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harvey steiman at large

My Red Wine's Too Warm

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jul 9, 2007 11:28am ET

I am perched atop a high stool at a wrought-iron table in the patio of D19, one of my favorite restaurants in Aspen, Colo., where we spend a good part of our summer. It's a warm noon, but we are protected from the sun by a wide umbrella. Checking over the wines by the glass for something to sip with my bison burger (outstanding with braised onions and bacon), I home in on Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2005.

D19 serves its wines by the glass the right way. It brings out a big crystal glass, and the wine in a small 187-milliliter carafe (about 6 ounces), so you can fill the glass as much or as little as you like. Only one problem this time: the wine is too warm. Patio temperature at that moment was the high 70s.

I could have asked the restaurant to open another bottle, which might have been just as warm, or to chill the opened bottle, requiring a 10- to 15-minute wait. But I had another option. My friend Dick, who comes from Miami, a pretty warm place, had asked for a separate tumbler of ice for his water. So I just reached over, grabbed a small cube and swirled it around in my glass of red.

Are you scandalized?

I can hear the wine purists yelping already: the ice will melt and dilute the wine!

For me, warm wine is hard to drink. It's like soup. It lacks the refreshing qualities that it should bring to the table. A little ice cools it off, and I am OK with the wine being less assertive if it means drinking a refreshing wine.

Some years ago, I was leading a tasting in front of a couple of hundred perspiring wine lovers at the first International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. Outside the temperature was approaching 100 degrees. There was no air conditioning in the room, where it had to be in the 90s. The poor Pinots tasted awful, so I extracted an ice cube from my water glass for each of the six small glasses in front of me. You should have heard the horrified gasps. But it made it possible for me to taste the wines' charms. I could actually enjoy drinking them. (These cubes were large, so I fished them out after 5 or 10 seconds in the glass.)

For the Seghesio Zin, the ice brought the wine to the perfect temperature, somewhere around 65° F. Ah! Raspberries! A lovely touch of exotic spice! Those characteristics weren't noticeable when the wine was warm.

I did a little calculation. I figure the small ice cube I dropped into the glass equaled about 1 teaspoon of water. If the little carafe held about 6 ounces, and there are 12 teaspoons in an ounce, I diluted by wine by 1/72, or about 1.4 percent. I looked up the Seghesio Zin on the winery's website. It had 15.2 percent alcohol, so my ice cube ministrations diluted it to about 15 percent even. The wine was not wimpy as a result of its encounter with an ice cube.

Would you do the same? Or does the idea of tossing ice into good wine horrify you? I vote for the ice cube every time. I'll even ask for my own little glass of ice to do it.

Charles Waldmann
Washington, DC —  July 9, 2007 2:15pm ET
I'll often toss a small cube into a glass of rose that hasn't had time to chill properly. The French roses that I drink typically have enough backbone to stand up to a little dilution, and they're much more enjoyable, and true to their nature, with a good chill on them. True, I should probably refrigerate them sooner, or dip them into an ice water bath, but after a long day at the office, I will occasionally take the shortcut and chill the first glass with a bit of ice while waiting for the bottle to chill properly.
Tom Breneman
eau claire, WI —  July 9, 2007 3:38pm ET
Heck, now a days with experts picking Two Buck as the best chard in the land,,, what's a little ice water going to do!??? I say go for it and enjoy the wine the way you like it.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 9, 2007 3:46pm ET
Hmmmm...I'm not sure I like being lumped in with the judges who anointed Two-Buck Chuck. Anyway, my point is that, lacking time to immerse the bottle and chill it properly, using ice did no discernible damage to the wine and made it more appealing.
Richard Allen
Atlanat, GA —  July 9, 2007 3:57pm ET
My wife and I use re-freezable plastic ice cubes that are perfect for cooling a wine to a drinkable temperature without diluting or altering the wine's bouquet or taste. They are especially useful in our Hot'Lanta summers!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 9, 2007 4:04pm ET
Richard, the refreezable plastic cubes are a good idea, as long as they don't add any unwanted flavors.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  July 9, 2007 4:50pm ET
On occasion, I have added an ice cube or 2 to a wine that's too warm...even reds. I try to take it out before it dilutes the wine too much.
Damien Carter
July 9, 2007 5:21pm ET
When I read the headline, I originally thought you meant heat from alcohol. Which is ironic becauce I recently opened a 2003 Seghesio Zin Sonoma County, and it didn't have the alcoholic heat that a lot of Zin I have tasted recently have had. I really liked it. It was a little jammy, but hey, it's Zin.As for the ice cubes, I have never done it, but I am sure a great Zin can handle it. Heck even most Pinots.Richard, I like your idea on the ice cubes.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 9, 2007 5:44pm ET
I can't believe one of your favorite restaurants would be so neglectful of their wine service. I hope the owners of D19 read this blog and are sufficiently embarrased. Anyway, I'm with you Harvey. 1 small ice cube is better than warm, high alcohol wine. In fact, I have had a few zins that could use two ice cubes.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 9, 2007 8:35pm ET
The only thing that worries me about ice is if it picked up any freezer burn. I prefer to take a couple of washed cubes (or ones floating in a glass of water) for that reason.
Helen Yu
July 9, 2007 8:39pm ET
very interesting...long time ago, well..in my parents time..tey usually dumped cubes to dilute the wine's tannin (i was told so..)..(red were/ are a lot more popular than white or sparkling..it is also true today..though i personally like white or champagne..) this was what "chinese" or say..I am taiwanese did...very impressed..while young generation really hates to do so here...but after reading your article, i am thinking to try it next time..
Timothy L Oneal
Kansas City, Missouri —  July 9, 2007 9:31pm ET
I am confronted with the reality of room temperature wine on a daily basis. Here at the Bistro, we (the staff) refer to bringing red wines down to cellar temperature as "charging" them. What does "charging" mean? Behind the bar rests a champagne bucket full of ice and water. Bottles are submerged, lightly spun for 15-30 seconds, and viola; cellar temperature achieved! (Note: This does not apply for older wines) The same goes for glasses of wine. We simply put full glasses of wine into the ice bath and give it a light swirl. A noticable visual vapor hovers on the surface almost instantly. Six light swirls brings the temp down ten degrees and takes about 6 seconds.Then, we wipe the moisture off the outside of the stem, and off they go! It's more time consuming for bartenders, but I'm quick to point two facts: Making a martini commands much more time than "charging" wine. And, few martini's cost as much as our high end glass pours ($14)Guests are more likely to order a second glass if the first one is put out right.Timothy O'Neal - Wine Director - Avenues Bistro
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  July 9, 2007 11:13pm ET
Oh geez Harvey, there is nothing scandalous about this. I do it all the time in restaurants where the wine is served too hot. The only real problem I had was while living in Europe they seem to treat ice like a rare commodity. I once drank Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc (a favorite of mine) like lemonade in a large wine glass stuffed with cubes. I was extremely skeptical when I tried it, but it worked out okay on a hot Texas afternoon. In any case, a few ice cubes are much easier to acquire than a full-up chiller. Ice away, I say...
Chris Seldin
Aspen, CO —  July 10, 2007 12:48am ET
Harvey, I've passed along your comments to a friend at D19. Hopefully your (and my) next glass there will be the right temperature.
Allen Deforge
Vermont —  July 10, 2007 1:21pm ET
Harvey, I am so glad to hear that my wife and I are not alone using ice cubes when needed. We chill both whites and reds at home. The reds only need a few minutes in a glass to warm up nicely. So often the reds served in restaurants are sitting on a shelf at 70 degrees or above. We always order ice on the side. I say ice away!
Travis G Snyder
Salt Lake City —  July 11, 2007 2:57am ET
I come to expect my red wine to be served too hot to taste in the Summer months. I felt a little pushy and over-bearing, but when I ate at the French Laundry, I asked for an ice bucket when they brought out the Nuits St. Georges 2002 that I had ordered. It was last month, the windows were open and there was no AC running, I knew the wine would warm up during the next 5 courses. I just asked for a bucket before the wine ever arrived. Space is tight at the French Laundry, and so the wine guy (not the Master Sommelier) would put the wine in ice over by a window behind the stairs instead at the table where I had control. He would take it out, as needed. I say, order the wine and the bucket at the same time, then, no ice ever has to directly contact the wine. It may be overkill, but then again, so is $10 / ounce. So if your going to hell, you may as well do it in a hand basket (or ice bucket), and enjoy it the whole way.
Will Burtner
Carlsbad, CA —  July 11, 2007 12:45pm ET
Hmm, hot wine or a few ice cubes? Seems like a pretty easy choice. One that I never considered before this blog. Thanks for opening my mind.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  July 11, 2007 12:50pm ET
Travis,you should never feel pushy or overbearing when spending the kind of money I know you spent.
Jeffrey Nowak
scottsdale, arizona —  July 13, 2007 3:32am ET
the restaurant should be sufficiently chagrined, but i doubt that they will be. most don't care about serving wine at the right temperature. a thoughtful wine program wouldn't have allowed this to happen in the first place. the way you make your point is to send it back, and then not order any more wine because of it. THAT will get their attention.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 13, 2007 1:26pm ET
I'm not so sure, Jeffrey. As I mentioned, this restaurant did everything else right. And in the past, the wines have always been served at the right temp, whites not too cold, reds a bit cooler than room temp. I expect they're working out ways to make sure the reds don't get too warm. I'll report back after my next visit. The food's too good (and the wine list has some nice stuff on it).
Dan Guttman
July 13, 2007 3:56pm ET
3 tsp = 1 tbs;2 tbs = 1 oz (approx.)ergo:6 tsp = 1 oz or1/36 or about 2.8%
Valentin Gasser
Zurich, Switzerland —  July 15, 2007 1:36pm ET
Just put the bottle in liquid nitrogen for a few seconds. Even though I don`t know if liquid nitrogen belongs to a restaurant`s standard inventory. Hey, sommeliers here is your chance...(liquid nitrogen is cheap by the way).
Vanessa Thurber
July 19, 2007 6:39pm ET
I've asked my server for an empty glass, poured out my ice water and then used the chilled ice water glass to quickly cool the wine. It worked like a charm, the waiter took the hint, and my next glass was at the perfect temperature.

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