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Drinking wines at the right temperature

Wedding WInes.JPG

A few weeks ago, the phone rang. It was one of my oldest friends requiring some wine advice, wedding wine advice, the most crucial type. We had already deliberated long and carefully about the best wines to serve on her precious occasion. There were several key areas to consider to ensure everyone’s enjoyment. This phone call however centred on the best temperature to serve the red wine, ‘Room temperature?’ she enquired…

She was having an idyllic summer wedding, with a marquee in the rose-filled gardens of her parent’s thatched cottage in deepest leafy Surrey. Our initial considerations covered the weather. With a July wedding, we envisaged a balmy evening with a soft summer breeze wafting through the open-sides of the marquee (how wrong we were!). Secondly, the menu choice. A starter of Thai-spiced chicken salad, light, spicy and aromatic, followed by cold roasted salmon with Mediterranean vegetables. And thirdly, of course, the budget and wine requirements. A good value white and a red which would go with both courses, suit the summery menu and please all guests! No mean feat.

A delicious Villa Maria Riesling, with its lime and spice flavours, was deemed a perfect match for the delicate Thai ginger and lemongrass flavours of the chicken salad. No problem there, the bride and groom were smitten.

The red, however, turned out to be more problematic. It had to be rich enough to please the macho red wine drinkers, yet a light and elegant partner to a cold fish dish. And certainly mid-summer ‘Room Temperature’ was not going to be suitable.

Errázuriz Pinot Noir (20674) from the ocean breeze-cooled Casablanca Valley in Chile, with its vibrant cherry and strawberry jam fruit character and light tannins was chosen to partner the oily salmon. The light ageing in French oak barrels would add enough weight to the palate to suit the more traditional red wine consumers.

What temperature to serve wine at?

‘Room temperature’ is often regarded as the ideal serving temperature for red wines, yet today’s central heating and well-insulated houses raise this to above requirements. Temperatures above 20oC cause many of the aromatic compounds to become volatile and escape. The ideal serving temperature for many red wines is around 15 – 18oC, more like room temperature in my grandparent’s day. In particular, the lighter styles of red, which could do with a bit of additional backbone, such as the Errazuriz Chilean Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or light Italian reds such as Valpolicella require chilling a little more, better at around 13oC.

In reality that Errazuriz Pinot Noir, rather than being served on a hot July day as a refreshing red, was actually served in a cold, rain-sodden marquee with a chilled salmon dish. Raising the red wine temperature a smidgen to compensate for damp, chilled guests would have been a good move in this case – the best-laid plans foiled by the British summer.

Had there been a hearty rib of beef on the menu (and it did feel more like November than a July day) then perhaps a richer more full-bodied wine would have been the order of the wedding day. Such as the meaty Rhone Gigondas from Dauvergne Raunier (31577). This may have seemed a little tough, a touch tannic and bitter served too cool but would be undeniably improved by serving it on the warm side, releasing the rich flavours of blackcurrant, liquorice and rosemary. In fact, as a rule of thumb, red wines from warmer climes, with richer flavours are often better served towards 18oC.

Getting the temperature right may seem to hail from the realms of wine snobbery and seem overly fussy, but in reality, it can make or break some wines. Turning richness into smooth enjoyment, or emptying the wine of its zest and body.

It’s not plain sailing for white wines either. The myth of ‘chilled’ whites from the fridge is rarely going to do any self-respecting white any favours. Most home fridges are set around 4oC, which is far too cold for the majority of whites and shudder to mention an ice-cold ice bucket at, well, ice temperature.

Champagne and dry white wines should be served at cellar temperature, between 6 – 10oC. I remember a wonderful visit to the deep, cool, Roman cellars of Champagne Taittinger where hundreds of bottles of vintage wines (11104) were sleeping in the never-changing 10oC of deep conical-shaped cellars pick-axed out of the chalk. This is their natural ideal temperature.

The key is to bring white wines out of their cool storage half an hour in advance. Allow them to warm up a little, to let the aromas and flavours relax and be noticed.

Conversely, the lighter white wines, such as the light-bodied Bolla Pinot Grigio delle  Venezie (11999) benefit from the lower-end of refreshing temperatures, say 6oC. And it’s true to say that the cooler the wine, the less it will smell, so if you are unlucky enough to be un-enamoured by your white wine choice, chill it.

If you choose one of the naturally aromatic white grape varieties, such as the wedding Riesling, or something along the lines of the Gold medal winning (Decanter World Wine Awards) Vidal Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (13481), then they will benefit from a cooler temperature. Keeping the classic gooseberry and passion fruit aromatics from overtaking the refreshing acidity.

Given totally free reign and budget at the wedding breakfast, I would have loved to serve an elegant pale Cotes de Provence rose with the cold salmon. A great example being Gold medal winning Mirabeau Rose (26976) by Stephen Cronk. This would have been treated like a fuller bodied white, so served at an ideal temperature of 10 – 12oC. On a balmy July day, in an outdoor setting, a cool rose would be a refreshing, classy choice. Although, in reality, it would have lost its sunshine in the torrential rain and dreary cloud.

The budget didn’t extend either to the decadent, crowd-pleasing finish of a pudding wine. With lemon posset, fruit jellies, chocolate pots and mini summer puddings, it would indeed have been a challenge to find one dessert wine to fit all. Whichever we chose, it would need to have the pungent apricot sweetness tempered by a knife of chill and acidity (6- 8oC) to allow for a refreshing combination with such sweet treats. I would certainly have enjoyed trying a condensation-covered glass of Chateau Doisy Daene from Sauternes (31590) with the creamy lemon posset.

So, wine appreciation does not only extend to quality, style and flavour. It can be immeasurably improved by serving the wine in the right place at the right temperature. It is not exactly disastrous to get the temperature wrong, but it would seem churlish not to give it a little consideration. Even if only to take the bottle out of the ice bucket and warm the glass gently in your hands. Equally, to let a bottle of red overheat revealing soupy, stewed flavours would break the heart of the self-respecting winemaker.

But, as the British summer weather reminds us, you can’t win ‘em all.

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