A matter of degree

I love Kermit Lynch, and I love the wines that he imports. His tastes seem to make almost a perfect match with my tastes, so when I spot a bottle with his logo on the back label, I’ll grab it if I can afford it.

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A lot of you apparently agree, as his Berkeley, California shop is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. He’s an author and a musician who’s published two wine books and five roots music CDs (yes, you can buy them at his shop), and his monthly newsletter is popular around the world.

Do I sound like a fan? I guess I am. But Kermit, buddy, you had me laughing with the wacky specificity of your advice on the back label of today’s featured wine, Clos la Coutale Cahors Malbec:

Serve at 63º F.

Really, Kermit? Really?

All right, I see what he’s getting at here. Good red wines taste better on the cool side of room temperature – but not too cold, just as quality whites taste better a little warmer than fresh from the fridge. In both cases, the wine benefits from avoiding extremes.

Cahors wines at Clos la Coutale, from the Kermit Lynch website.

Cahors wines at Clos la Coutale, from the Kermit Lynch website.

What’s more, there’s a relationship between the style of the wine and its ideal serving temperature. A lighter red like a Beaujolais might benefit from a deeper chill in the direction of 55ºF, the traditional setting for wine cellars. A richer, more intense wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy, much less this intense, black Cahors Malbec, shows best in the 60º-65º range; so Kermit is absolutely right in principle.

But I can’t help chuckling when I see advice as precise as a single optimal degree. Two obvious questions come up:

• First, how do you measure it? My oven thermometer and my fever thermometer don’t cover that range, and I don’t really want to drop an outdoor thermometer into my glass of wine.

• Second, even if you can nail the exact temperature, how long will it stay that way when you bring it out into the dining room and hold the glass in your warm hand?

So let’s try to set a more achievable goal. I poured a glass of Kermit’s Clos la Coutale and took a taste at room temperature, a cool 73º this chilly spring morning. Mmm, not bad. It hasn’t really changed in the few days since my tasting report: It’s rich, tasty, definitely on the rustic side with firm acidity and fuzzy tannins.

So I popped it in the fridge for 10 minutes, which I figured should be just long enough to drop it into the lower 60º range. I don’t know its exact temperature, and I don’t care, but I believe it was close to the target.

This much I can testify: It came out cool to the touch, and yes indeed, the brief cooling spell made it even better. It seemed more refined than it did at room temperature. More plummy and cranberry aromas emerged, and it became smoother and less harsh on the palate than when it was just a few degrees warmer. Really a remarkable change. And, in the relative cool of my office, it stayed that way long enough for me to finish the glass.

So here’s my advice: Don’t stress if a wine label or website suggests serving the wine at an exact temperature. But try cooling your red for a few minutes, or at the other end of the scale, letting your full-bodied white warm up a bit before serving. Taste and see. If you’re not happy with the results, you can always let it warm up again. But I think you’ll like it.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Clos la Coutale 2018 Cahors Malbec ($18.99)

Clos de Coutale Cahors Malbec

Clos la Coutale Cahors takes us back to the roots of Malbec, in a good way. Very dark purple to a thin garnet edge, it needs a little time to open up in the glass, whereupon it reveals enticing aromas of red plums, tart cherries, and cranberries that carry over in the intense, rather rustic flavor, with marked acidity and a pleasant earthy back note that translates to firm tannins and red clay on the palate. A blend of 20% Merlot with the Malbec, it’s 14.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (March 26, 2022)

FOOD MATCH: The Kermit Lynch website mentions that duck, and duck fat, are the traditional match in Cahors, as well as cassoulet with an aged bottle. Its firm, acidic, rustic character suggest roast beef or game, but it’s flexible. We enjoyed it with a hearty dish of spaghetti with polpette in garlicky tomato sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s drinkable now with a good food match, but Lynch points out that wine maker Philippe Bernède “is not afraid to pull out older vintages of his wines alongside much more expensive Bordeaux. They stand up pretty well! ”

Wine-Searcher.com’s $17 average U.S. retail for all vintages, $18 for the 2018. Frankly, it’s a fine value in the upper teens or even a few dollars more.

Importer Kermit Lynch is famous for his detailed fact sheets on the wines he imports. Here’s his Clos la Coutale page.

Check prices and find vendors for Clos la Coutale Cahors Malbec on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find more information about Cahors and links to vendors for dozens more Cahors wines.

Click here for information on all of Kermit Lynch’s wines and to sign up for his newsletter.


Wine Focus April 2022:
Malbec & Cava

We’re doubling up in this month’s Wine Focus with a couple of overlooked options in the world of wine:

• Malbec grew up in France as the black wine of Cahors and a blending grape in Bordeaux, but it has made a home for itself in Argentina.

• Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine of Catalunya, has been overlooked, maligned and often completely forgotten. But there’s now any number of higher quality examples that bring a sparkle to life for a much more comfortable price than Champagne.

Let’s pop some corks as spring makes its presence felt. Join us with your tasting reports, comments, and questions in at Wine Focus April 2022!


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