Recently I had a couple of red wine experiences that were very interesting – as well as being hugely enjoyable.
At this time of year I often find red wine problematic. When it’s hot the temperature of the wine can rise very quickly and a big, modern fruit bomb of a red wine can quickly get warm, which in turn makes it feel gloopy and soupy when you drink it. Now I know that many people seem to have no problem with this – but I do.
So, in Summer I usually fall back on white wines and rosés.
This is mainly I think because being British I have been trained and brought up to think that red wine should be served at room temperature – I have no idea of the temperature in my room, but this seems to be a very loose term which means something like 16-18˚C.
In my mind a cold red wine will be astringent as the tannins will be more harsh, whereas if I serve it slightly warm then the tannins will be smoother and rounder. In the past I have reserved drinking cool red wine for when I am on holiday in Spain drinking wines of no great merit. In fact I have always found it a bit odd that the Spanish generally seem to serve their red wines cold – not just not warm mind, but cold.
Even the great Carlos Falcó, the Marqués de Griñón, served his stunning red wines so well chilled at a tasting in London that the bottles were beaded with moisture.
Anyway the other week I was at the rather wonderful Tapas Fantasticas – if you missed it, shame on you, but you can read my piece on the 2010 edition here – and at the end I took home a bottle of red Rioja that was still two thirds full.
It was from CVNE one of my favourite Rioja producers:
2010 Monopole Tempranillo
The Spanish call this sort of Rioja a Joven as it either spends no time in oak or not long enough to be a Crianza, seemingly this wine does spend a little time in American oak but it is not massively obvious, just adding a little softness and cohesion to the palate. I enjoyed the wine very much, it was smooth with good fruit and was a delicious easy drink. It was not complex though, its delights were straightforward, so I would award it 85/100 points for sheer pleasure.
Anyway, I took the remains of the bottle home, but once I got there I really didn’t feel like wine and succumbed to the joys of a beer instead. So, what to do with the open bottle of wine? The red Monopole comes in a screwcap bottle and as these seem to keep opened whites in pretty good condition in the fridge, I simply bunged it in the refrigerator and forgot about it – alright, I had four beers.
The next day I was just putting my humble dinner of grilled chicken breast and salad on the table when I remembered that bottle of wine. I had meant to take it out of the fridge to let it warm up a little, but gave it a taste anyway as I was not in the mood to open another bottle – who knows, I might have drunk it.
Surely you can see where this is going? The very cold Tempranillo was wonderful, really lovely to drink. It wasn’t lightly chilled it was very cold – white wine cold. Cold white wine cold at that. It seemed though that the chilling had softened the tannins and really brought out the bright fruit much more and made the whole thing seem more silky and pleasurable. Oh and it was refreshing too.
Now this seems counterintuitive as chilling is supposed to emphasise the tannins, but I can only report what happened, the fruit seemed much fresher which together with the chilling made the wine feel more lively, bright and downright pleasurable. In fact CVNE’s rather excellent Crianza is also lovely when chilled, so I assume that others will be too.
Around £7.50 a bottle in the UK from Wine Rack.
I found that a really interesting experience and was astonished by how chilling suited this wine and filed it away as information to share. That it isn’t only very light, fruity reds like Beaujolais and Valpolicella that can be lightly chilled, but medium-bodied Riojas can be chilled too – and not just lightly either.
Then a few days later, before I had a chance to do anything with the thought I tasted something else:
Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León
At first glance I was excited by this wine – hell it had my initials on the label! – but then I saw that it was just a Vino de la Tierra, which is like the equivalent of a French Vin de Pays. Well, when I tasted it I quickly realised that it wasn’t just an anything. In fact although it is classified as an ordinary wine, there is nothing ordinary about it.
Firstly it is a single estate planted from scratch on a ridge of high land at 2,500-2750 feet. Everything is biodynamic and organic and the vineyards slope down to the Duero River near Sardón de Duero. However as it is outside the Ribera del Duero D.O.C it can only be a country wine, but at 8 km west of the Dominio de Pingus it is only just outside. Pingus is one of the most famous wineries of the area which makes some of Spain’s most sought after wines and both estate’s are run by the great Peter Sisseck.
QS is a blend of 52% Tinto Fino (the local clone of Tempranillo), 9% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. It is fermented using natural yeast and it was aged for 16 months in French oak – 50% new. Rather excitingly they also use cement eggs for some of their other wines. The alcohol was 15% which put me off a little, I worried that it was going to be one of those big over-oaked over-extracted wines aimed at winning medals and the American market.
Then I tasted it and the wine is quite simply enormous, even at 5 years old the oak totally dominated it and the alcohol was making its presence known as well in a slightly hot way, however it was a hot day and wondering if this was having an effect I put it in the fridge for 45 minutes.
Wouldn’t you know it, this worked wonders. The wine emerged with enhanced fruit and an elegant texture that was dominated by fine tannins and rich cocoa-like oak, but it was all elegant and fine, as well as concentrated. The light chilling had taken off the extreme richness and lightened it a little, which seemed to lift the fruit, making it very drinkable, beautifully balanced and poised – a glimpse of what it might be like in 5 years time or so?
At room temperature I found it impressive, but at this stage of its development it was too much. Lightly chilled though I would happily award this wine 92/100 points as it really was fabulous with elegance and finesse.
Around £30 a bottle in the UK, distributed by Moreno Wines.
So, there you are if you fancy being radical, even some of the very best red wines can be improved by being served a little cooler.
Water for Thought
One further thought if big, high extraction wines with lots of alcohol are not really your thing; I have a friend in the wine trade who decants all his wines and for those very high alcohol ones he puts an inch of water in the decanter first. He assures me that it really improves them. Seemingly it lifts the fruit and gives them balance they otherwise lack by reducing the alcohol a little and removing that overly-gloopy feel (my words not his) and people even remark how well the wines show.
Got to go, I left the tap running…