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A quick administrative note: We're taking a brief pre-holiday break, so there'll be no edition of Wine Advisor Express tomorrow, and The 30 Second Wine Advisor will be distributed on Tuesday, a day later than usual.

Wine Advisor Express:
WHY aren't reds served cold?

Any time I hear someone say, "Do this because that's the way we do it," I have a naturally skeptical tendency to ask, "but, why?"

So when I caught myself on the verge of giving a reader a "just because" reply to a common wine question the other day, I decided it was time to put on the old lab coat and conduct a simple experiment.

The question was simple: "Why is red wine supposed to be served at room temperature?"

The stock answer is simple, too: "Because it tastes better that way."

But does it really? I couldn't recall the last time I tasted a cold red wine (other than Australian sparkling Shiraz, a unique product that grows on you if you let it). Could this possibly be one of those snob things, a tradition so enduring that people follow it unthinkingly, never daring to test the conventional wisdom?

A simple trial put the hypothesis to the test. Having a particularly good red wine lined up for tasting, I opened it before dinner. I poured two glasses, set one on the counter at room temperature and popped the second into the freezer. A half-hour later I had ice-cold wine in a frosted glass, ready for a side-by-side tasting.

It didn't take much tasting to conclude that the standard rule makes sense. Chilling seemed to kill all the wine's aroma and most of its flavor, leaving an ice-cold, thin and very acidic beverage that wasn't enjoyable at all. As it warmed in the glass, it gradually recovered, although even a slight "cellar temperature" chill still seemed to emphasize tangy acidity over the wine's good fruit and earthy character.

Now, why do WHITE wines seem to benefit from chilling, in contrast with reds? That's an experiment for another day!

Here's my tasting report on the wine of the day, the 1999 edition of one of my favorite Chateauneuf-du-Papes, a wine that - for me at least - justifies breaking my usual budget barriers.

La Vieux Donjon La Vieux Donjon 1999 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($25.99)
Inky dark ruby, almost black. Earthy black-fruit aromas and fragrant black pepper with a distinct edge of grilled meat, a quality that may not sound appealing but in this case adds pleasant earthy complexity. Full-bodied, tart and tannic, a big and "chewy" wine that's good with food but really needs cellar time. I understand that Wine Spectator magazine gave this wine a surprisingly low rating compared with the 1998, perhaps because the previous vintage was more fruity and easily accessible. I'll stick with my opinion, however, that this is a "classic" Chateauneuf, and frankly hope its lower rating keeps the price from escalating. U.S. Importer: Wines of France Inc., Mountainside, N.J.; Alain Junguenet Selections. (Dec. 12, 2001)

FOOD MATCH: A natural match with pan-grilled lamb chops covered with crushed black pepper.

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This is Wine Advisor Express, daily edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor, distributed Tuesdays through Fridays. For archives of previous articles, and to read more about wine, visit Wine Lovers' Page,

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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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