The chill factor

Low temperatures are a must for both red and white wine to have a longer open-bottle life.

Low temperatures are a must for both red and white wine to have a longer open-bottle life.

Keeping your wine at the right temperature will make them last longer and taste so much better. Ben Canaider reports.

Most wine in Australia is served at the wrong temperature. Reds are too warm; whites are too cold; rosé is always at room temperature. If this sort of thing happened in the world of beer drinking or cocktail consumption there’d be a Royal Commission, but as no one seems prepared to stand up for wine’s variable ambient and ideal temperatures, a lot of bad practice is placidly forgiven. Oh, and then there is the problem of decanting… Yes, we do have rather a lot to get through this month.

From the owner/operator’s point of view low temperatures are a must. The lower you can refrigerate the wine the longer it will keep—and this is not a point to be overlooked when it comes to wines by the glass. Low temperatures equals longer open-bottle life. Even refrigerating opened bottles of red overnight will keep them in more pristine condition than otherwise. Given that so many of our restaurants are in warm climates, and given that so many restaurants are generally quite warm places anyway, this is not a bad idea of conservation.

Temperature plays an important degustatory role, too. Lower temperatures (below about ambient or 18 degrees Celsius) for reds will make them taste less alcoholic, or ‘hot’, as the expression goes. Too low and red wine can taste too metallic, however, particularly if any Asian or other exotic spices or flavourings are used in the preparation of accompanying foodstuffs. Chilling bottles of red wine might not seem a very sophisticated policy, but in some areas at certain times of year, this would make more sense than not. At least chilling wine glasses could go someway towards alleviating the hot temperature/hot alcohol problem.

At the other end of the wine temperature service spectrum there is the issue of warming up red wine. Let us get this straight. We really have little need for warming our reds up in this country. Chambré, is the term, and it doesn’t refer to a type of shirt cotton. It means to bring the red wine to room temperature. In Europe, where cellars are cold and winters are positively chilly, this makes sense. Here in Australia where there are few cellars and most restaurant wine storage facilities are more or less ambient room temperature anyway, there’s no need to honour this protocol. That being said, very cold or frigid red wine can be gently massaged up a degree or two during the decanting process, which brings us to another often frivolous and flawed wine service practice: aerating, breathing, decanting.

Decanting exists for two reasons: on one hand it helps separate red wine from any crust or polymerised tannic deposit left in the bottom of the bottle after a period of bottle ageing. Posh sommeliers often employ a lit candle above which the neck of the bottle shows any deposit passing through. A careful and even pouring action leaves most of the deposit in the bottle and more of the wine in the decanter. Decanting can also help wake up a dumb or tired or old wine—red or white. Aeration has the same effect on such wines as an obstetrician’s hand on a baby’s bottom. Decanting, in this sense, can also be a useful tool in the fast-tracked understanding of any wine’s potential longevity. An open and aerated wine tasted the next day can hint at what that wine might become with five or so years in the cellar. Positives—and negatives—are both writ large.

Young and tightly wound red wines—such as cabernet sauvignon—can also benefit from a fairly rough and tumbling decanting process, in order that they too might be woken up by the process. Some sommeliers might take a hard stand against vigorous and heavy-handed decanting of young wines, saying that the wine can become bruised by this action, but don’t let them stop you. Invert the bottle of red into a wide-bottomed decanter and once the wine exchange is complete, swish and swill the wine around in the decanter with gay abandon. All you are trying to do is get plenty of oxygen through the wine so that it might open up a little and be more flavoursome. This step can also be well employed on wines—both red and white—that are a little too sulphurous.

Oh, and to gently and slightly raise the temperature of a red wine that is too cold, simply pour it into a decanter that has been itself warmed up by a flush with hot tap water.

When it comes to white wine temperature is a more interesting conundrum. Fine white wine is better suited to Centigrades in the lower- to mid-teens. But the cheaper and more obviously flavoured white wines are much more enjoyable at standard fridge temperatures like 4 degrees Celsius. At this level any faults or grotesque flavours (such as high oak or high alcohol) are temporarily subjugated. As white wine is something more and more customers drink as an aperitif, it also means they drink more—in a responsible way, of course. The same suggested serving temperatures apply for sparkling wines: the better the quality the higher the serving temperature.

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