Cool customers for hot times

By Stephen Meuse
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2009

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We don’t have a dog or cat but instead play host to a menagerie of pet peeves. And while we agree it’s bad form to esteem one peeve above another, we admit to holding restaurant wine service that delivers white wines too cold and red wines too warm in especially high regard. What’s too cold? White wines straight from the refrigerator (below 40 degrees) may seem refreshing, but show little flavor or aroma. What’s too warm? Reds at room temperature - and today that might mean 75 degrees - show scratchy tannins, flabby acids, and generally don’t taste like themselves.

The difference is that while white wines will eventually shed their frigidity at the table, too-warm reds seldom cool down on their own. In such cases, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your server for an ice bucket (we’ve done it). At home, consign an overheated red to the fridge door for 20 minutes. We found ourselves in this position earlier this month when the temp in our cellar (where plonk candidates await the Day of Judgment) got a bit too high. The wines initially tasted horrid and left us scratching our heads. But after a forced cool down and a bit of aeration they came right around.

You don’t need a thermometer to get it right. A French winemaker once told us he preferred his white wines no cooler than freshly drawn well water. There’s a rule of thumb for you. As for reds, lighter-bodied ones almost always benefit from a chill, as these examples will show, and never more so than when summer’s dog days leave us all feeling a bit peevish.

Chateau Barrail Meyney Bordeaux 2007 Bordeaux aromas may be faint but they’re unmistakable; nice round red berry fruit and a pleasing scoop of dirt. The genuine little article and an old fave. Around $12. At Salem Wine Imports, Salem, 978-741-9463; Wine Press, Brookline, 617-277-7020; Bacon Wine & Spirits, Northborough, 508-393-2134.

Casa Castillo Jumilla Monastrel 2007 Some round, pleasantly sweet fruit, upstanding acidity, and good balance. Enough weight to handle grilled wings or pork tenderloin. Around $12. At Macy’s Wine & Spirits, West Roxbury, 617-325-9200; Martignetti Liquors, Brighton, 617-782-3700; Shubie’s, Marblehead, 781-631-0149.

Domaine Bourdic “Octandre’’ Vin de Pays des Cotes de Thongue 2007 Juicy, bright strawberry flavors; clean and bracing with a welcome bit of cut. Around $11. At Federal Wine & Spirits, Boston, 617-367-8605; Curtis Liquors, South Weymouth, 781-331-2345; Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge, 617-354-4750.

Campos Reales La Mancha Tempranillo 2008 Deeply colored with spicy, briary red fruit; a little fuller style but still refreshing. Fine choice with homemade pizza (you do that, right?) or burgers off the grill. Around $9. At Blanchards Liquor, Allston, 617-782-5588; Golden Goose Market, North End, 617-367-3198; Our Glass Wine Co., Saugus, 781-941-8068; Federal Wine & Spirits.

Dynamite Vineyards North Coast Zinfandel 2006 When it comes to zinfandel, we often think less is more. Here’s a pretty little package that combines real varietal character, sturdy fruit, and some appetizing acidity in just the right proportions. Ribs are calling. Around $11. Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775; Charlestown Liquors, Charlestown, 617-242-3600; Salem Wine Imports.

Stephen Meuse can be reached at