Chill, Man...But how Much?
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed April 25, 2005. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
Observe the "wine ritual" in a fine restaurant, and if white wine or bubbly is being served, chances are you'll see a fancy ice bucket being called into play. This tall, cylindrical vessel, fashioned of glass, pottery or even shiny silver, is large enough to immerse an upright bottle - or several - in close contact with water and ice. If you need to chill your wine, this near-32F (0C) solution will make it ice cold in a hurry.
But...are you sure you want to do that? Although the conventional wisdom holds that white wines - as well as pink wines and bubblies - should be served cold, the exact degree of chill can make a big difference in your enjoyment and perception of the wine.
Most people agree that whites seem more refreshing if they'd served cold. But near-freezing temperatures essentially stun the taste buds, and I find it difficult to pick up much nuance or subtlety in the taste of wine or anything else served with an icy chill. If the wine is good, I suggest trying it with a light chill, not a deep freeze. I think you'll find that you get a lot more out of its aroma and its flavor if you try it at approximately "cellar temperature," around 55F or 13C.
Precision is not important - you needn't carry around a pocket thermometer to discern whether your wine, like Baby Bear's porridge, is just right. But try this simple experiment, the next time you're enjoying a quality white: Serve it directly from the cellar, if you have one, or if you're keeping your wine in the fridge; take it out a half-hour or 45 minutes before it's ready to serve. Taste it over a period of time as it warms in the glass, and see what you think. And if you're dining out, I suggest that you take the bottle out of the ice bucket and put it on the table, perhaps keeping the bucket handy so you can stick it back in if you decide it's getting too warm.
Today's wine, a favorite Southern Italian white variety from Feudi San Gregorio, a producer I particularly like, is a sterling example: Straight out of the fridge, it came across as a decent, straightforward white, with good fruit and high acidity to make it a good food companion. But as it warmed in the glass, it seemed to blossom like a rose, taking on a rich, creamy texture and complex layers of aroma and flavor that were much more difficult to discern when the wine was cold.