Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Too Hot? Too Cold? Just Right? Temperature Does Matter! White Wine Edition

Imagine going on a well deserved vacation to a beautiful beach side resort. You grab sunscreen, a towel, your favorite swimwear, sunglasses, a cooler of refreshing beverages and head out the door to enjoy some fun and sun... just to feel the crunch of fallen snow under your feet.  What about another, just as well deserved, vacation at a beautiful ski resort. You gear up with some high tech weather-wear, some bitchin' skis, boots, goggles - but as you head out the door,  you feel the heat of the summer sun on your face, and see no trace of snow.

You can plan the perfect vacation, but if the temperature isn't right - it will be a huge disappointment. The same goes for serving your white wine. Imagine spending your valuable time picking out a great white wine to serve at your party, or selecting a white wine to pair perfectly with your expertly prepared dinner. If the wine you serve is not a the proper temperature - the results could also be a huge disappointment. 

Until I started studying wine, I committed the common mistake of serving white wines waaaay too cold. I would buy the white wine, stick it in my regular old food refrigerator, and pop the cork just before serving.  Plus, many of the restaurants where I would see a bottle of white wine served, it would come out of a wine refrigerator of some sort, and immediately get plunged in a bucket of ice and water to chill it even further.

Now after hitting the wine books for a while, I know that major elements of a wine are significantly impacted by the serving temperature, and can throw a beautifully balanced wine completely out of whack.  Served too cold, a wine's aromas will be muted, and the wine will seem more acidic.  Remember that the mouth only detects five "tastes" (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami/savory)  but the real beauty of wine comes from the intricate "flavors" that come from the combination of taste with the aromas of a wine.  Those muted aromas meal muted flavors - something we definitely don't want!
The myth of the ice cold white wine likely stems out of necessity when trying to ingest some cheap (not value priced - we're talking "bad" cheap) bulk white wine from a five gallon plastic jug - where muting the aromas and accenting the acidic/refreshing character is probably a good thing. 

Opinions vary by a degree or two - but here some guidelines to follow for the serving temperatures of both red and white wines.  You'll notice that the serving temps for light and fruity reds and full bodied whites start to get fairly close to each other.  


Most food refrigerators will chill your wine down close to 35 degrees fahrenheit, so while not too far off for serving sparkling wine, it is far from a good serving temperature for a fully bodied Chardonnay.  I am not saying that a regular refrigerator, or even freezer cannot be useful to temporarily store wine or to help cool down a wine to a good serving temperature.  Regular refrigerators are not good for long time wine storage because of the vibration of the motor which can damage a wine and the relatively low humidity levels, which is not good for wine corks.  However, if you put a wine in the fridge for a day or two you will be OK, just factor in time to have the wine come up to a good serving temperature.  Also, have a white wine that is at room temperature and needs to cool quickly - 30 - 40 minutes or so in the freezer is a great shortcut if you don't have an ice bucket handy. 

Here is a graph (really - graphs, what am I doing!!!) I found in this article that shows how much time it takes to cool down a wine from room temperature.  So if you needed to chill a Sauvignon Blanc down to a serving temperature of about 45 degrees, it would need about 20 minutes in an ice water bath, 40 minutes in the freezer, and probably an hour and a half or a bit more in the fridge.  

For a super fast chill - you can add some salt to the ice water bath - which should shave off at least a few minutes. To preserve the the look of your bottle and label - you may not want to pour from a wet, salt encrusted bottle - you can put the bottle in a gallon size zip lock bag.  I do this when we are traveling, and will be going BYOB to a restaurant, I bring some zip lock bags, and throw the bottle in the ice bucket to bring the temperature down a bit lower than serving temperature, depending on how long it will take us to get to the restaurant.  A true wine geek, I often forget my belt and socks, but always have zip locks, a good corkscrew, and maybe even a couple bottles of wine from home!

I typically end up chilling down a white wine that is at room temperature, so am not as familiar with how long it takes a too cold wine to warm up.  Sounds like a great learning opportunity! So....stay tuned next week - where I put this advice to the test, and sample the same white wine at various temperatures to see what the impact of too cold, too hot, and just right is on the aromas and flavors.  Plus we'll try and figure out how long it takes wine to warm up once it come out of the fridge.
Also, in a future post we will tackle serving temperature for red wine in more depth - along with the myth... or misconception... of serving red wine at "room temperature."

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Thanks for this. You helped me pull the Where to Buy Decanter Labels? trigger on AM's offering on Wine Woot. You ought to get a commission; and I've found a new favorite blog.


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