Thursday, May 17, 2007

Boiling Over

This is a wine thermometer. An unnecessary wine accessory, perhaps, but a reminder that temperature is important. Unnecessary, as most wine can be brought to the proper temperature with a little foresight (see below). Important, as the wrong temperature can hide those most desirable aromas and accentuate the bad ones.

Most wine is served at the wrong temperature - restaurants and many wine afficianados make the same errors - red wine too hot, white wine too cold. This drives me crazy. While I cannot certify that I am always at the exact temperature, at the very least I always think about it, and attempt to minimize the frequency and degree of my error.

Based on personal experience and numerous books, the proper serving temperature for wines are as follows:

Red Wines: 'Chambre' is NOT room temperature. Broadly speaking, 16-18 Celsius, 61-65 Fahrenheit, or 289.15-291.15 Kelvin, is the right temperature for a red. I find Pinot Noir better at the low end, and Beaujolais even cooler. You can play around with the range and see what you like, but you will notice this is a fair degree below 'room temperature'.

White Wines: Whites should be 8-10 Celsius, 46-50 Fahrenheit. Inexpensive, uncomplicated white quaffers should be served cooler (or even mixed with ginger ale), while better whites will do nicely at the higher end. Use an insulated bag or an ice bucket to keep the wine from warming up to room temperature.

Note that the glassware and decanters are likely to be at room temperature, so you may wish to err on the cool side as the wine will warm up quickly. Also note the problem of summer weather, which can warm things up even faster.

Of course, it is no good ranting about wine temperature without a few tips about how to get to the right temperature and keep it there. And for those of you thinking "that's great, smarty pants with a temperature controlled cellar", you don't need a cellar.

Room temperature is 21-24 Celsius, 70-75 Fahrenheit. To chill a wine to the proper temperature, the freezer will knock off one degree Celsius every four minutes for a 750mL bottle (a tip from How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar, by Dr. Gold):

So, if you don't have a cellar and keep your wine on the counter, or you just bought it at the store, try this:

Red - chill it in the freezer for 20 minutes
White - the 4 minute rule needs to be modified slightly - about 40-45 minutes in the freezer should work fine

For those of you who don't believe me, compare two bottles of your favourite red - chill one for 20 minutes in the freezer, leaving the other the counter on a warm day.



Marcus said...

Joe this is infinitely useful. When summer comes around I often hear people say to put red wine in the fridge for 5 minutes before serving.

So while what "chambré" means for wine is finally getting through, the techniques people are being counseled on are not so hot. Five minutes in the fridge will do nothing, as you suggest. Love the 4 min./degree rule.

Just one thought: I've had problems quick-chilling while staying at my parents' place. Bottles almost popping their corks after an hour or so in the freezer. I found out that their freezer temp is -20C! A tad chilly I thought. So what is the temperature your chilling technique is based on?

P.S. NZ expo comp ticket was given to me by a friend who freelanced for event organizers -- he went on vacation and could not go. Churton, Carrick and Ma Maison pinots seemed to be standouts, but I had a new Trapiche release last night and at half the price seemed almost as nice. Have yet to ever try the media thing...

Joe said...

Hi Marcus. You are correct - 5 minutes in the fridge does nothing. Obviously, these are rules of thumb and should be tried with your refrigerator/freezer and see what works. I will experiment some more this summer. The key, of course, is what temperature you keep your house/appartment - if you keep it at 19, you probably don't need to do anything for a red. And in the summer a fridge chilled white will warm up fast.
As for corks popping, you can definitely check on the bottle at 30 minutes and see how it is going. I will check a white tonight and see how it goes. This was meant to be a rule of thumb kind of post...
Trapiche Pinot? Hmm-at $15 I have to try it sometime. FYI - SAQ sale this weekend.

Marcus said...

It was a very volatile blanc de blancs sparkling wine I pulled out of the freezer -- maybe it was after more than an hour. The cage was not happy. The thing was like a loaded weapon and I basically ruined the wine.

I just think my parents keep their freezer too cold. I certainly could never see that happening in my little freezer but I guess knowing your temperature is key.

In general I am bad (or rather have bad luck) with prepping Champagne bottles. Did I tell you what happened to me at A L'Os? I posted about it the beginning of last year.

As for the SAQ sale, I already bought a case of wine I didn't really need since WBW 33 is past and I'm still obsessively collecting 2001 Languedocs. Strange. But I may go back again to buy even more.

Joe said...

Hi Marcus. After you seemed a bit suspicious of my rule of thumb, I experimented and fixed the post. Too late, it seems. I have never had a problem with the red, but the whites are a bit trickier as they spend more time in there. My apologies - I owe you a bottle of blanc de blancs - definitely my fault. I skipped the sale as well

Marcus said...

No, that part about blanc de blancs being pulled out of the freezer was me continuing my story from my last visit with my folks, months ago....

I was just expanding upon my problem mentioned in my first comment, not reporting on how I followed your instructions! You are innocent.

But if you're giving away sparkling... let me know

Joe said...

Whew - I was wondering how many freebies I was in for...but really, I rechecked and changed the recommendation slightly. I will continue to fine tune (especially the whites, bubblies) over the summer.
Where would you like the Baby Duck delivered? :)

RougeAndBlanc said...

Thanks for this tip. I shall start experimenting with the cheapies to see if that makes any difference.

Glad to see you are still hook on Languedocs. What kind of gem have you discovered lately?

Canadian wine market is slightly different from the US. What is available there may never come to US.


Joe said...

Hi Andrew - You will definitely notice a slightly cooler temperature improves the reds. However, I find with cheap white it is better they are bone cold (hides the bad tastes and smells).

Marcus said...

Remember you can always easily warm up a too-cool wine but chilling is a hassle once you're serving dinner.

Andrew, I was going to post a summation on WBW 33 to my site today but it turns out that I think I am sick of Languedocs!

Joe, I been sick of Baby Ducks for much much longer than Languedocs -- my mother works as a buyer for the company that makes them.

Joe said...

True enough, you just have to watch out for the bursting bottle!
Just teasing on the baby duck - it's a joke only Canadians can understand...