A hot, sweltering day in Bologna in July some years back, and our long-anticipated reservation at Restaurant Diana is upon us.
Regarded as a “must visit” in this great gastronomic city, the roast meats carved tableside by your waiter from the meat trolley is “the dish”.
Damn the heat, nothing but great red wine will do, so the the Antinori Super-Tuscan 1997 “Tignanello” it must be.
Our waiter brings the bottle to the table and pours a little for me to taste: and this is where it all starts to go wrong. As is my practice, I only smell the Tig to determine whether it is “in condition” or not. I did not taste it. (My bad) The bouquet leaps from the glass, I nod in approval, and with my agreement, the waiter decants the bottle.
A few minutes later my glass is poured and I taste what should be a superb wine My heart falls as the wine is the temperature of soup, and I mean minestrone not gazpacho. It is warm, thick, ugly and perverse, surely all of 25° or 26° Celsius when it should be around 16°.
This 2003 Euro heatwave – which caused 14,000 deaths in France alone – has almost murdered this wine. A quick confab and our waiter and I agree to “bury” the decanter in an ice bucket (with plenty of water!) to bring the wine to the correct serving temperature. Thankfully the Tig was successfully salvaged after about 10 minutes in the “ice bath”
Now while heat is the exception in Europe and this service glitch might be explained away as an aberration, days in the high 30°s and early 40°s are way more commonplace in Australia. Given that, can someone please explain to me why so many restaurants – I posit the overwhelming majority – seemingly have no regard for the temperature at which they serve their wines? And why do we consumers accept them doing so?
Wine mark-ups in restaurants are now breathtakingly high, often four-to-five times the purchase price.
For that not insignificant upcharge, is it too much to ask that wine is served at something like the correct bloody temperature? As the summer starts to roll in, get ready for warm reds and frozen white wines.
Now if you are drinking characterless, flavourless alcoholic pap labelled as wine then maybe the temperature doesn’t matter. However if you have sprung for a good bottle in a “quality” restaurant, then having swallowed the price, you should be able to swallow the wine, and not gag on it because of the temp.
All kudos to those few venues that do make the effort to get it right. Recently, a Keller pinot noir at Dinner by Heston Melbourne, was simply stunning thanks in no small part by the efforts of the wine team led by Loïc Avril, to serve the wine at precisely the right temperature. (Venues that do care about wine temp, please let me know via twitter)
If a restaurant is limited in resources and/or effort, it is far better that both reds and whites are served too cold, rather than too warm. Unquestionably it’s easier to let wines warm up rather than the urgent alternative of having to try to cool them down.
And given the equipment and technology now available for at home and restaurants, there is simply no acceptable excuse for serving wine at the wrong temperature, and especially too warm; the only explanation can be that you and/or the venue, is too lazy and/or too dumb. I strongly encourage you to speak up if a restaurant or venue serves wine at a ridiculously incorrect temperature.
Below are two items any serious wine consumer or restaurant should be aware of. Getting the temperature right for the wine to be enjoyed just requires a little bit of effort, effort that in my opinion is very well rewarded.
Kelvin K2 Smart Wine Monitor
RRP $69.99 online from winesave.com.au
Sold in Australia by the folks at “winesave”, this is THE xmas gift for the wine geek who has everything.
This nifty little device will ensure you serve your wine at precisely the correct temperature. Upon unpacking, charge up the K2 which takes about an hour. Then download the apple or android app. When the K2 is fully charged, open the app and turn on the K2. The app should find the device and ask you to “pair”. After pairing clasp the K2 to the front of the wine bottle and start the 5 minute countdown calibration timer. The K2 is now taking the temp of the bottle. Select from the app the style of wine or region – Pinot Noir, Barolo, Shiraz etc. – and the K2 shows you the optimum serving range.
If you think the bottle requires cooling, stand it up in the fridge NOT freezer, the K2 wont like that) and sit back and relax. When the 5 minutes has elapsed, the K2 gives you a precise reading of the bottle temperature and you can compare that to the suggested ideal range. If the bottle is still too warm, the temp dial will show red, too cool and it will show in blue. But when it turns green…you have lift off. The K2 also plays a little chime on your phone when your bottle is ready to be engaged.
It doesn’t get much easier than this; the hardware seems well designed and the app user interface pretty nicely done. Do yourself or a wine friend a favour and buy them one of these for Xmas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re a fan of South Australian family-owned winery Taylors you’re in luck – they’ve been putting a temperature device on their wines for a couple of years that shows what temp it’s at.)
Adande Underbench refrigerated drawers
RRP $5500, contact www.stoddart.com.au for price and stockist details
If I was opening a restaurant or wine bar, these are what I would want in the back of the bar. No more glass-fronted underbench fridges which are back breakers to select from and painful to re-stock. And for home, anyone with an all-drawer kitchen will tell you how cool that is, and one or two of these could only make it cooler ( pun intended )
The Adande (Advanced Design and Engineering) underbench fridge has a temperature range of -22°C to + 15°C, meaning it’s prefect for everything from ice cream to wine (not in the same drawer!) and with humidity of 74% it’s just about ideal for any wines in your collection that are sealed with cork (Grange, Lafite, Richebourg etc)
Used by some of Australia’s leading venues such as Rockpool Melbourne and Stokehouse Brisbane, this is a seriously pro method of ensuring your wines will always be at or about the optimum serving temperature. Behind the bar – or in the kitchen/butlers pantry/outdoor kitchen – how about one drawer for red wines, another for whites including champagne, another for vodkas and martini mixes, and one more for salad, cheese etc?
So there you have it. Now you know what I want for Christmas.
* Frank Wilden is a retail food strategist and a “lapsed” restaurateur whose love of wine began nearly four decades ago.
He believes that on the road to wine nirvana, if you don’t end up in Burgundy you have probably taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Get in touch with him via @thefrankreport on Twitter
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