Time and Temperature

After a recent dinner with a sommelier who deftly submerged a Spanish red in an ice-water bath before serving on a summer night, I vowed to be far more serious about Virage serving temperatures.  We know red wine should served at “room temperature” but we also know such “room temperature” refers to rooms in northern Europe in stone buildings in say the 1600’s.

What temperature is ideal?  I got scientific and conducted a taste trial, gathering up wine loving friends in Los Angeles last week.  Among the group a real scientist, and his wife who loves measuring things.

TEST PROTOCOL:  We opened one 750ml bottle 2007 Virage, poured into decanter, then divided evenly between three empty bottles.  Eliminating all extraneous variables, each wine enjoyed the same exposure to oxygen–all poured from the same bottle at the same time.

We then served three glasses of wine side-by-side:

  • A/ wine at room temp (73 degrees, even with thermostat set to 70)
  • B/ wine at 65 degrees and
  • C/ wine at 60 degrees

Temperatures were accomplished by placing bottle C in the refrigerator for half an hour, then adding bottle B to the frig for the last 30 minutes.   An hour in the frig still didn’t get Bottle C all the way to 60 degrees, but a final 10 minutes in ice-bath did the trick.  THE RULE:  At 40degrees, your regular frig should reduce your bottled wine temp by 4 degreesF every 10 minutes.  About 20 minutes would be perfect from a comfy 70-degree room.  Then, the act of pouring your 62-degree wine through the 70-degree air to your glass brings the in-glass where you want it.

RESULTS of the panel tasting were incontrovertible and unanimous:  Wine B, at 65 degrees, was far superior.  While A showed exceptional volatility of aromatics, these came loaded with heady alcohol, making even 2007 Virage seem a bit “hot.”  The more muted aromatics of the 65-degree wine were still plentiful to experience the full bouquet/aromas and the textural pleasures were oustanding–structured, densely layered flavors like a stacked leather heel of a fine shoe.  I loved it!   At 60F and below, things start getting muddy.  Aromatics are gone, the wine is literally cold to your tongue, dampening flavors, and the texture becomes more gritty.

A great expression I heard, “Bring the whites out of the frig 10 minutes before serving and put the red in.”  But generally speaking, if the bottle is not feeling cool to the touch, 10-15 mins in ice-water bath tableside is perfect, and perfectly acceptable to request in a restaurant.  And no fear of getting it too cold–a red wine is easily warmed and opened swirling with the bowl cupped in your hands.


About Emily Richer

Investment banker turned right banker.
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