Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Hot, Too Cold?... Let's Give It a Try! White Wine Edition

In last week’s post, I introduced the topic of how crucial serving temperature is for your white wine (important for ALL wines, but for my post I was focusing on white wine).  This week, I am putting my sage advice to the test and will be sniffin’ and tastin’ some white wine at various temperatures to see first-hand the impact of too cold, too hot, and juuuuust right.  When it comes to wine, I’m definitely da baby bear and want it juuuuuust right – and want you to have it that way too!
For those of you who missed last week’s post, here is the list of wine serving temperatures I used:

  • Sparkling and Dessert Wine: 40 degrees F
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio: 45-48 degrees F
  • Chardonnay, Chablis: 48-52 degrees F
  • Pinot Noir: 60-64 degrees F
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah: 64-66 degrees F
Here is what I will be using in our little wine temperature experiment: 
Wine.  For this endeavor I decided to go big and use a 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay from VGS Chateau Potelle. The VGS Chardonnay is typically big and fruity and oak aged, so should be served at a higher temperature than other, lighter bodied white wines. For another post in the future, I will try this same experiment with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Washington State Riesling or some other light bodied but aromatic white.

Wine (Super-) Cooling Device a.k.a. Da Fridge.   I will be cooling the wine down in our regular food refrigerator. 
It has a nifty compartment in the door that takes in air from the freezer to get and keep stuff extra cold.

White Wine Glasses.  Smaller and narrower than red wine glasses, I’ll use a few so I can have a side by side compare wines of different temperatures.

Instant Read Thermometer. To quickly get a reading on the temperature of the wine I am sampling, I’ll use my very excellent instant read thermometer.  It should give an accurate readout within a few seconds. 

So I put the VGS Chardonnay in the fridge overnight, so it should be plenty cold. Let’s start off with tasting the very cold, and we’ll compare at various stages as the wine comes up to the proper serving temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Corkscrew.  I don’t have a saber handy and this is not a screw top, so this will come in handy.

Spit Bucket. To keep my mind and sense sharp for the various stages of tasting for today’s experiment, I need to employ a taste and spit technique. I know… what a shame right!!!

OK, let’s get this (fun yet highly educational) party started! Once I opened the wine, the bottom of the cork had some crystals on it? Ice? Nope - just harmless tartrate crystals that sometime form in a wine, and may attach to a cork - similar stuff to cream of tarter used in baking. Storing at very cold temperatures sometimes causes more tartrate crystals than storing at higher temperatures.

The First Taste
Wine Temperature: 39.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature many food refrigerators would  give to your wine.
Aromas: Basically no aromas at all.  There was a super faint odor of apples, like smelling a glass that used to have good natural apple juice in it.
Taste: A medium amount of acidity, with basically nothing else.  A muted taste of apples, but so faint it was barely detectable, like a watered down apple juice.
Conclusion: The cold has basically removed all aromas and tastes, and left only a hint of acidity and a faint shadow of apple.  Except for the dark color of the wine, there is little that would tell you this was a Napa Chardonnay.

The Second Taste
Wine Temperature: 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a good serving temperature for most white wines, still too cold for a full bodied white like our Napa Valley Chardonnay.
Aromas: Just five degree warmer, and the aromas have started to show. More apple, and a hint of a bread/yeasty aroma you would expect from a Napa Chardonnay.
Taste:  The acidity has reduced, and now the wine shows a much more balanced mouthfeel, with nice taste of apple. 
Conclusion: Not a very long finish, but an amazing difference between this and the 40 degree wine.  Overall very pleasant, starting to taste like a good wine!
The Third Taste
Wine Temperature: 49.9 degrees Fahrenheit.  Finally!  The wine is now at the recommended serving temperature for fuller bodied white wines.

Aromas: The apple and bread aromas have strengthened a bit, and now a bit of a toast/smoke aroma is showing.
Taste: Wow!  The prior taste was pleasant with a nice balance. This taste... hello Napa Chardonnay. The buttery mouthfeel you would expect suddenly appeared. I didn't get a noticeable level of that on the 45 degree taste.
Conclusion:  As advertised, this temperature allows the wine to show all the elements you would expect from a Napa Chardonnay.  The finish is noticeably longer, with a wonderful lingering taste of fresh apple and a nice buttery mouthfeel.

The Fourth Taste
Wine Temperature: 60.2 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a bit too warm for whites, getting into the territory for serving lighter, fruity reds such as some Pinot Noir.  But maybe warmer is always better???

Aromas: No noticeable difference from the 50 degree tasting. Still apples, yeast, and toast.
Taste: This is the first taste where a bit of toasted oak came through on the finish. 

Conclusion: The finish here is a tad bit bitter. The small amount of tannins that a wood aged white wine may have may be peaking through, but not in a good way.
Final Conclusion
Well….It is clear from this little drinking exercise that serving temperature has a huge impact on this Napa Chardonnay. Too cold - really...really not good. Too warm - certainly not as negative an impact on the wine as serving it too cold, but the extra bitterness coming through on the finish when the wine got up to about 60 degrees was definitely not a plus for the wine.

The moral of our story as expected, please make sure and take the same care with serving your wine as you do with selecting it and with pairing some awesome food with it.  In future posts I’ll dive in to see how temperature impacts other whites, reds, and maybe even a dessert wine or two.  Fun and educational - what could be better?!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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