Some years ago I shocked a room full of Pinot Noir nuts by plunking an ice cube in my glass of red Burgundy.
It was one of the first International Pinot Noir Celebrations in Oregon, and Willamette Valley was experiencing one of its inevitable, if not too common, heat waves. The temperature was over 90 degrees in the college dining room, where I was sitting on a stage in front of 500 people with a panel leading the tasting. We were all damp with perspiration, and the wines were suffering.
I didn't make a big deal out of it. I just lifted an ice cube out of my water glass with a fork and swirled it around in my Gevrey Chambertin. The gasps were audible. But I had to. The wines were not just warm, they were hot and soupy.
Immediately, I could taste the fruit that was AWOL before, and the wine regained its refreshing balance. At the time, only about a dozen or so members of the audience, and none of the panelists, joined me in cooling off the wine. I guess they preferred soup.
If a bottle of red comes to the table too warm, one option is to put it in an ice bucket. Generally 5 to 10 minutes will take it down to a reasonable temperature. After all, it doesn't need to be as chilled as a white wine, just cool enough to be refreshing. A temperature around 60 to 65 feels about right to me.
What to do if you're in a tasting with only a glass before you? Or in a restaurant with your entree getting cold while your first glass of red is steaming away? Throw an ice cube in the glass. Use a nice big ice cube. Swirl it around for a few seconds, then—and this is the important part—take it out. (A fork works well for this.) This cools off the wine with minimal dilution. Meanwhile, put the bottle in an ice bucket until it's the right temperature, then take it out.
As the weather warms up, those of us who still like to drink red wine have to deal with the inevitable glasses of warm wine. It seems only the most detail-oriented restaurants can get the temperature close to right on reds. The bottle may have been standing on a sideboard in a warm room before being brought to the table
The ice cube trick does the job.
Besides, it can help the wine. So many wines tip the scales at 14.5, 15.0, even 15.5 or 16.0 percent alcohol these days. A little dilution can be a good thing. Much has been said about how California's classic reds were seldom very high in alcohol, usually 12.5 to 13.5 percent. Well, one reason is that the old guys weren't afraid to water down the wines to get them to the level they wanted. The much-venerated winemaker André Tchelistcheff used to talk with a wink about adding a little "Château le Pump."
I ordered a bottle of Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River 2003 the other day. The first taste seemed a little hot to me. I looked at the bottle. It said 15.3 alcohol. I splashed a little water in my glass of wine to see what it would do. I took a sip. Disappointingly, it tasted bland. I added a bit more wine. Perfect. That alcohol edge was gone and the wine still tasted great. And it didn't sear my already-seared roasted chicken.
Are you horrified by this, or encouraged to try it? Or have you done it yourself?
James Rego — Redding, Ca., Shasta County — June 17, 2006 11:15pm ET
Bonnie Wertman — California — June 18, 2006 1:41pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 18, 2006 8:24pm ET
Matthew Lynch — chicago IL — June 18, 2006 11:25pm ET
Craig Plainfield — portland oregon — June 19, 2006 1:16pm ET
Alex Cobb — Fort Worth, TX — June 20, 2006 10:33am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 20, 2006 11:49am ET
Alex Cobb — Fort Worth, TX — June 20, 2006 1:59pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 20, 2006 2:39pm ET
John Rater — minneapolis minnesota usa — June 20, 2006 8:48pm ET
Bill Tieleman — Vancouver Canada — June 21, 2006 3:24pm ET
Adam Walker — Washington, DC — July 2, 2006 9:18pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 3, 2006 12:40am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions