A Summer of Wine : Proper Temperature of Service, Food Pairing, Some Old Bottles…

– Temperature :

After multiple dinners, tastings and various events all summer long, I noticed how the weather really affects our attitude towards wine and drinking in general. During summertime, wine tends to warm up extremely fast. The temperature of service is sometimes controversial and people often disagree about it. Obviously, everybody has different tastes and preferences. However, some physiological reasons justify certain temperatures. Here are some basic rules and guidelines for proper service:

A wine is a combination of sugar, acidity, tannins (mainly in red wine), carbon dioxide (mainly in sparkling wine) and alcohol. Each of these sensations are altered by a change of temperature. For instance, a warmer temperature increases the sugary feeling. High acidity becomes more acceptable with a lower temperature.

On the other hand, salt, bitterness and astringency are increased by low temperatures. From these basic physiological rules, it’s easy to understand that a perfectly balanced wine can feel tannic or astringent if it’s too cold, or too acidic if it’s too warm. As a general rule, the wine’s level of tannin determines the right temperature. If tannic, serve it at room temperature (assuming the room temperature is not Florida like!). If light bodied and not really tannic, serve it at a colder temperature. White and rosé wine don’t contain tannins. Therefore, they should be served cold. Sparkling wines should be served even colder to limit the release of carbon dioxide.

From a flavor and an aroma standpoint, the same applies. If a wine is too warm, it will smell like alcohol. Instead, if it is too cold, the aromas will be neutralized. (Always be careful if a wine is served at a very cold temperature, it is the surest way to hide all imperfections and problems!) Unfortunately, most restaurants serve wine too warm. Here are some temperature rules that any skilled sommelier should apply :

*Dry White Wine (young, light, lively) : between 8 and 10°C (between 46 and 50°F)

*Sweet White Wine : 6-9°C (43-49°F)

*Old Dry White Wine, Very Aromatic Dry White, Rosé Wine : 10-12°C (50-54°F)

*Light Bodied, Young, Not Much Tannic Red Wine : 12-16°C (54-61°F)

*Full Bodied, Tannic Red Wine : 16-19°C (61-66°F)

*Old Bottles : 17-20°C (63-68°F)

– Old Bottles Opened Throughout the Summer :

I tasted a good amount of old Bordeaux bottles this summer and fortunately none of them were dead. Bordeaux owes its reputation mainly to the aging potential of (some of) its wines. You will likely never find another place in the world with 30, 40, or 50-year-old bottles tasting so young and alive. Of course, perfect storage conditions are necessary if you expect to keep bottles for years. Below is a sample of some of the wines I tasted. (Note that they all have been stored in a perfect cellar for years, with constant temperature, humidity and darkness.)

-Château Le Boscq, Saint-Estèphe, 1982 : Fresh and very aromatic nose. On the palate, it is incredibly young, fine and balanced. Intense fresh red fruit flavors reminding of a much younger wine. Round structure with polished tannins. Pleasant finish of medium length. This 32-year-old bottle tastes like a 15-20 year old one.

-Château Duplessis-Fabre, Moulis, 1982 : Oxidized nose, with some animal notes. After airing the wine, candid and stewed fruit aromas appear. Light leather note. Much better. On the palate, the generous body is impressive. Very pleasant and lively. The typical acidity of old Bordeaux is there. Medium length finish but very tasteful.

The fact that those wines are still alive and enjoyable has a lot to do with the vintage. 1982 was a legendary year in Bordeaux. The nearly perfect climate conditions led to great grape maturity. Therefore, the wines were rich, concentrated, complex and able to age. Those two bottles share two characteristics: an impressive flesh for their age and more acidity than wine nowadays. Different wine-making methods and global warming both played a role in that change (today’s wines contain more alcohol and less acidity).

-Château L’Argenteyre, Médoc, 1998 (Magnum) : Nice wine with good structure in the middle of the mouth. Pleasant. To be drunk now.

If you own bottles from 1998, you need to know that it is a “right bank year” in Bordeaux. Wines from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol are usually better than the ones from Médoc. However, appellations in the northern Médoc such as Saint-Estèphe had better results than the rest of the region for two main reasons : they received less rain in september and their colder soils were better for the vines during a very dry month of August. Château L’Argenteyre probably benefited from this.

– A Word About Food Pairing

L’Argenteyre and Duplessis Fabre were both served with chicken. Le Boscq was served with roast pork. Those combinations were all delicious. Here is a tip to pair Bordeaux wines with food :

Médoc and Graves (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon) wines usually pair well with white meat (grilled or roasted) and poultry. On the other hand, I like Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Fronsac wines (mainly Merlot) better with red meat because of their warmth, body and typical flavors. However, it is possible to pair red meat (roasted or barbecue for instance) with more robust Médoc or Graves. There is no definite rule when it comes to pairing, as long as you enjoy the combination!