“An ice bucket?” asked the waiter in a tapas bar I visited in Barcelona recently. “For a red wine, señor?” I swear I saw steam barrelling out of his ears as various Catalan heads swivelled in my direction. But I insisted and, grudgingly, he brought what I’d asked for.
It’s a discussion I have had far too often in bars and restaurants. The reason is that most red wines are served way too warm, just as whites are frequently chilled to within a degree of extinction. Too many establishments believe that reds taste best at room temperature, advice that was probably true before the invention of central heating but is more or less redundant nowadays, unless you live in an igloo.
The temperature of the wine in your glass can have a marked impact on the way it smells and tastes. If you don’t believe me, try the same wine first at 15C and then at 22C. The fruit and the perfume will be more pronounced in the former, while in the latter, the alcohol will leap out of the glass and the flavours will seem jammy and indistinct.
That’s why I give most reds 20 minutes in the fridge at home before I open them, and some considerably more than that. How cool can you go? Especially if they are unoaked, 14C is no problem for lighter-bodied red grapes such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Corvina, Tempranillo and Cabernet Franc.
The only thing you need to be wary of is tannin, whether from the grapes themselves or from new or nearly-new oak barrels. The sturdier and more astringent the wine, the warmer you should serve it. Even then, however, I wouldn’t be tempted to go above 18C, even for a Barolo or a Bordeaux red.
Apart from chunky wines like these, you can chill pretty much anything red to 14C. But lighter, fruitier wine is where you’ll notice the biggest difference. Try putting the juicy, raspberryish 2007 Asda Extra Special Beaujolais Villages, Boisset (£4.61, 12.5%), the grassy, stylish, unoaked Cabernet Franc 2007 Domaine du Colombier Chinon (£5.99, 13%, Sainsbury’s) or the cherryish, easy-drinking 2007 Mâcon Rouge, Cave de Prissé (£6.99, 12.5%, Marks & Spencer) made, unusually, from Gamay in the southern part of Burgundy, in an ice-bucket or fridge.
Talking of Burgundy, the best sub-£10 Pinot Noir I’ve had this year comes not from the home of Pinot Noir, but from New Zealand. The 2007 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir, Marlborough (£9.99 each for two, 13.5%, Majestic) is not short of oak, but there’s so much bramble and strawberry fruit that you’d be mad not to put it in the fridge. If you can keep your hands off it.
Originally published in The Observer