Bill’s Best Bets – July
Whites to serve warmer
by Bill Zacharkiw
Most wine fanatics can remember particular moments, or perhaps certain wines that were game changers. Moments that shifted the paradigm so that afterwards, you were no longer simply drinking fermented grapes and getting a slight buzz, but drinking something that represented much more than the wine in your glass. The experience got you hooked.
One of those moments happened to me in the mid 90’s. Now I can’t tell you what I drank, I know it was a Californian chardonnay that my sister brought back for me from a trip she made to San Francisco. What I do remember was having a meal/date on a backyard terrace on a hot summer evening, and drinking that wine when it was probably close to 20 °C.
The texture was so rich, the wine so aromatic. Talk about complexity. My mind was blown. Like most people I was a red wine drinker but that moment turned me onto white wines and my fascination with them has never waned.
Pay attention to temperature
Fast forward to a few weeks ago and once again I was floored by the “warm white.” With the evening temperature way over 20 °C, our bottle of Minervois from Château Coupe Roses was just left to get ambient on the table. Made with 100% roussanne, while it was very good at around 10 °C with our souvlaki, as it got warmer and warmer, the wine gained in both texture and aromatics. Must have finished that last glass when it was over 20 °C.
Now before you start trying to break the serving temperature record on all your whites, some are best served around 8C. Anything with sugar, like off-dry rieslings, should be kept cool so that you keep the acidity. Likewise, wines whose chief attribute is their acidity, like those made with sauvignon blanc, muscadet, pinot grigio and vinho verde, for example, shouldn’t be served much higher than 10 °C.
But if your wine is made with grapes where the joy factor is linked to their rich texture and aromatics, then feel free to play around. And this is not limited to expensive wines either. One inexpensive wine which will gain much more with a few degrees is La Vieille Ferme.
Made with boubelenc, grenache blanc, vermentino and roussanne, if you try it just directly from the fridge, which is around 4 °C, you’ll have a pretty boring white wine. But once it reaches around 10-12 °C, then the texture is much more interesting and it shows much more aromatically.
It will give you a completely other dimension, and all for $14.
If there is a theme in the above two wines, it’s that southern French grapes like roussanne, marsanne, grenache blanc, like it a little bit warmer. Another Minervois, this time made with roussanne and viognier, is the Château Villerambert Julien. I found its sweet spot to be around 14 °C. Oh, and after being decanted for a few hours.
Southern French whites aren’t the only wines that benefit from higher than expected service temperatures. One of my favourite white wines, the Gravonia Crianza from Rioja winery Lopez de Heredia, has just been released. This is the bomb – but it should come with an instruction manual. I would open it in the morning, take a sip, put the cork back in and take it out of the fridge an hour before serving. Let it go as warm as you dare.
My record for warm white service temperature probably goes to the wines of France’s Jura. In fact, I don’t even bother putting most of them in the fridge. A Vin Jaune, the weirdest of all whites whereby the savagnin grape is raised like a sherry, only starts to get going around 12 °C. Any cooler you are wondering what sort of strange beverage is masquerading as wine in your glass. It peaks around 16 °C and I have drunk them a number of times around 20 °C.
But Vin Jaune isn’t for everyone and is an acquired taste. A great entry point into the oxidative world of the savagnin grape is Stephane Tissot’s Arbois. The wine spent just two years, as opposed to the six years of a Vin Jaune, under the protective “voile.” Superb with curries and white meats.
Finally, there is chardonnay. This is never an easy one. I prefer my Chablis, unless it is a Grand Cru, around 10 °C. But after that, it really is a matter of taste. I tried the 2010 Bourgogne from Jean-Charles Boisset at different temperatures and loved it most at 12 °C. Because it is already four years old, the extra warmth allowed for more nuance.
So there you go. I suggest you take your whites out of the fridge, and try this experiment yourself. Drink your first glass and just allow the wine to warm up. If you have trouble with whites, then this might be what was missing.
And this doesn’t mean you should put away your ice bucket. It’s summer folks, and you should always have it next to your table. And not only for your whites, but for your reds. But that’s another article.
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
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