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June 16, 2010

The Grape Escape: Summertime, and the red wine is coolin’

White wines should be served chilled and red wines at room temperature.

This is one of the most basic of the many rules about wine, and like most of the rules, there’s a practical reason for it. Experience shows us that most red wines seem dank and flavorless if they’re served ice cold, opening up at warmer temperatures to display their aromas and flavors. Whites, in contrast, seem crisp and refreshing when they’re served with a chill; many of them seem bland and almost cloying if they get too warm.

But what’s “room temperature”? As we in the Ohio Valley know all too well, summer room temperature can easily climb into the lower 80s even when the air conditioner is running. On the other hand, I remember a trip to Scotland one fine autumn when my room in an Edinburgh B&B must have hovered around a brisk 60.

When summer brings its sultry heat, there’s no harm in placing your red wine in the refrigerator for a short stay before dinner. Don’t leave it too long — a half-hour on the refrigerator shelf is about right for most reds. But don’t worry if you miss the mark. If your wine gets too cold, it doesn’t take long for it to warm up again, and the wine won’t be tainted.

On the other end of the spectrum, when the restaurant wine guy brings out an ice bucket for your white or rosé wine, tell him to shove off. The freezing point is way too cold if your wine is good. Stun your taste buds with an icy gulp, and you’ll never taste the wine.