Taste: Spirits: Red, Hot

Why a few little degrees are standing between you and the perfect sip

“Ellen’s fanatical about 65 degrees,” my bartender at Fork said, handing me my $12 glass of barbera. He was referring to Ellen Yin, Fork’s owner, who insists that every red wine sold by the glass at her restaurant be served at proper drinking temperature. And according to the instant-read digital thermometer I’d borrowed from my kitchen for this wine-testing expedition, the wine was a near-perfect 63.8° Fahrenheit, a temperature that showed off its balance of fruit, aromatics and structure nicely.

It’s common knowledge that white wines should be served at cool temperatures, but red wines also benefit when served slightly chilled—right around 65°, as Yin prefers. But many restaurateurs don’t share her fanaticism: A surreptitious survey conducted with my trusty digital thermometer showed that even the most carefully selected and pricey reds by the glass at top-tier restaurants are served warmer than most pros prefer—that is, beyond the point at which the wines taste their best.  

At Amada, I drank a Ribera del Duero ($13) at 71.8°; at Amis, I sipped two wines: a Ca’ La Bionda valpolicella ($12) at 72.4°, and a rich Super Tuscan (also $12) at 71.8°. At Parc, I drank two: a Château Chabiran bordeaux ($12) at 75.8°, and a minervois from southern France ($11) at 75.3°. All these warmer wines had good fruit, but lacked balance—they seemed flabby and alcohol-heavy to me, which would have been remedied by a slight chill. Amis’s sister restaurant, Osteria, uses a temperature-controlled system for all its by-the-glass wines—why not here as well? Another spot that gets it right is Tria, the wine bar, where red wines are refrigerated to a precise 62° to 65°.

Still, the thermometer runs warm for red wines around the city more often than not, which means we’re missing out. Amada wouldn’t dream of serving its garlic shrimp at anything less than sizzling; Amis wouldn’t be content presenting lukewarm pasta con cacio e pepe. It would diminish the meal. Likewise, Philadelphia’s wine drinkers would be better served and get the value they are paying for if restaurants found ways to pour their red wines at cooler temperatures. Until then, I’ll just stick to trusty rosé, served recently outside at Parc on a beautiful spring day at a refreshing 45°.