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in the spirit july

Far be it from me to contradict Nancy Sinatra, but my “summer wine” is not necessarily made from strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring….although you’d probably have to have more than a few gray hairs on your head to get the reference, I suppose. And this is not to bash Arbor Mist at all, either, for that too makes for a very refreshing summer libation. For this piece though, I have in mind that pinot grigio or cabernet you might be enjoying on your porch on a hot day, and I’d like to address not so much wines that could be recommended to you for the hot weather, but rather HOW best you can enjoy the wines you’ve already chosen to drink.

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One topic that often concerns people is the temperature at which they like to drink their wine. And notice, I do NOT indicate what could be termed the “proper” temperature at which your wine should be served, because you are entitled to drink your wine at whatever temperature you prefer. And for many people in warm weather, that means you want your wine COLD! Now, to be fair, there is good reason behind the recommendations, for instance, to drink your red wines at slightly less than room temperature, your white wines cool and your sparkling wines colder. In general, temperature impacts what we smell and taste in wine, and even what we perceive as “mouthfeel”.  As temperature decreases, our perception of alcohol also decreases as does our perception of sweetness, but delicate aromas and flavors may also be more muted and the wine’s acidity is generally accentuated at lower temps. At warmer temperatures, wines may become “hotter” in our perception of alcohol, or even “boozy”, but also the volatile esters responsible for the characteristic aromas of the wine become more perceptible. Because acidity can seem “brighter” or more “crisp” at lower temperatures, it makes sense that we like our wines chilled, especially white wines in the summer, even if the recommended serving temperature of a full-bodied white is around 55 °F. Many people will put ice in their wine to achieve this, and this is fine, but the undesirable effect of this may be that you water down your wine. It could also be that you like this aspect of the ice, in which case you might try a wine “spritzer” as well, which can be a very refreshing beverage too. Assuming you might like the chilled effect without watering down your wine, there are other options. Of course, the simplest solution, and one we practice often in the restaurant business, is to keep your wine, whether white or red, in an ice bucket between refills. If you’re at home and you don’t have an ice bucket, you might just put your bottle in the freezer and when taken out, the wine will stay cold for quite a while, depending on the temperature outside, of course. However, it is best to do this about 30 minutes before consuming, as wine WILL freeze if left in the freezer for long periods of time, and this could burst the glass bottle. You can leave your vodka in the freezer, but not your wine! This is because vodka has a greater amount of alcohol (ethanol), which freezes at -173 °F, while wine has a larger proportion of water which freezes at 32 °F….that’s quite a difference in freezing points! However, related to this, an ingenious solution to keeping your wine very cold is to make ice cubes out of the very wine you are drinking! They will be somewhat slushy, but as the cubes dissolve….voila!….you have more wine! Of course, this would require that you have that “go to” wine you drink every day without fail, and while this is a popular option for many, others drink an assortment of wines on a regular basis. For these folks, I like to recommend you freeze small bunches of grapes you can pick up in your supermarket, and use the grapes the same way you would ice cubes. Again, you get the chilling effect without dilution.

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Another matter to consider when enjoying your wine in the summer is glassware. While good stemware is certainly worthy of your consideration when enjoying fine wine, and the contours and designs of the different glasses are meant to enhance your experience of such wine, it is not always practical in the summer, especially when outdoors, to carry your fine crystal goblet to the pool or the cabana. One option, of which I am very fond, is to go with a stemless wine glass, which are quite popular in the market these days. The base is often much wider than the foot of a stem and the whole unit is not top-heavy, as you would expect from a traditional glass. This makes for a more stable glass that can more securely stay put on a wobbly patio table or wicker end table. Some are even made of a little thicker glass that could possibly withstand the impact of slipping off a table onto the grass. I like the option because often the glasses have the appropriate shape that will still capture the wine’s aromas for maximum enjoyment. However, because you have to grab the bowl of the glass with your hand, you are more likely to heat the wine up quicker with your own body heat as a result. Of course, there are a myriad of options for stemware you could choose from for outdoor living, including disposable wine glasses, which are worry-free…especially in the presence of children…and make no mess for clean-up afterwards. Some even still retain a slight concave shape to them to capture aromas and they can be bought in bulk. But in the end, even if you want to pour your wine into a red solo cup full of ice and slurp it back by the pool in the presence of friends and family, as long as it helps you create your “happy” place, that’s all that matters. Stay quenched, my friends! | Find this column at

Brian McClure. Beverage Director at The Greenbrier.

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