We’ve had temperatures in the 80s in DC and people are acting all summer-y. Of course the 90+ degree temperatures (and humidity and mosquitoes) aren’t here yet, but it got us thinking about wine and summer. Especially red wine and summer.
We’ve got some die-hard red drinking customers who don’t hesitate to drink full-bodied red wine – outside – on days that send others to hide in the air conditioning. But for most people, summer wine drinking shifts to whites and rosés, or to beer when you’ve got grilled meats that would overpower those wines. You don’t have to put the reds in the cellar, though. The key to drinking red wine with summer foods is to choose a light- to medium-bodied red, and to serve it just a little chilled.
Chilling red wine goes against everything we’ve been taught – like talking with your mouth full and making noises while you eat. “Room Temperature for Reds” is a mantra we’ve heard since, well, as long as we can remember. (I’m pretty sure I saw it in those Dick and Jane readers from first grade.) But even in winter, most “room temperatures” are warmer than optimal for red wine, unless you like wearing a hat and gloves indoors. And you don’t look to wine, even whites and rosés, to quench your thirst and cool you off in summer, either. (If you do, be sure not to drive, because you’ll have had too much!) The great thing is, the ideal temperature for red wine is cool enough to feel a little refreshing in hot weather.
Most red wines achieve their best flavor/acidity/tannin balance at 60 to 64 degrees F. Too warm and you lose the acidity, too cold and you lose the fruity and earthy flavors. While you can go up to about 70 degrees F and perhaps not notice a difference, any higher and the wine may actually start to taste a tiny bit sweet. You’ll also lose some of the flavor components through evaporation.
The other great thing about chilling red wine is that for light- to medium-bodied reds, the time it takes to chill them to the ideal serving temperature is the amount of time it takes to let the tannins soften. So if you have room in your fridge to stand the bottle upright, go ahead and open the bottle and put the wine in the fridge for 20 – 30 minutes. If you don’t have the room, or if your fridge smells, shall we say, less than ideal, you can put the wine in an ice bucket (without the ice) and pour cold tap water around it.
Once the wine is chilled, you can keep it in one of those double-walled acrylic wine “chillers,” which don’t chill the wine, but help keep it at the temperature it was when you put it in there, at least for an hour or so. Or leave it in the bucket of water.
[Don’t hesitate to drink your red wine a little chilled in restaurants, either. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone to restaurants that serve red wine that’s practically warm to the touch, especially if it’s by the glass. Ask for an ice bucket and put the bottle in. Twirl the bottle every few minutes to help cool the wine more quickly.]
For serving, definitely use a wine glass with a stem. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or one of those precisely-paired-to-the-wine glasses. Tumblers and stemless glasses are festively informal, but holding the glass by the stem near the base keeps your warm hand away from the wine. And cheap glasses may even be better – from a thermodynamic point of view, the thicker the glass, the better insulating it is, so it might keep the wine at temperature better than something thin and delicate.
So chill-er-up, and serve the wine with grilled chicken, salmon, or meat – or this week’s tuna dish. Cy and I don’t have a grill, so we do indoor cooking all summer. It’s great to have recipes that don’t require much stove time. This recipe, inspired by one in Evan Kleiman’s cookbook Mare, was originally meant to be served hot, but we like it just a little warm. The thing that makes it easy is that you set the fish in the hot sauce, turn off the heat, and let everything sit. By the time the dish is at or close to room temperature, the fish is perfectly cooked and you’re ready to eat. (It gives you time to chill the wine and make the salad, too.) Individually-wrapped frozen tuna steaks (thawed before cooking, of course) work beautifully. (Be sure to check the Marine Stewardship Council’s recommendations before you buy.) The original recipe called for pancetta or bacon, but I’ve added smoked paprika to give a little of that flavor without the heaviness. If you’re making this in the height of summer, use 8 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped up, but I’ve only made it with canned. The acidity in the tomatoes helps the fish pair well with the red wine, so don’t worry about a clash of flavors.
You could serve the dish with any of first vine’s everyday reds, but I particularly recommend Domaine Fond Croze Cuvée Confidence 2007. Tuna can take a bit more flavor, and this wine has it. I promise you, you won’t miss the white wine at all!
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon smoked mild paprika (pimentón de la vera dulce)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can Italian crushed tomatoes (without added puree)
2 cups frozen peas (no need to defrost)
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 tuna fillets, about an inch thick (6 oz or so each)
In a large skillet (big enough to hold all the tuna in a single layer), heat the olive oil and sauté the onion with a little salt and pepper until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the red pepper, the paprika, and rosemary, and cook for another 30 seconds. Then add the wine and stir to incorporate anything stuck to the bottom. Add the tomatoes and peas, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Gently set the tuna fillets in the hot sauce, turning to coat them, and then cover the pan and let them sit for five minutes. Uncover, and allow to cool, turning and basting the fish occasionally until the dish is just barely warm.