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Why do restaurants serve red warm wine? Clueless or Cynical

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It's flabbergasting how many restaurants serve warm red wine by the glass and bottle, starting with those establishments belonging to 'America's leading Restauranteur. Red wines, even good ones won't taste well at 72 or more degrees. Countless restaurants with excellent food don't care about their wine programs. These days, with so much wine awareness, a restauranteur has to be clueless or cynical not to serve all their red wines at 52 degrees whether it's by the glass, at $40 a bottle or at $4,000 a bottle. And same for the whites at 52 degrees. Are customers that dumb? Once I asked the sommelier at Gramercy Tavern why there were so many bottles of red wine stored behind the bar and was told when the restaurant was built they did not put in enough storage. Well, renovate, take out a few tables and provide your customers with wines to drink at the proper temperature. Why do diners put up with warm reds and too cold whites?

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  1. I have no idea who "America's leading restauranteur" might be, but as with many of these kinds of posts, hyperbole is uncalled for.

    Are there some restaurants with poor wine service? Absolutely! Is one of the biggest issues temperature? Sure. But is it "countless restaurants"? Not in my experience. Are the red wines served at 72 degrees F.? Not in my experience.

    The personal at Gramercy Tavern who told you they didn't have enough storage space probably told you the truth. Your response to "renovate" is unrealistic on so many levels . . .

    If you don't like the way they handle their wine program, why tell us*? Why not tell them? Why not refuse to order wines from restaurants which "treat" their wines in the way you describe, and tell them why you didn't order off their list?

    __________
    * Telling us is fine, if you also tell the restaurants; complaining about it here, but taking no further action, is simply venting-and-acquiescing to the situation.

    1 Reply
    1. re: zin1953

      Jason,

      I understand your points, but too often see highly-rated restaurants that constantly offer reds too warm, and whites (certain whites) too cold. Once, I never encountered this is the UK, or Europe, but it seems that things have changed. As mentioned above, it might be because they know that I am from the US, but I now have to give instructions, even when there are several Michelin stars after the restaurant's name. That was once (in my experiences) not how things were done. Same for decanting/caraffing a younger Montrachet - that was always done, but now I find that I need to ask for it.

      Along those same lines, the choice of stemware is getting very lax, on several continents, where it was not an issue, say 10 years ago, but that is fodder for another topic.

      Hunt

    2. I once had a restaurateur of a mid-level restaurant in SF tell me that to take out 1 table in his dining room was the equivalent of losing $25,000 a year in sales. That's an unacceptable pill to swallow when margins are already razor thin.

      When 90% (my not-researched percentage) of the dining public would probably not notice or care that their red is too warm, it's easy to see why ownership makes that decision. If you don't like it, go somewhere else.

      12 Replies
      1. re: plaidbowtie

        Well, that was my thought . . .

        1. re: zin1953

          Glad we are on the same page then! ;)

        2. re: plaidbowtie

          <<If you don't like it, go somewhere else.>>

          Nah, just ask that the wine be chilled for five minutes.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Yes, but if it has been kept at too warm a temperature after opening, it will oxidize faster, so will be substandard.

            1. re: GH1618

              Are you referring to bottles kept behind the bar, or uncorked bottles brought to the table?

              In the former, asking for a new pour from a fresh bottle is a standard request. In the latter, the ice bucket works.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                When you order a bottle, it's not a problem. I'm a by-the-glass customer, usually. I would never ask for a glass from a fresh bottle. I just take what they serve me. Only rarely have I thought a glass bad, but I did once recently. It was the last pour, and the bartender poured another.

              2. re: GH1618

                I send back wines I've ordered by the glass all the time because the bottle's been open too long, and it's as much or more of a problem with whites that have been kept in the refrigerator as with reds that were at room temperature.

              3. re: maria lorraine

                Yep.

                That too often offered ice bucket for a white wine, that is already too cold, should be used for the red. Simple, though few will request it.

                Hunt

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I just ask for ice cubes on the side. It doesn't dilute the wine enough to matter and it gives me more control than a bucket.

                2. re: plaidbowtie

                  In those instances, the restaurant should then offer, or not be offended by the request, for an ice bucket for a red wine.

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Is there a restaurant that takes outward offense to that request? Which one?

                    1. re: plaidbowtie

                      I have never had that request refused, though there have been a few "raised eyebrows." I just ignore those, as I do not like my red wines at 75-80F.

                      I get about as many raised eyebrows, when I ask that a younger, big white Burg be decanted/caraffed, when in the US. This is standard practice in much of the UK/Europe.

                      Hunt

                3. Um - I don't think you should serve red wine at the same temperature as white

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: kagemusha49

                    Sparkling Shiraz??? ;^)

                    1. re: zin1953

                      OK - I'll give you that one.

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Is that the same thing as cold duck?

                        1. re: GH1618

                          I was wondering the same thing - but probably not

                          1. re: GH1618

                            No.

                        2. re: kagemusha49

                          Actually, I feel that it depends on the wine.

                          With bigger whites, I usually bring them out at cellar temp - 55F, and the same for my reds. The reds usually need a little time, but decanting, and then pouring, plus a few moments, will usually take care of that.

                          I find that I end up cupping my hands on the glass of most whites, that come out at about 45F. Another reason that I request larger bowls for most of my whites - the bigger the white, the bigger the bowl.

                          The very cold white wine concept comes from "house white wines," where the cold temps occlude the taste of the wine. With most "house whites," maybe that is a good thing. With, say a Montrachet, or an Hermitage Blanc, that is NOT a good thing.

                          Just my preferences.

                          Hunt

                        3. Yes, my mistake - reds at 62 degrees and whites at 52.

                          1. It's an economic decision. To do it properly, they need two coolers — more room and more expense. A better restaurant should, but most ordinary places will not.

                            Remove tables? It is a simple economic decision. If the tables are being filled, and the wine is being sold, there is an economic disincentive to change.

                            As for the customers, perhaps they are clueless, but it's possible they drink more white wine in hot weather. That's what I do.

                            1. Once upon a time, a phrase was coined, "red wines served at room temp." However, that was in Europe, where "room temp" was somewhere around 65F. Now, with "room temp" around 75F, or higher, that no longer applies. Too many have never figured that out, and will even store their red wines above a stove, serving it up to about 90F, thinking that such a temp constitutes "room temp." It does not.

                              I also find that too many, otherwise nice restaurants, that should know better, will serve their bigger white wines far, far too cool. My usual comment is "if it's at 'cellar temp,' then it will NOT need ice." I actually request a bucket of ice, for more reds, than my whites. The ice bucket has even become common in the UK and Europe, but maybe because they know that I am an American, so just assume that I want my Montrachet at 45F?

                              The serving temp of my wines is very important to me - both reds and whites. I feel that too many restaurants just do not get it.

                              Hunt

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                I too request ice buckets far more ofter for red wine than for white. Unfortunately many restaurants store their red wines at room temperature which in southern CA where we live is often in the mid-70's. Ten minutes in an ice bucket does wonders for these overly warm red wines. As an aside, I was in a French restaurant in Carmel, CA (indeed a restaurant which prides itself on having an extensive wine list) when we were served a lighter burgundy which was very warm...probably 85 degrees. The sommelier belittled me in front of my guests when I asked for an ice bucket to bring the wine down about 20 degrees to a more drinkable 65 degrees or so. He loudly "educated" me that "knowledgeable diners do not ever chill red wine". Needless to say that I subsequently "educated" him that very rude sommeliers do not ever get tipped by me!

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  Just proof that a sommelier doesn't always know what he/she is talking about. OR........ have the brains to never talk down to a guest!!!

                                  I had a guest, just yesterday, ask for a slice of lemon to cleanse his palate before tasting. While I know that lemon is a good palate cleanser, I would think the acidity of a full 'suck' on a lemon would tweak the palate severely for a good while. This request, by the way, followed a statement about how well wine-educated he was.

                                  More to the point of this topic........... I brought him his lemon with no comment. ;o]]]]

                                  1. re: Midlife

                                    Midlife,

                                    I am firmly with you. Though I love lemon (and other fruits/veggies) in my water, I eschew it, when drinking wine. I will ask that no fruit, or other, be placed in our water - I want it very plain.

                                    When wanting to "cleanse" my palate, I want unsalted soda crackers (amazes me how sweet a wine can taste, after not too much salt), very plain bread (though I love Sourdough, it can even be a bit much, and please, no herbed-bread), an plain water. Maybe that's just me?

                                    Hunt

                                  2. re: josephnl

                                    Yes, some sommeliers have very much to learn, and that extends from customer service to serving temps for wine.

                                    Given your description, I might have questioned the bottle, asking "hey, don't you think that this is Maderized, from improper storage?" That should have gotten his/her attention.

                                    Got to love it.

                                    Hunt

                                2. They are missing a sales opportunity. "If you'd like a bottle of (insert dry white or sparkler) with some (insert appropriate first course), we can decant a bottle of (insert red) and bring it to cellar temperature in time for your (insert entree)..."

                                  We always open a red, sometimes decant, and give it time in the fridge to get to sixty or so.