As the inevitable march of autumn draws the nights in, our habits and moods change along with it, without us even thinking about it. When it comes to winter in Scotland, we instinctively know how to do it right.
We wrap up warmer, we wear ‘autumnal tones’, and we dig out the boots, waterproofs and brollies. At home, we cook up heartier fare for our evening meals, swapping our salads for stews and our antipasti for minestrone. Equally, we quickly forget our summery fervour for white and rosé wines and instead, we reach for the red.
Yet something is amiss; when it comes to red wine in winter, we are doing it wrong. We tend to follow the rule of thumb that the white wines go in the fridge and the reds get served at room temperature, forgetting that our rooms tend to get a lot colder at this time of year.
Most white drinkers would be aghast if a restaurant served their wine at 18°C – around the temperature I want my big, bodied red wines – so in turn, red drinkers should want their wines suitably lukewarm.
In the same way that many white and rosé wines (and the very lightest of reds) can get crisper and fresher when lightly chilled, many medium-to-full red wines can benefit from just a spot of warmth. This releases a lot of the more complex aromas and flavours, and can really enhance and sweeten the pleasurable fruity aromas. This would benefit Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux, Aussie Shiraz, Californian Zinfandel and pretty much anything from near the mainstay of those cherished Mediterranean holiday hotspots.
Red wine that is too cold can smell misleadingly dry and (especially in the case of wines that have funky, savoury and vegetal undertones) a bit off or vinegary, ruining the nose, but the warmth of your mouth will generally counteract this on the palate. If the last red you had was served cold, smelled bad, but tasted great, the serving temperature might well have ruined half the experience for you.
“So, what can one do to counteract this total nightmare?”, I hear you cry! Well, unless you are the type of person who is willing to part with upwards of £500 for a temperature regulating, compartmentalised wine cabinet, you will have to get ‘inventive’. I do not mean putting bottles on the radiator, in the oven/microwave, or wine in any kind of heating or cooking device whatsoever (unless you are mulling it, of course – more on that later in the year).
No, you should consider using your body to warm your wine – slightly less exclusive than the wine cabinet solution, as most of us have a body. There are a number of ways to do this, such as resting the bottle under your arm, on your lap, or better yet between your legs for half an hour while you sit watching Eastenders. After an episode’s worth of gentle warming, you can try to time the popping of the cork with the show’s trademark closing drum roll! If you have a cat or a dog, you could just leave the bottle resting in their basket while they sleep as you make the tea, a rare case of your pet earning their keep.
If all that sounds too outlandish, go for the traditional method; warm your wine in the glass with the palms of your hands by cupping the bottom of the bell of the glass with the stem between your fingers, and waiting a little while for your wine to come back to life. As you do this, keep nosing it sporadically to observe the bouquet opening up, bringing just a hint of summer back to your glass.
Ah, that’s better!
PS – I also do not recommend sitting on your bottle to warm it like some kind of alcoholic egg – unless you want to run the risk of it ‘hatching’ underneath you!