Serving Wine Right; John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for Feb 2, 2013
Why Temperature Matters, a Trio of Sparklers and Top Ten Smart Buys
You’ve researched and emptied your pockets to get the right wine for the occasion, and then, disappointment. But before you blame the winemaker or WineAlign critic, consider: was it served at the right temperature? Just as cheese served straight from the fridge offers only a shadow of its flavour potential, and warm soft drinks seem sugary and aggressively carbonated, service temperature has a significant effect on wine aroma, taste and texture. Read past my Top Ten Smart Buys and a trio of sparklers to find out how and why.
Top Ten Smart Buys
Topping the smart buys list this week is another fine value from Hecht & Bannier, the 2010 Côtes Du Roussillon-Villages ($23.95). I’ve highlighted wines from this premium negociant before, as the quality/pleasure/price rapport is generally excellent across the range. Hecht and Bannier are merchants who purchase grapes and wines from growers throughout the Midi of France, from Provence to Perpignan. The majority of vineyards are certified organic, very old and low yielding. The house has no contracts with growers, which means flexibility to select the best grapes/juice/wine of each vintage. And despite being known as the highest-paying negociant in the region, the value offered is excellent. This wine is comprised of grenache from the village of Maury (also known for it’s amazing port-like fortified grenache), plus syrah and carignan from Belesta and Caramany, and mourvèdre from Tautavel. The resulting blend is explosive and concentrated, with ultra ripe but not jammy black and blue fruit, cold smoke, blueberry pie, and wet schist, while the palate reveals substantial structure and depth, with remarkable density and complexity. It’s easily the equal of many Chateauneuf-du-Papes at half the price.
Also excellent is the 2007 Marimar Estate La Masía Pinot Noir ($34.95). Marimar Torres is the daughter of Catalan legend Miguel Torres. She moved to California in 1975 and began planting the Don Miguel vineyard in 1986, focusing exclusively on pinot noir and chardonnay. The estate was converted to organic farming in 2003 and is now pursuing biodynamic certification. La Masía is made from grapes grown in Green Valley, the coolest end of the Russian River Valley. At five years of age, this is nicely mature, inviting and ripe, with excellent balance, complexity and class. It’s quite a ride for the money.
I never tire of recommending Mosel Riesling, nor drinking it, and fans of the genre shouldn’t miss the outstanding 2008 Studert-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett ($16.95). I constantly marvel at how much flavour intensity can be lashed onto such a light and lithe frame – the Mosel is about the only place on earth where this happens with comforting regularity. This 2008 is a textbook example of kabinett, medium-dry up front though cleansed and dried out on the back palate by riveting acids. Pure, honey-slathered slate, peach and apricot flavours linger on amazingly.
Amarone drinkers will be pleased at the quality/price ratio offered by the 2008 Poderi Angelini Primitivo Di Manduria ($17.95). It’s a complex and refined example of primitivo, with a complex mix of smoky, savory, dried fruit and herbal flavours that’s indeed reminiscent of good quality Amarone.
And the 2010 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenère/Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.95) is a terrific value for fans of full flavoured reds. Emiliana’s organically farmed vineyard in the Colchagua Valley delivers a bold, aromatic very fruity and spicy, vegetal and floral blend, with substantial body and suave texture that will please widely.
Also in the top ten smart buys you’ll find a concentrated old vine chenin blanc and a delicious sub-$14 chardonnay from South Africa, a stylish agiorgitiko from Nemea in Greece, A zesty Dâo red from Portugal and a fine value Rhône-like Costières de Nîmes. See them all here.
Three Sparklers to Try
Three dry sparkling wines caught my attention out of the mini-theme of the Vintages February 2 release. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, consider the R. Pouillon & Fils 1er Cru Brut Rosé Champagne ($44.95). I classify this as a “food” rosé champagne, resembling a smoky-earthy Burgundian-style pinot noir with bubbles, complete with a touch of animal and leathery aromas and impressive flavour concentration. Try with veal or duck magret.
The Muga Conde De Haro Brut Cava ($19.95) is an atypical example but well worth the detour for those who enjoy barrel-aged champagnes. It’s mature and intriguingly nutty with coconut and yellow fruit flavours and impressive depth.
And finally, the Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling ($13.95) is a fun and friendly, just off-dry sparkler with good varietal character for those moments when a glass of bubbles is just the ticket to lift the spirits.
I’m writing this from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, where I’m taking part in a conference entitled “Hawke’s Bay in your Glass”. The summer temperatures, although not extreme, have nonetheless been in the 20s. Many of the tastings we’ve participated in have seen the larger scale reds of the region served at room temperature, which has been detrimental to wine quality, emphasizing the alcohol and diminishing the fruit quality. It’s been a sharp reminder of the importance of the service aspect of wine, also commented on by several of my colleagues on this journey.
Serving Wine Right: Why Temperature Matters
Just as cheese served straight from the fridge offers only a shadow of its flavour potential, and warm soft drinks seem sugary and aggressively carbonated, service temperature has a significant effect on wine aroma, taste and texture. Let’s look at how and why.
The interplay between temperature and sensory perception likely occurs by many mechanisms, including the direct action of temperature on sensory receptors, but in any case, it has been shown that our taste receptors are modulated by temperature change.1 Translation: the same things taste different at different temperatures.
It’s fairly obvious that temperature affects the volatility of aromatic compounds, that is, how many reach our nose and can thus be smelled. At a chemical level, warm molecules vibrate fast, and when cold, they slow down. A dramatic example is water: at 100ºC H2O vibrates so much it becomes a gas. At 0ºC those barely-moving molecules solidify into ice. Aromatic compounds, the molecules that make wine smell so inviting, are similarly affected by temperature: the colder, the slower and less volatile they are, the less aromatic a wine will be. At the other end, when too warm, many of the enjoyable molecules are gone before you can smell them, and alcohol becomes the dominant smell.
All wine types are affected in the same way. So a simple rule: the more aromatically interesting a wine is, i.e. complex, the warmer it should be served to maximize your smelling pleasure. Simple, inexpensive wines are best a little cooler to maximize the refreshment. The range is from about 4ºC (average fridge temp.) for the simplest wines up to about 18ºC for the seriously complex, which is slightly cooler than the average home or restaurant. And yes, this goes for white wines, too. Top-flight whites are most interesting around 12º-14ºC.
This means that any wine pulled straight off the shelf, counter or back bar should be at least slightly chilled – this is my biggest gripe when ordering wine, mostly red, in restaurants. I see the bottles sitting on the bar, or languishing above on shelves or in wine racks without temperature control. A quick check of the thermometer in my back pocket reads 23ºC, or even higher. A few feet up near the top racks and it’s probably closer to 25ºC. At this temperature the wine tastes of alcohol and not much else, with an unpleasant burning sensation decreasing the enjoyment even further.
Texture & Taste
Temperature also affects wine texture and taste. Wines served cold seem more acidic (read: refreshing) and more tannic (read: astringent). This is why red wines are generally served warmer than whites: they contain tannin (the substance in wine that causes the astringent, drying, mouth-puckering sensation), while whites rarely have any tannin at all. The curious thing about tannin is that we perceive its drying effect more at lower temperatures. That means if you take the same tannic wine and serve it at 10º and 18º, the cooler sample will appear much more astringent. At 18º the wine will still be tannic, but more tolerable; then decanted and served with a little salty protein, and the tannins may not be a significant factor at all.
Whites and rosés without tannin can be served chilled without the fear of increasing that astringent sensation, while emphasizing the refreshment factor and favoring fruity over alcoholic aromatics. Barrel-aged whites, on the other hand, will not only likely be more aromatically complex, but will also contain some tannin derived from the wood, and are therefore best served slightly warmer than un-oaked whites.
There are many reds with low tannin such as gamay, pinot noir, grenache, tempranillo and barbera that can also be served chilled for the same benefits, along with most un-oaked reds of any variety.
Sweet & Sparkling Wines
Temperature affects the perception of sugar and carbon dioxide. Sweetness is perceived less at lower temperatures (while the freshness is increased), which is why off-dry and sweet wines are served chilled, emphasizing fruit and decreasing the cloying aspect. But don’t serve complex, high quality sweet wines ice-cold, however, since you’ll be missing out on the aroma and flavour that makes them expensive and interesting in the first place. It’s a fine balance.
Sparkling wines are likewise served chilled to slow down those CO2 molecules. At higher temperatures they are more aggressive on our receptors (like warm, fizzy pop), and escape more quickly, with the wine soon becoming flat. Cooler temps also help to lessen the sweetness that virtually all sparkling wines contain and improve the crisp, vibrant aspect.
When in doubt, serve cooler rather than warmer. The wine will eventually warm up. Wine served too warm from the start is doomed, unless, of course, you live in an igloo.
Chill whites for a couple of hours in the fridge; for most reds, 20 minutes should do. If you didn’t get it organized ahead of time, the fastest way to cool a bottle is in a bucket of water and ice, about half and half. Two minutes in a bucket will drop the temperature by about 1ºC. So if your wine is at 22ºC (average room temperature), count on about 12 minutes to bring it down to 16ºC (about right for a light-medium-bodied red), or about 25m for a basic white.
And don’t forget to store unfinished bottles of wine, red or white, in the fridge. They won’t spoil as rapidly – remember, all reactions, including oxidation, occur more quickly at higher temperatures.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier
From the February 2, 2013 Vintages release:
1 DEG/ENaC ion channels involved in sensory transduction are modulated by cold temperature, Candice C. Askwith*†‡, Christopher J. Benson*, Michael J. Welsh*†‡, and Peter M. Snyder*†§, Departments of * Internal Medicine and dagger Physiology and Biophysics and Dagger Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA 52242; Contributed by Michael J. Welsh, March 28, 2001