Let’s talk temperature. Why? BECAUSE IT’S SO GODAMMED HOT THAT’S ALL WE CAN DO.
Wine is not always the best drink for a heat wave, since it’s not nice on the rocks. Bourbon, rum, and tonic spiked with gin all have roots in truly hot climates where the ice in the glass can be as crucial as the alcohol. The best wines tend to come from less purely sunny places, which is one reason why it’s not the thing you dream of drinking on a beach.
Another reason not to bring wine to the beach is it seems impossible to get it as cold as other drinks. I’m no food scientist, so I can’t establish this with some kind of chemical wizardry, but picture that cooler full of ice melting in the sun: what do you expect is more refreshing, the Coca-Cola or the Chardonnay?
However, there is an exception to this rule: chilled red wine even looks cold. The frosty dark bottle – so unexpected, so outré, so clearly colder than it should be – announces the severity of the situation. It screams: “My god, it’s so hot the red wine is on ice!”
And yes, true to its appearance – I believe this only because I have experienced it – chilled red tastes colder than white, rosé, or even sparkling wine.
Not that you should try this with any red wine – a heavy, rich red will be as horrible iced as you might think, the temperature masking whatever was best about it and leaving a dusty, bitter taste in your mouth as you curse this article. But a light, young red can be fantastic cold – the chill will tame the acid, and might even highlight the fruit. Give it a try while you are still desperate enough to put the wrong bottle in the fridge.
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It can be a bit tricky choosing the right red wines to chill, because you want to avoid tannic, high alcohol wines, and these days those attributes show up in all kinds of places they shouldn’t since they translate to “big.” Instead, ask a wine seller to direct you toward those dreaded terms for red wine ratings: “thin” and “acidic.” Feel free to improvise more insulting terms, as they will probably also point in the right direction: “inconsequential,” “forgettable,” “a wine you’d take to the beach," “cheap.” On the other hand, some typical positives for big wines can work in this situation, if they are about flavor not texture: “spicy,” for example, can be a nice quality for a wine going on ice because whatever that might mean to different palates, it survives the temperature drop.
Next, consider the grape. I don’t often buy wine by the grape, because I generally find locale a more interesting and romantic thing to think about. But it does seem that some grapes lend themselves to chill and others don’t (exceptions prove the rule). The most reliable varieties to look for are those used historically in light, young wines: Gamay, Cabernet Franc, or - when you can find these more unusual varieties in our New England market - the Austrian Zweigelt, Sicilian Frappato, and Northern Italian Schiava.
Here are two locally available reds that I have enjoyed cold during this heat wave – and I don’t mean at elegant cellar temperature. Cold.
2010 Saumur (rouge) from Les Pouches. ($12.99 at Marty’s Fine Wines, Newton) – classic Cabernet Franc from the Loire valley in France
2011 St Magdalener from Thurnhof: ($14.95 at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Somerville) from the Italian region of Alto Adige, on the border with Austria, this wine is also known as Santa Maddalena, and the grape is either Vernatsch or Schiava