Red Wine and a Martini

By / Magazine / February 27th, 2009 / Like

While at a restaurant recently, I noticed a guy at the table next to me asking the waiter to bring him an ice bucket for the bottle of red he ordered. Was he crazy or does he know something I don’t?

That depends on where you were strapping on the old feedbag. It sounds as if it was one of those joints that inject lots of love into their wine list only to put more thought into where they keep their mop and bucket than their beloved bottles.

The inappropriate storage of vino tops my list of all-time liquid pet peeves and I’ve seen it all: from bottles standing sentry next to the cappuccino machine to the whole cellar racked up all nice and pretty just east of the dishwasher. Too many restaurants forget that wine is for drinking not decoration — foolishly showing it off all over the place and mistaking room temperature for the reading on the thermostat in their twenty-first century space.

Depending on the style, the ideal serving temperature for most reds falls somewhere between 15°C and 18°C (or 59°F–64°F) — or the equivalent of the chill gained from a few hours sitting out in your garage.

Odds are your table neighbour found his selection slightly sizzling so he braved the rolling eyes of the wait staff (and shaking heads of fellow patrons like you) by wisely asking for a bucket to ice down his beverage to a state of appropriate drinkability.

That said, I’m partial to lighter reds — like those from Beaujolais and Valpolicella — a tad frosty and often ask to have them served on ice until they’re chilled enough to meet my fine-tuned palate’s approval.

But even if your guy is just a loon who digs his reds ice cold, you’ve got to respect him for knowing what he likes and risking public ridicule by going for it.

I’ve been thinking about replacing my usual beer of choice with a cocktail. What are your thoughts on the martini?

I’d love one, assuming you mean the classic shaken-not-stirred variety and not one of those lame flavoured versions that have become unsettlingly (at least for someone who appreciates alcohol like yours truly) popular recently. If you’re thinking that gazing over the lip of a birdbath-shaped cocktail glass will make you seem a bit more “Bond, James Bond,” I’d hold off investing on a white tuxedo jacket and an Omega wristwatch until you’ve taken a mouthful or two.

The trouble with a martini is that it’s awful boozy — too boozy, in fact, for anyone with even a remotely delicate palate. Unlike much of its mixed-drink brethren, the martini doesn’t rely on fruit juice or soda pop to mask the spirited pieces of its puzzle; choosing instead to focus on their flavours with just a hint of vermouth to soften the blow.

Students of Casino Royale (both the book and the Daniel Craig movie version) will know that 007’s creation combines three parts gin to one part vodka and a half a measure of Kina Lillet (the famous French wine-based apéritif) garnished with a large slice of lemon.

While that’s one big beverage, less imposing recipes stay singular by building their foundation on just one of the white spirits and substituting the Lillet for a dash of plain old vermouth and the lemon slice for the now-classic green olive.

Depending on what story you prefer to believe, the drink takes it name from the town of Martinez in California, where the martini is said to have been invented in the late 1800s, or from a guy in New York City named Martini who, like Bond, took pleasure in showing off his mixology prowess by instructing the bartender how to make his signature drink at the Knickerbocker Hotel around the same time.

Either way, if you can get over its heavyhandedness, you just might be able to suck up a little of that secret agent je ne sais quoi from your glass and make your beer-drinking buddies think twice about their chosen beverage.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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