp, both reds and whites really shine.
Honest. Chill your reds. Warm your whites. If you do, your wine will taste better.
This works because wine is partially made of temperature-sensitive esters. At too warm a temperature, these esters evaporate, and the aroma imparted by the wine is mostly alcohol. When tasted too warm, you’ll notice a burning sensation in your throat.
At too low a temperature, the very fine fruity and herbal aromas mostly found in white wines are too cold and can’t evaporate thus the wine tastes bland, acidic and dry. But at the right temperature, the wine — either red or white — is perfectly prepared.
How do you do this? The refrigerator isn’t your best friend here. It’s helpful, but not magic. The magic comes from using an ice bucket. Here’s the recipe: fill a bucket 2/3 full of ice (don’t skimp), then add water to about 3/4 full, insert desired wine, wait 4-10 minutes. Remove perfectly chilled wine and enjoy with friends over a home-cooked meal.
For those who want a little more sophistication — I’ve included a Wine Serving Temperature Chart for your reference. On the chart, you’ll see the style of the wine, its optimal drinking/serving temperature, time needed in an ice bucket, time needed in a freezer (don’t forget it in there, you’ve been warned), time needed in a refrigerator and time needed to warm up if fully refrigerated.
Now, you’ve got the tools and the know-how to properly serve any wine. No excuses. Turn off the TV, plan a meal, invite guests and prepare the wine.
David Devere is a licensed wine educator in Minnesota. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit SavvyNomad.com.