When it comes to an enjoyable wine-drinking experience, temperature plays an essential role. While common knowledge informs us that white wines should be served slightly chilled and reds closer to room temperature, getting them to the right temp can be difficult — especially when time is limited.
If you’re trying to warm a bottle of chilled red wine in a pinch — because the temperature in your house or cellar is too low, for example — you might be tempted to try something crazy, such as placing it on the radiator. While the method is less aggressive than alternatives, like warming in a microwave or in a saucepan, can doing so be more harmful than helpful to the eventual contents of your glass? To learn more, VinePair spoke with New York-based Sarah Tracey, sommelier and founder of wine consulting business The Lush Life.
Tracey explains that temperature is one of the most critical factors affecting red wine. “Colder temperatures can restrain the flavors and dull the character of the wine too much, making its nuances difficult to taste,” she says. Although long-term refrigerator storage is not ideal, a refrigerator is not an uncommon place to store a previously opened bottle of red wine.
Without a doubt, a bottle fresh out of the fridge needs time to warm up for an enjoyable glass. But placing it on a radiator? “I would not recommend this method to warm a bottle of red wine,” Tracey says. As she explains, wine does not respond well to being rapidly flashed with bursts of heat. “In the industry, we call it ‘madeirized,’ a term referring to a process that involves the heating and oxidization of a wine,” she says. This can give the wine a cooked taste, leaving it flat, syrupy, and give it a smell reminiscent of soy sauce.
But that’s not the worst of it. “Heating can even cause a wine to start fermenting again — making it fizzy and unpleasant to drink,” Tracey says.
If you are short on time there are a few more effective ways to quickly warm up a chilled bottle of red wine. Similar to the ice bath method for chilling, you can submerge the bottle in a bucket of warm water. This will gently bring the temperature up without shocking the wine. Tracey also suggests wrapping the bottle in a dish towel soaked in warm water, or simply pouring the wine into a glass and holding it between your hands to warm it with your body heat. “This way you can take a sip every few minutes and appreciate the way the wine is evolving as the temperature changes,” Tracey says.