While standing patiently in the check-out queue clutching my bottle of KWV 10 Year Old, I thought ruefully how lucky spirits drinkers are compared with those committed to the possibly subtler pleasures of wine. For my R160, I’d be getting a brandy more outstanding of its type and a better bargain than most wines at the price. Moreover, it would take much longer to empty the bottle. Months would be no problem – by which time a wine would long since have oxidised into undrinkability.
But wine’s the thing for some of us. Including the man in front of me complaining about the three-litre box of semi-sweet rosé he’d heaved onto the counter. (I practised feeling understanding and tolerant, hoping that the ladder theory was valid and that he’d soon move onwards and upwards to the greater joys of vinous life.)
The man’s complaint was not about the wine’s quality but it’s warmness. “We don’t keep the big boxes in the fridge” said the bored cashier, but as this was precisely the customer’s point it didn’t help. He eventually elected to take his box rather than swop it for three chilly but pricier litre bottles and left imagining, no doubt, ice-cubes tinkling in pink-filled glasses.
Of course, the man was right – about the need for coolness, if not necessarily the duty of the shop to provide wine at drinking temperature. What does semi-sweet rosé taste like if it’s not knocked on the head by coldness? I shudder to think.
I’ve sententiously advised before, and will no doubt do so again (no later than next summer, I suspect) that the most crucial thing for hot-country wine-drinkers to watch out for is the temperature of their more-or-less expensive tipple. We tend to over-chill our white wines (stripping them of much of their aroma and flavour), while reds at much-cited “room temperature” tend to be volatile, thin and without refreshment, unless the room in question is handsomely air-conditioned.
The problem with reds – and we all want the occasional red in summer – is the more serious one, as a near-frozen white will at least lose some of its froideur once poured. No red should ever, really, be served at more than about 18 degrees. In summer this means putting it in the fridge for 30 or 40 minutes beforehand. Or an ice-bucket – and don’t hesitate to ask for one of those for your red wine in a restaurant, if needed.
Powerful, tannic, oaked reds will not react well to being made too cold, however, becoming sluggish and thuggish. Cabernet is seldom a wise choice for a summer picnic. The best reds for cooling are lighter, more modest ones. Pinot noir, often, unless it’s very ambitious (the Two Oceans version would be dead right, if not profound). Or anything lowish in alcohol and unwooded: like the Lam reds from Lammershoek, refreshingly perfect with a chilly edge on them.
In fact, for reds, the closer they become to rosé the better for cooling. And if you go all the way in that direction, and semi-sweets don’t appeal, there are some delightful ones out there. Lam again, for example, but I know none more recommendable than Mount Abora Safronne Blanc de Noir (made from cinsaut), if you can find it – light, elegantly flavourful, zippily fresh. A perfect match for summer.
FIrst published in Mail & Guardian, 25 January – 1 February 2013