If You Can’t Stand The Heat –Hot Wine Part II

Here’s another example of a meal gone bad due to hot wine, and a few ideas that offending restaurants might think about if they want to keep their customers, their good names, and maybe even make a few bucks along the way.

Last summer I was in NYC for a few days and arranged to have lunch with some old college friends at Boqueria, the well-regarded Spanish restaurant in the Flatiron district. Because of the influence of my siblings’ Basque and Catalan in-laws, and several trips to Northern Spain, I have come to love the food and wine from that part of the world. When the day arrived, I was excited to see my old friends and to immerse myself in what I hoped would be a lunch that would echo the joy of dining in San Sebastian and Barcelona. The first bottle I ordered was a txakoli, the tart and almost effervescent Basque white, which, when served properly, can be a perfect defense against a hot and humid New York afternoon. The young waiter cheerfully presented the requested wine, but I noticed that it lacked the condensation or perspiration a wine fresh from the cooler should have. I asked for the bottle. It was warm. This waiter must have been a rookie or very poorly trained, because he didn’t understand why I became agitated. His response? “Oh, well, we store our wine in the basement, and the basement in this building is really warm. Would you like me to chill this for you?” No, I like my white wine the same temperature as the grilled fish. Of course I want it chilled!

Like many of you, I have dozens of such stories, of local eateries where I always bring my own wine because I can’t trust that the restaurant’s offering won’t be cooked, to high-end places where the wine by the glass service is execrable, and that’s being generous. (In case you’re wondering, execrable is a fancy word for “shitty.” ) In those places you’re better off ordering the soup — it’s usually cooler. Too often it seems that restaurants, whose wine revenue can make or break a budget, know less about the handling of wine than many of their customers.

 Restaurant owners and managers, if storage or temperature control is a problem, there are some things you can do. Reduce the number of offerings so you are able to better control and maintain inventory, benefitting both you and your customer. Buy a laser thermometer that tells you the internal temp of a wine before you serve it.  Get rid of one of those tables or booths against the wall and put in a fridge or cabinet. The money you make on wine will pay for the table. Or, maybe get those beer glasses out of the reach-in fridge, and then raise the cooler’s temp to the point where both whites and reds can sit comfortably in close-to-correct cellar temperature. It’s always easier to cool down a white wine that is already slightly cool, or bring a red up to speed when the situation calls for it. Have to cool down an embarrassingly warm red on a regular basis and you’ll start creating beer drinkers. Finally, for all those wines that are ruined because of heat and light, well, that’s just crumbling up money and tossing it down the plumbing. Who in their right mind does that? If you start to take care of your wine as it deserves, you can stop wasting your money, and stop frustrating your customers. It’s a win-win, everybody’s happy. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

If you have other ideas that restaurants can use to improve their handling of their wine, let’s hear them. Anything that helps more people drink more wine is a good thing. A very good thing.

6 thoughts on “If You Can’t Stand The Heat –Hot Wine Part II

  1. Lis

    Tom, The wine was perfect for east coast time but somebody was still on west coast time! Had a great time anyway! Enjoying the blog.

  2. Brendan Riley

    My own wine ordering experience in restaurants is pretty limited but I have ordered enough bottles of white to be able to say that I have never once been offered in a CA restaurant, without asking for it, an ice bucket for my white. I think, maybe, in the popular mindset this is something usually associated with champagne and quite high end restaurants. I am also guessing that one does not want all whites to be ice chilled but of course the temperature of the ice bucket (there must be a proper name, right?) can be adjusted from the beginning, from cool to Arctic. If the white is served properly chilled from the fridge when ordered is it usually understood that a normal and desirable warming will occur throughout the drinking of it, allowing the flavors to open up, or should an attentive restaurant take the trouble to help maintain that refreshing chill from beginning to end of bottle?

    1. Tom Riley

      I think the restaurant should offer, as a matter of course. Yes, the whites show their stuff as their temps increase, but you should be offered the option of an ice bucket (I really don’t know if there is a technical term; gonna have to look that up) in case you are a person who likes the white to stay chilly. Some whites, on hot days, that don’t have great levels of fruit or depth, don’t improve with temps, whereas more complex or substantial whites really flower as the chill fades. My two cents.

  3. Pastor Jack Wilson

    Hi Tom,
    I am enjoying your blog. I am embarrassed by mu lack of knowledge. My education in fine wines begun as a teen up by the tracks with some friends and a 50 cent bottle of Gallo!
    As I say my knowledge of wine could be put in a shot glass. Agh! now there is something I know much about.
    Anyway, I grew up with many Italian friends. I do not appreciate white wine but do like a glass or two of red. However , I always enjoyed and insisted on drinking it room temperature. Now I see you mention cooling it a bit. Have I been drinking it wrong? I won’t stop but it still would be nice to know.
    Keep up the great writing. Perhaps I will learn something.

  4. Kathie Montserrat

    Tom,
    The blog is delightful! Your “voice” is loud and clear…. just as I heard it in the classroom. Love the manifesto. My favorite line is ( recovering Oregonian trailer trash that I am) “My chief targets are pretense and snobbery”. Looking forward to more of the same.

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