With the weather forecast calling for more sweltering temps this week, maybe it is time to rethink our wine-drinking habits when it comes to summertime reds.
Unless they have an automated wine cooler, Americans are known for serving white wines too cold and red wines too warm.
Our refrigerators and central air and heating systems may be efficient at cooling down rooms and warming them up, but when someone says "red wines should be served at room temperature," they probably aren't talking about your rooms.
I keep my wines in the "wine cellar," formerly a coal bin used during the house's earlier years, which keeps the bottle a bit cooler than upstairs and most importantly prevents rapid changes in temperature.
But even in the summer, and especially during heat spells when it is 95–plus every day, even the peeling cement walls and a chugging swamp cooler can't do enough.
Summer heat can do weird things to our wines, none of them good for the wine or for our enjoyment of them. Besides losing the freshness, aromas and fruit/palate flavors, a warm wine also emphasizes the alcohol and tannins.
"It is quite difficult to drink a warm red wine when it is 100 degrees outside," agreed Jenne Baldwin-Eaton, formerly the award-winning winemaker at Plum Creek Cellars and now the technical instructor of viticulture and enology at Western Colorado Community College.
Baldwin-Eaton cautioned that a too-warm wine not only emphasizes the tannins and the alcoholic bite, but also "you have the higher overall alcohol percentage typical with a red wine, which can affect you more quickly in the heat."
All these factors convince many people to quit drinking reds during the summer, but red wines served at the right temperature pair marvelously with a summer barbecue outing and many other favorite summer foods.
"We are big believers in chilled reds," said Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery. "Too many folks are leaving reds at 'room temperature,' which tends to be 75 degrees or so these days. I like to drink them at about 60-65."
Janes said she prefers the lower end of the range "on hot days, particularly if I will be taking it outside."
Almost every winemaker in the valley and anyone who has attended Colorado Mountain Winefest knows how heat affects the way you perceive red wines.
Winefest ice sales jump when the sun comes out and the temperature rises as winemakers bury their bottles in ice in an effort to reduce the effects of higher temperatures.
Curiously, it's the "outside life" that first introduced many wine drinkers to the delights of chilled reds.
Box wines, really a take-off of a Bota bag with a solid frame, were only radical in the sense they changed how you carry wine on a raft trip where glass is strictly forbidden.
But that box is cumbersome; take that wine bladder out of the box and lay the wine packet in the cooler. At the end of the day, a chilled glass of wine is welcome.
Also, the travelers among us will recall the pleasure of sipping local red wines served slightly chilled in squat glasses (or more often jars) in Mediterranean cafes and bodegas.
"We're talking slightly chilled vs. filling the glass with ice cubes," Baldwin-Eaton said with a laugh. "This works best with younger, fruitier, lower-alcohol red wines.
So how chilled is properly chilled?
Several sources I found recommended 55-60 degrees, which is close to what "room temperature" was before modern conveniences and well below the 68–72 degrees where today's living spaces (and the wines in them) are kept.
A few suggestions for chilling a wine include:
■ Place the bottle in the refrigerator for 15–20 minutes — set your phone timer to remind you — before opening. For whites that are too cold, take them out 15–20 minutes before serving.
■ Put the bottle in an ice bucket (or any bucket with ice) for 10 minutes or so, occasionally sipping at it to monitor the temperature. This also helps keep the wine cool as it is on the picnic table.
■ Seen on a river trip: If you don't have wine in a bladder, pour the wine into a clean, well-sealing plastic baggie, swirl the wine baggie in an ice bath for four to five minutes and enjoy.
■ Use a sleeve. I have a terra-cotta sleeve useful for either red or white wines.
■ You can place the bottle in the freezer, but don't forget it.
Of course, if all this seems like too much trouble, Baldwin-Eaton has another suggestion: drink rosé.
"If you're looking for something refreshing, I typically go with a nice dry rosé," she said.
She points out that rosés typically have less tannin and lower alcohol percentage, which makes them ideal for summer sipping.
But that's an entire other column, isn't it?