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Posted: Thursday, 09 June 2022 08:42


From Archives (2006) - An Enduring Myth: Wine, Vinegar & Serving Temp

June 09: Indian Wine Academy President Subhash Arora challenges a statement made by Brindco's Aman Dhall in a media interview and set the record right on the serving temperature of wine

"Wine should ideally be served at 18 degrees Celsius. In India, there is a tendency to disregard this thumb rule. So basically what you end up consuming is not wine but vinegar." That's Aman Dhall, Executive Director, Brindco, as quoted in Brunch, the Sunday magazine of the Hindustan Times, Delhi 's No. 2 newspaper.

I don't believe Aman could have made such a half-baked statement. After selling over 100,000 cases during his short but eventful wine marketing career, and after meeting scores of wine makers, he must know better.

Most likely, it is a case of the journalist economising on words and not giving the entire quote. I've been misquoted by journalists many times. I have been called "a teetotaler," when what I had said was that I used to be a teetotaler and now drink only wine. Some time back, I was talking about Cabernet Sauvignon and the name of the grape that appeared was Sauvignon (Blanc).

Unlike in a webzine, where errors or views expressed incorrectly can be corrected and updated, it is not feasible for a newspaper journalist to keep getting back to the readers with corrections. The loser, therefore, is the poor reader.

The opening statement and not who made it, though, is the point of my editorial. I have been repeatedly emphasising in media interviews that wine must be stored and served at the right temperature if it has to be enjoyed better. Serving temperatures are different for different wines. Certainly, red wines should never be served at beyond 18 degrees C. In fact, in summer time, they should be served at 16 degrees C because they tend to get warm fast. Only full-scale Bordeaux and Australian Cab-Shiraz fall in this category.

The other recommended temperatures are: Amarone, Barolo and Barbaresco (16-17); Burgundy, Rhones, top-end California Cabs & Zins and Rioja Reservas(15-17); Chianti Reserva, Chilean Cabernet, regular Bordeaux, Pinot Noir(14-16); Cru Beaujolais, Cote du Rhone, Chianti, Sicilian Reds, Barbera, Dolcetto and light Zinfandel, including those from Nashik (12-14) and Valpolicella, Beaujolais and Chinon from Loire (10-12). Most producers mention the recommended serving temperature, especially if they are from the New World .

The guiding philosophy is that fuller-bodied reds are to be served at higher temperatures, but as the wine body gets lighter, it will be best enjoyed at lower temperatures. My usual advice is to keep the red wine in a refrigerator, or in an ice bucket with some water and salt added for faster cooling, for a few minutes before serving. Naturally, a light bodied wine would need to be in the bucket for 30 minutes or more. For sceptics, I have to add that the temperatures recommended are indicative and one doesn't need a thermometer to measure them.

If you are in a restaurant, do ask the waiter for an ice bucket even for a red wine. Let me add that most people and restaurant waiters, even in the US , are not much better informed at times, though their wine culture is at least 25 years ahead of ours.

What happens when wine is served at over 18 degrees C? Is it vinegar? Definitely not. It may not give you its best flavour or bouquet, but it will still be wine. Our sense of smell, which is an extremely important aspect of enjoying wine, reacts only to vapours.

A red wine is less volatile than a white. The objective of getting the serving temperature right, and the reason why we swirl a glass of wine, is to get the drink to a point where the aromatic substances called ethers begin to evaporate. This temperature is progressively higher for fuller wines. At warmer temperatures, alcohol vapours get into the nose too and the unpleasant smell of alcohol tends to dominate. The flavour of wine becomes medicinal. Try drinking Coke at 18 degrees C and you will understand what I mean!

Wine becomes vinegar with oxidation and/or at higher temperatures. If stored for longer periods beyond 18 degrees (and that goes for white wines as well, which must be served cold to chilled), wine begins to deteriorate gradually; if the temperature goes up to 22 or 25 degrees and beyond, the process of 'vinegarisation' gathers speed. I suspect that about 15% of wine in India is drunk as vinegar or just thrown away because of poor storage conditions.

Any one of the parties involved in the entire process, from wine making to transportation, storage and sale, can be guilty of this slaughter of wine. Producers are generally careful so they can be ruled out. Transportation by sea where wine is stored for 2-4 weeks can be a major factor unless reefer containers are used. Another factor is the long waiting period at a port for customs clearance. The absence of a cold chain, or its breakdown at any of the many points in transit - transportation from the port, importer's warehouse, retail shop or restaurant, and, most importantly, at the end consumer's home - can turn any wine into vinegar.

If the wine you've just been served has been stored at temperatures more than 18 degrees, chances are your wine has turned into vinegar anyway, and it doesn't really matter if you drink vinegar at 15 degrees, 18 degrees or higher temperatures.

Subhash Arora


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