By Susy Atkins
"Now that the warm weather has arrived, you may wish to drink your red wine at less than the ambient room temperature… If you would like us to chill any red wine for you during the summer months, please ask when ordering."
So reads the wine list at Ransome's Dock in Battersea, London, which keeps a rack of light reds chilling in the cooling cabinet. But how many other restaurants serve chilled red at this time of year?
Tradition dictates that whites are drunk cold, and rosé would be downright peculiar served warm. But cold reds? That's a stern test for the conventional at heart.
Yet many light, juicy reds taste much better after a short spell in the fridge, especially during balmy summer weather, and it's an idea that customers are beginning to pick up on. "I am really positive about this," says Martin Lam of Ransome's Dock. "Delicate reds can actually fall apart when it's eighty degrees outside. Chilling keeps them crisp and fruity."
And RSJ, a London restaurant that specialises in the wines of the Loire Valley, reports that diners are increasingly asking for chilled reds - especially bins from Burgundy and the Loire.
The sort of reds that suit chilling best are the soft, fruity, tangy ones. Forget sticking Cabernet Sauvignon in the fridge - it's too tannic and heavy. Likewise Zinfandel, Nebbiolo or Syrah/Shiraz. But youthful Pinot Noir, Gamay (Beaujolais), Cabernet Franc, Dolcetto or Grenache all make good candidates for the fridge.
Australia's curious Tarrango variety (an upfront, strawberryish version of Beaujolais) is especially fine when cold, as are some of the local red grapes from Portugal (try Periquita) or Austria (Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch). Adventurous customers may have the confidence to ask for them cold, while others may need persuading, perhaps with a quick taste.
But don't chill reds too hard - if the liquid is frosting up the glass the flavours and aromas may well be stunted. A slight lowering of temperature should suffice.
Then try matching the wines with food - it will come as no surprise to discover that cold reds match cold dishes particularly well. Alsace Pinot Noir with cold fresh salmon is an inspired match - try chilled reds with cold meats, cheese and salads as well.
In essence, think of chilled light red as robust rosé. It's a clever tool in the summer months, when many diners may automatically skip the red wine section of the list altogether. Give them a cold bottle, and they may well come back for more. n
For details on Beaujolais, Loire and Alsace reds, call Sopexa (UK), 0171-312 3636, fax: 0171-312 3600
Brown Brothers' Tarrango 1997, Victoria, Australia, about £60 per case excluding VAT: 01628 776446
Morris & Verdin have a selection of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy and California: 0171-357 8866
Georges Duboeuf's reds from Beaujolais, starting at £39.12 per case excluding VAT: Berkmann Wine Cellars 0171-609 4711
Lenz Moser Blaufrankisch 1995, Austria, £33.95 per six excluding VAT: Forth Wines 01577 862513
Tyrrell's Old Winery Pinot Noir 1996, Hunter Valley, Australia, £66.75 per case excluding VAT: Paragon Vintners 0171-887 1800.