I ordered a $60 nebbiolo at a restaurant recently and it was served so warm it was syrupy. I asked the bartender to chill it and he shot me a quizzical look before grudgingly putting it on ice. Is asking for chilled red wine a faux pas at the bar?
It's categorically not a faux pas. Your bartender is out of touch and should stick to mixing rum and Cokes.
Warm red wine can, as you note, be unpleasant. It's by far the most common wine nuisance in restaurants, where space is limited and storage temperatures tend to be less than optimal. Good sommeliers will generally be at ease with the ice-bucket request. Even at standard room temperature, such as on the main floor of a typical home, let alone a warm bottle stored near a restaurant kitchen, red wine will usually taste out of sorts, or at least far less than optimal. A five-minute dunk in an ice bucket will bring most styles alive by restoring balance between acidity and tannins and permitting fruitiness to come forward. Many exacting restaurants, I should note, do know to keep their reds slightly cool, which is to say close to cellar temperature.
The nebbiolo you ordered is, in my opinion, particularly in need of a slight chill due to its high acidity and strongly astringent tannins. Good for you for requesting the bucket. Just make sure in the future that it's not left to chill for too long – say, beyond eight or 10 minutes. Very low temperatures will mute flavours, and you don't want to have to turn around and later ask your waiter to microwave the bottle.
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