Best Served Cold
Hot and bothered over red wine protocol
Dear Mr. Gold:
So I’m in Axe last night, ordering what surely would be a delicious $16 glass of Zin from Turley Vineyards, one of my faves. It’s served to me at room temperature, which, on this sweaty night, is not low. I mention this to the server, who replies: “Oh, well. We don’t chill our reds.” Why is that, do you think? (You can make the same claim about whites, which are often served too cold!) Why do so few restaurants, even places that call themselves wine bars, have so little regard for the temperature of the wine they serve?
—Michael, Los Angeles
You’ve touched on one of my pet restaurant peeves: red wines stored too close to the kitchen and served at temperatures just below boiling, which renders wine useless as refreshment and throws the flavors out of whack. (White wines rimed with frost are less of a problem — they’ll warm up just fine, especially in this weather.) The admonition to serve wine at cellar temperature comes from England, where that temperature is usually in the mid-50s, not a summery 75 degrees. At home, I usually refrigerate red wines for a quarter hour or so before I serve them, which usually evens things out. At restaurants, I often ask for reds to be chilled for a few minutes when they come too hot, which is way too often. You may get the occasional weird look from a waiter, who has no idea why you would want to put a Barbaresco on ice, but the good ones understand. Obviously, custom chilling is less possible when ordering by the glass. I imagine Turley’s high-alcohol, high-extract Zinfandel was done no favors.