Taking the Temperature of Wine | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Taking the Temperature of Wine

Taking the Temperature of Wine

More Wine Conundrums Answered

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Going through my email bag once again to answer some of your questions about wines and spirits. If you have a burning question about kosher booze, from the simple to the seriously technical, feel free to email me at lchaimQs@gmail.com and I will endeavor to answer you—directly or here in this space.

Is there a proper temperature for serving wine?

Depends on what you mean by proper. The general popular convention is that whites should be chilled and reds should be served at “room temperature”—this phrase predates central heat and air conditioning. Wine lovers the world over tend to conform to this tradition, as do wine service professionals. That said, wine serving temperatures are more properly a matter of personal preference. It’s your dime, so it ought to be your choice. It’s like asking about the proper amount of salt and pepper in each dish—adjusted to taste is usually the best approach.

My own rule of thumb is—whatever the weather or room’s ambient temperature—to always serve wines on the cooler side as they will warm up in your hands, but when served warm can only get warmer in your glass.

When it comes to white wines, in general, chilling helps make white wines more refreshing, and to my palate white wines show their best anywhere between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (F), though some fuller bodied dry whites can do better closer to 60 F. Chilling does mask flavor, so the finer the wine, the less it will need chilling. Again, when in doubt serve on the cooler side and allow it to warm in your glass. If a wine is tasting too warm, chill whatever’s left in the bottle at table in an ice bucket (that’s ice plus water, not ice alone), so at least your next glass will be better.

When it comes to red wines, the tannin level in the wine will typically help dictate the ideal serving temperature. The more tannic a wine, the warmer you should probably drink it. To my palate, the appropriate range on red wines is 55 to 65 F. The low tannin wines can be suitably chilled like a full-bodied white. When in doubt, as with white wines, cooler temps are the safe bet. If a red wine is served too warm, it will likely come across as a bit disjointed and soupy, dominated by alcohol.

Why don’t you ever write about beer?

While I do drink and enjoy beer, I'm no expert. Beer is the third most popular beverage in the world, after water and tea, and is easily the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage on the planet. Alas, I find that wine and distilled spirits on top of everything else I do in life takes up all the brain power I have.

When it comes to beer, I tend to drink whatever is on offer, or when forced to choose I tend to stick to tried and true favorites—Guinness Stout, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Stella Artois Pilsner, and other largely conventional offerings. I used to love Boddington’s Pub Ale, back in the day—for whatever that is worth. When travelling, I tend to opt for something local and unavailable back home, and I’m always happy to follow the suggestions of whomever I’m drinking with. Flying Dog Brewery makes some mighty fine beers too.

When it comes to beer, I’m open minded and happy to try new things—but I simply find it too overwhelming to dive in intellectually and unleash my inner geek upon it in a column.

Can I cook with any wine? Does it make a difference?

Yes, and yes. I love to cook, and basically always do so with wine. Pour a glass when you start, have another while you continue to cook. Have another when you’re finished. The whole exercise is made even more enjoyable if shared with friends and family.

If you plan to use the wine in a recipe, the conventional wisdom is to only cook with a wine you enjoy drinking. Which is to say, simply, avoid “cooking wines” which are terrible shelf-stable products that tend to be unappetizing, and instead use table wines meant for drinking. The choice between a super cheap, plonk-style wine or a budget-breaker is up to personal preference and budget, but once heat is applied to wine, qualitative differences between wines of similar style can be rendered very subtle.

Once boiled, flamed, or reduced, the general qualities that made the wine a pleasurable table beverage dissipate leaving only the primary characteristics—general fruitiness, sweetness, color, and acidity. In general, a wine’s sweetness and acidity are concentrated when the volume is reduced, and so will seem increased—so use a sweet wine only if you want sweetness in the final dish, otherwise use a dry wine. Likewise, be mindful of the wine’s perceived acidity because it will only seem to intensify. If a recipe specifies sweet or dry wine, I find it best to follow that guidance at least the first time you make the dish. After that, experiment at will.

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