It’s one of those immutable facts: that you should never serve red wine cold or white wine warm. Oh, and you should never drink red wine with white fish or white wine with red meat. And what else did the man say? Never drink a claret less than 10 years old; never hunt a fox south of the Thames and never trust a girl who wears black knickers.
Well, I’ve done all three of the latter and haven’t come to any particular harm so far as I can tell. And, since it’s time for confessions, I might as well admit it, I’ve also passed the port to the right. Oh come on, be reasonable, it’s not the end of the world and the Tower of London didn’t fall down. My dinner companion was faint from thirst and the chap to my left was so engrossed in conversation that he wasn’t up for taking a hint, however heavy, about the Bishop of Norwich or whoever it is. Besides which, so big was the party that it would have taken the best part of 20 minutes for the decanter to circumnavigate the table.
Andrew Quady, the delightfully eccentric producer of one of my favourite sweet wines,the Elysium Black Muscat, gets round our British pretensions by producing a fantastic port tastealike in California and calling it Starboard
(geddit?), insisting that it’s passed around the table to the right.
Traditions are all very well, but not if they get in the way of one’s enjoyment or hinder one’s drinking. These things aren’t set in stone after all, but are usually no more than guidelines from folk who have trodden this path before us. A robust Argentine malbec will not go well with grilled plaice for example. The fish will make the wine taste metallic and sharp and the wine will make the fish taste of, well, nothing. But that’s not to say that there should be a blanket ban on red ‘n’ fish. After all, a gentle, mellow Central Otago pinot noir goes beautifully with tuna steak, just as a fruity beaujolais can be spot on with poached salmon.
And what’s wrong with white wine with meat? I once had a sumptuous German riesling with roast wild boar and although it was an unexpected pairing (served by the winemaker himself, and the boar’s nemesis, Manfred Prum of JJ Prum, who should know about such things), it worked brilliantly.
As for temperature, I would agree that white wine is best served chilled. It shouldn’t be ice cold, though – you want the aromas and flavours to be able to express themselves. An hour in the fridge should do it. Or 20 minutes in the freezer. But if desperate, you can always lob an ice cube in the initial glass just to tide you over until the bottle is cold enough. If using an ice bucket, remember that the key is to have plenty of water with the ice. It’s much more efficient than using ice only.
Reds should, supposedly, be served at room temperature. But when that edict was first coined, it was long before the days of central heating and what was room temperature then would be considered jolly parky now.
Consequently, we serve our reds far too warm in my opinion. At a restaurant only the other day, our Australian shiraz was delivered almost steaming. It had clearly been placed by a radiator or oven and was far too heady, tasting cooked, like tepid soup. Admittedly, big wines such as this and rhônes, barolos and zinfandels need a bit of warmth to open out and stretch themselves and shake off the tannin, but lighter wines such as gamay from beaujolais, cabernet franc from the Loire and pinot noir from almost anywhere are delicious when lightly chilled.
But so, too, are other reds. I had a delightfully fruity cabernet sauvignon/cabernet franc blend from Italy [see 6 of the Best] recently and popped it in the fridge by mistake, having confused it with its companion white. But it was delicious, with plenty of ripe cherry flavours and a long soothing finish. Somehow the chill kept its natural exuberance in check and I loved it.
During this time of year I always keep some reds deliberately in the fridge such as a beaujolais or Kiwi pinot – they are so refreshing and
I enjoy the way they change and develop as they warm in the glass. Such wines are perfect for picnics or impromptu alfresco frivolity. Stick a bottle on a string in the swimming pool, or by a rock in the Spey as you chase that elusive summer salmon and see what you think.