I was at a small in-store tasting last week when the manager enthusiastically pulled a wine from the shelves, opened the bottle and poured some into a cup.
It was a white wine. It was at room temperature. And it was delicious.
My wife enjoyed it just as much and later wondered if the wine, a WJ Meek Sauvignon Blanc, would be as tasty chilled. I was not nearly smart enough to have the answer. (We learned later that it is splendid when chilled.)
It was the latest of many reminders of how often we consume wines at less-than-optimal temperatures, whites too cold and reds too warm. In restaurants, it's often necessary to cup one's hands beneath the bowl to help bring a white wine to a reasonable level. These frigid wines often have no aromas and little flavor.
Meanwhile, many reds, particularly at this time of year, do not show as well at room temperature. They're also less aromatic, and the alcohol can come to the fore when they are served warm.
Basically, all wine should be chilled, but not too much, and served between 43 degrees (sweet or crisp whites, bubbles) and 65 degrees (hearty reds). Richer whites (chardonnay) and lighter reds (pinot noir, gamay, cabernet franc) fall in between. For a useful guide, go to www.startribune.com/a1429.
That's where an ice bucket comes in handy. Except when it doesn't. Use one -- with a good bit of water in it -- at home to chill reds to proper temp or to keep whites, rosés and sparklers where they should be. But in a restaurant, politely demur the almost-automatic offer: An ice bucket often makes an already overchilled wine even colder, and you can always request one if your bottle starts getting too warm. Or if you're drinking a light red.
In an ideal world, all restaurants would have a system like the new one at Broder's Pasta Bar. The system, from the Dutch company By the Glass, keeps 20 bottles frosty, and argon infusion keeps the wines fresh for several weeks. The result: an all-Italian by-the-glass program that rivals any in the country, with 3- or 6-ounce pours for a whopping 41 wines.
Not only does the cooler keep the wines at an appropriate temperature (49 degrees for whites, 58 for reds), but the preservation system means that more esoteric, less sought-after wines can be opened and still last for three to four weeks.
"The really popular ones that we go through so fast, the pinot grigios and Chiantis, are not in there," manager/wine buyer Charlie Broder said. In the cooler, he added, "are wines that are not taking us to the bank. But they help us broaden the perspective on Italian wines."
Having this setup has enabled Broder to carry such gems as the lush but clean Strasserhof Kerner, a stunning non-Tuscan sangiovese (Villa Simone Ferro e Seta) and the best barbera (Giacomo Conterno Barbera d'Alba) and nero d'Avola (Occhipinti Siccagno) I've ever tasted.
Oh, and 16 of the 20 wines being refrigerated are red.
Not every restaurant can make such a commitment, but many others, including Scusi in St. Paul and T-Box in Ham Lake, have done so. What every eatery, and those of us at home, can do is put a little less chill on the whites and a bit more on the reds.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org