I wasn’t just using “cooked wine” as a joke above — when wine is overheated and eventually goes bad because of it, it’s called a cooked wine — and it doesn’t take a lot to get there either. Wine sitting in temperatures over just 70 degrees for a significant amount of time can have their flavor permanently diminished and tainted. That’s not even room temperature! Leave your wine in 80 degree temperatures or above for even shorter amounts of time, and you’re quite literally cooking your wine.
So does heat really have that big of an impact on wine? If you’re talking about a bottle that costs $15 or less, sure, you’ll mostly just be left with the annoyance, but if you’re a more serious wine collector looking to preserve higher-end bottles, this is a big deal. If you taste a wine that’s been damaged by heat, it will taste unpleasantly sour and jammy — perhaps resembling canned prunes. Heat can also eventually lead to damaged and compromised wine enclosures, leading to oxidation of the wine.
The most common way people unintentionally overheat their wines? By leaving them in the car when they shouldn’t. Most people don’t think about their wine along the same lines as their refrigerated or frozen goods, but you should. Your car or trunk can reach well over 110 degrees — if not more — on the average summer day. Save your wine-purchasing errand until last, and if you’re traveling to multiple wineries, bring your earlier purchases in with you.
Sometimes your wine might be cooked before you even get to it, as you never know how your grocery store handles their wine. Think about this, too — even if a pallet of shrink-wrapped wine was left in the hot sun for just several minutes, the heat trapped inside the wrap and boxes can continue slow-cooking the wines inside for many hours. Shop for your good wines at stores you know have protected shipping docks. If you’re ordering wine online over the summer, take note of the retailer’s shipping policies. It’s not worth saving a few bucks for ground shipping if it’s just going to ruin your wine, and some retailers don’t ship wine until the weather cools.
Even your house may be too warm to properly store wine in the hot summer months. If you don’t have a wine cellar, you’re safer just keeping them in your refrigerator. Don’t keep wine near windows or on top of your refrigerator, as these are obvious areas your wine will likely overheat. The same goes for attics and garages, which are typically less temperature-controlled than the rest of the house.
Finally, you also want to prevent overheating your wine when you’re outside ready to serve and drink it. Always keep your white wines in a bucket of ice or refrigerator, and take your red wine bottles inside between pours. Many people don’t realize that the average wine bottle outdoors serves as a practical magnifying glass lens to the sun — super-heating the wine inside.
Everyone has their own idea on the proper temperature to serve wines. I prefer my white wines in the 55 degree range and the reds in the 60 degree range. Some people may urge serving the reds between 60 and 65 degrees, but neither recommendation is “room temperature,” especially here in El Paso. If you are serving reds that have been left at room temperature, I suggest refrigerating them for 20 minutes or so before serving. Temperature does matter! Salud!
Vic Poulos, owner Zin Valle Vineyards