Sunshine in a glass
Summer is almost upon us--if you live in the south, you're already trying to stay out of the heat and quench that thirst, but even in the cooler North the days are getting longer--and hotter. Most people beat the heat with nicely chilled white wines, or rosé, which took off like a rocket in the last few years, but there's another wine that bears up well to chilling, and that's red.
Almost all wine books and guidelines will tell you to serve your reds at 'cellar temperature', which is 55-60°F. That's because the tannins in a really bold red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Nebbiolo (wines we associate with long finishes, age-worthiness and almost always, money) work best in that temperature range--too hot and the wine seems flabby, and too cold and all you get is puckery tannins and a numb character.
But wines that emphasize fruit rather than gripping tannin respond to chilling really well: Carménère, Merlot, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir are balanced towards an open fruitiness, and chilling them stiffens the tannins just a little and shows off a fruity juiciness that lets them not only refresh your mussed and sticky palate, but also pair up well with summer foods. Red wine can be the perfect chilled drink to beat the heat!
It's healthy, like fruit salad
If you're not completely convinced this is a good idea, just think of it as Sangria, minus the chopped fruit and the marinating time.
How to Chill
Your best bet is to plan ahead and put your red wine in the door of the fridge for a half-hour to 45 minutes. Most home refrigerators are set to 40°F, and an hour in one will get the wine right to that temperature. While there's nothing wrong with drinking it that cold (Vandergrift's 5th Law of Winemaking: Any wine you want to drink, any way you want to drink it, is exactly the right wine) a little bit warmer, around 45-50°F will make it refreshing but not too icy.
Ice Ice Bucket
Speaking of icy, another altogether faster way to chill your red wine is in an ice-bucket. Pop your bottle in, half-fill the bucket with ice and top with cold water and in 15-20 minutes your wine will be chilly and perfect .
Funny how a picture can make you instantly thirsty . . .
(Pro Tip: I ask for an ice bucket for my red in restaurants all the time. Only really fancy places keep their reds even at cellar temperature, so it's usually room temp, about 70-75F, way too warm. They may look at you funny, but it's a great way to get the most out of a bottle, and see Rule #5 above.)
If you're having fun and forget the wine in the bucket for longer than 20 minutes, don't despair: just leave it out for 20 minutes and it will warm up--pour a couple of glasses and they'll warm faster on their own. Just be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight if you're outdoors (the UV radiation isn't great for the flavor) and cover it with a coaster or something similar to keep out our natural enemy, the Fruit Fly.
Ice Ice Cubes?
I'll cut to the chase: of course you can pour your delicious fruity red wine over ice. It isn't low-class, it isn't blasphemy, and above all, it's your wine to drink as pleases you. One of my favorite gardening pleasures is to throw a handful of ice cubes in my (handy, beautiful, desirable) Master Vintner canteen and top it up with red wine.
Seriously, the thing is engineered like a Swiss watch.
Double-walled, triple-insulated and made of stainless steel, the Master Vintner canteen keeps cold things cold for in excess of 24 hours, something I had tested in a lab because I'll never have any beverage last that long. After an hour of weeding and shoveling nothing perks up a sweaty garden serf like a refreshing, slightly diluted, ice-cold belt of red wine. I can easily get another two hours of work out of myself when I remember to bring it out to the potato patch.
If you really don't want to dilute your wine but want to chill it quickly, remember the grape trick: wash and carefully freeze a number of de-stemmed grapes. Pop a handful into your glass and your wine will not only be cool, but you'll have a delicious snack as you drink!
Keeping Your Cool Cool
If you're out in real heat, the kind that melts sidewalks and causes the delicate flowers from the rainforests to blanch and look around for fire, you need to think of using some kind of insulated serving vessel or drinking cups. The aforementioned Master Vintner canteen (did I mention how much I love that thing?) is wonderfully perfect for two people to share, but at 16 ounces you'll either need two of them or some larger device for a party on the patio.
Comes with convenient pouring spout
You could grab a thermos. They work as well for cold beverages as for hot, but if it's been used for coffee or tea be sure to clean it thoroughly with a good winemaking cleaner to keep your Mexican Roast out of your Merlot. Or you could switch up to one of the very clever insulated 'growlers' that brewers use to cart around beer. At 64 ounces they hold 2-1/2 bottles of wine, so you'll need a crowd to get through it all, but for a block party or a pool bash they do a fantastic job. Just be sure to label them so your party goers who prefer IPA don't get a surprise Pinot Noir!
What to Serve With Your Frosty Red
Almost all great summer food will do, and because we like grilling outdoors in season, steak, burgers or barbecue will all pair great with red wine. However, if I can put foward a guility pleasure, there's something sublimely satisfying about a well-chilled Pinot Noir and a hot dog sizzling off the grill. It might be because it feels a little transgressive to be hooking up the Heartbreak Grape with the food of the common man, but it's mostly because frankfurters have the right combination of fat, salt and spices to cozen up to a fruity and restrained Pinot.
Another great pleasure with chilled reds is mixed salted nuts. The fat content of the nuts is a squared-up match for the tannins and the salt and the fruit chase each other across your palate like puppies on a lawn. You could buy your nuts ready-to-eat, but for any summer day, making your own only takes a few steps and makes a delicious snack on the patio, by the pool or chilling on the porch.
Almonds, the one perfect nut
This is my favorite recipe, taken from Serious Eats
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large egg white
- 4 cups whole raw skin-on almonds (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- Preheat oven to 300°F, position rack in middle position, and grease a rimmed baking sheet with oil or nonstick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, salt, paprika, cayenne, Old Bay, and black pepper.
- In a large bowl, lightly beat egg white until slightly foamy. Stir in spiced sugar until a smooth batter forms (it will start out looking dry but will loosen as you stir).
- Fold in almonds until evenly coated. Spread glazed almonds in a single even layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake until nuts are lightly toasted, about 25 minutes.
- Let cool, stirring nuts every few minutes to prevent sticking. Once cool, break up any remaining clumps and serve. Nuts can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.