Fall in the vineyards.

Fall in the vineyards.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Enjoying white wine at red wine temperatures.


Back in the Good Old Days when my wife and I were into fine dining at French restaurants, ice buckets with  napkins neatly folded atop the bottle were the standard white wine restaurant service. 
Appropriately and unobtrusively located near our table, the silver pail proclaimed that we had ordered something special—a luscious Sancerre, an elegant White Burgundy, or a vintage Champagne.

“Is it acceptable, Sir?” the server whispered after I performed the obligatory swirl, sniff and sip.

“Delicious,” I said, nodding sagely.  It was a pretty good bluff, but as a greenhorn wine enthusiast I was really blissfully unaware that the characteristic aromas and flavors were completely masked by an icy, forty-degree, shock treatment.  Other than being catatonically cold, there was nothing meaningful I could have possibly detected.  Ah, but no matter, for we were enjoying an experience of a lifetime.

If you’re in the dark on recommended serving temperatures, a quick Internet search might give you more Fahrenheit and Celsius advice than you're willing to digest.  
Large scaled and lesser reds each have their own ideal temperature as do “complex” whites and inexpensive, simple quaffs.  Also, sparkling wine and Champagne, as well as sweet dessert wines are typically pegged at a slightly higher than basic refrigerator temperature.

And, of course, I have some gratuitous advice as well.  I generally shoot for pouring whites about 20+ minutes after they come out of the fridge, and a similar wait for reds that I pull from my 58-degree wine storage unit.  Also, if you store your wines counter top in stylistic kitchen wine racks, please consider placing the reds in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes to resuscitate them from their near, mulled-wine snooze.

However, I have been scratching my head of late over a somewhat related topic, specifically with respect to whites.  Why is it accepted wisdom that they can only be enjoyed chilled?
 
For sure, the seasonal time of year is one possibility, while type of food is another, and context is yet one more.

Hot summer days, without a doubt call for crisp, well chilled whites or Rosés, not palate whacking Cabernets or Malbecs.

And, first or main course salads are usually best paired with cool, juicy whites, while festive alfresco dining events are usually well stocked with well-chilled, mood enhancing, white and sparkling wines. 

Similarly, and irrespective of accepted temperature wisdom, I wonder if winemakers really have an ideal serving temperature in mind when they craft their white wine?  And do they also vinify it to show its best in specially designed, varietal-specific stemware like Riedel or Spiegelau?  Lastly, after fermentation and aging, do they chill and sample a few bottles before they bless it as their envisioned, final version? 
I pose these questions because either my palate is still evolving and making new discoveries, or I have become more mindful of what is in my stemware. ­­ A bit of both most likely, for I have arrived at a new awareness and appreciation that some white wines, especially oak-free ones, can be enjoyed at warmer, low 60s, red wine serving temperatures.  (And, of course, my ever so subtle suggestion is that you also give it a try to see if you agree. )

When warmer, the aromas, flavors and structural aspects are definitely more perceptible.  If upon pouring they are clean, bright and focused, they seem even more so after spending som time in the stemware or in the bottle atop the table.
The fruit and texture as well as its inherent varietal style seem more expressive.  A Sauvignon Blanc proudly proclaims its underlying herbal and citric characteristics.  An Assyrtiko reveals the clean, crisp, volcanic minerality of its birthplace.  And an unadorned Chardonnay (no oak, no ML, no nothing!) in its birthday suit tastes crisp, alive and begging to be discovered as such.

Lastly, and notwithstanding the above, I have a few friends who prefer their white wine in a different mode of enjoyment: in stemware that is crammed full of ice cubes.  
While not exactly a great variant of the swirl, sniff and sip methodology, it definitely is a viable alternative to the old “one glass of wine, one glass of water” advice that helps one to drink responsibly.