Finally – mystery solved. The first time I was ever served chilled wine was in Japan. I was shocked. Growing up in California I was privy to a lot of great California wines. I was raised on cool, crisp Chardonnays and Rosés, sipped Merlots and Pinot Noirs before dinner and paired rich Cabernets with our mains. When I became old enough to dine out, I was introduced to French and Italian wines we rarely drank at home. Not once in 10 something years of drinking wine, had I ever tasted chilled red wine.
I was in my early 20s and dating a half Japanese, half French banker who took me on holiday to Japan. This was some time in the early 2000s I believe. Australian and South American wines were booming and almost every restaurant we went to recommended reds and almost every red whether it was a bottle or served by the glass, light or heavy was served chilled — what in the world? (Chilled Malbecs are highly not recommended by the way) And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why the Japanese served all red wines chilled. I assumed it was because Japan’s most popular alcoholic beverages are served super cold or with ice: beer, whiskey (highball is whiskey with soda water over ice or mizuwari whiskey split with water), sake, shochu (rocks or with water mizuwari), etc.
Well. As it turns out, we have Beaujolais Nouveau to blame. Beaujolais is a French wine produced in the Beaujolias region, north of Lyon. It is a light red and treated like a Chardonnay in France — served chilled, eaten with salads and light courses. Beaujolais is also really popular with the Japanese. So popular, they imported 8 million bottles in 2013.
Japan has a population of 127 million people. America has a population of about 319 million people. Japan imported 8 million bottles of Beaujolais. America only imported 1.8 million bottles. The Japanese really love Beaujolais.
Since the Japanese love Beaujolais so much, a lot of people unaccustomed to drinking wine probably assumed all reds are served cold and would ask for their wines chilled. Which lead to restaurants serving all reds cold in response to how a typical Japanese drinks their reds cold. If you ask, restaurants will serve you reds at appropriate temperatures.
Finally. A long standing mystery solved.
*Side-note: these are non-fine dining establishments or very very very Japanese places. Most Western / European influenced restaurants in 2015 serve wine appropriately.