By John Szabo MS with wine notes from David Lawrason
Don’t Forget to Chill Those Reds
John Szabo, MS
A water-and-ice-filled bucket might just be the greatest wine gadget ever invented. Just a few minutes in one of these simple but magical devices can turn your red wine from a flabby, alcoholic and soupy drinking chore, into a crisp, fresh and fruity thirst-quenching delight. Not only in summer, but throughout the year, red wines are almost always served too warm; anything above 20ºC is a service faux-pas akin to aerating in a blender. For many reds, 12º-14ºC is far better. Most restaurants are guilty of this disservice. All of those open reds sitting out on the back bar in July? Forget them. That goes for January too. Don’t be afraid to ask for the ice bucket when dining out. At home, you’re in full control, so use the fridge, or your own ice bucket, to bring those reds into the best temperature zone to maximize enjoyment.
This report focuses on and handful of reds (and whites), which are particularly sensitive to temperature. The LCBO calls them “Wines to Chill” – the main theme for the July 25th VINTAGES release. David and I have included our top picks that are best with a chill, including whites. Read on to find out why temperature matters, or just skip to the recommendations.
Why Temperature Matters
When it comes to eating and drinking, temperature matters. Cold cheese straight from the fridge, for example, offers only a shadow of its aroma and flavor potential. Warm soft drinks are mostly sugary, aggressively carbonated, and hard to swallow. Chefs also know that any dish served cold, such as terrines, patés, or soups, need to be slightly more salted than the same dish served hot, because your perception of salt decreases at lower temperatures; that’s to say things taste less salty. 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’s clear that people’s taste receptors are modulated by temperature change. Basically, the same foods and wines taste different at different temperatures, so when you’re serving wine, consider the effects, both positive and negative, of the wine’s temperature.
Temperature dramatically affects aromatics. At a chemical level, when a substance is warm, its molecules vibrate fast. When cold, they slow down. In other words, the colder a wine is, the slower and less volatile its aromatic compounds are, and thus the less aromatic a wine will be. At the other end, when a wine is too warm, many of the enjoyable aromatic molecules are so active they’re gone before you can smell them, leaving little but the light burn of alcohol vapors. It’s always smarter to err on the side of too chilled than too warm – cold wine will warm up. The only solution for a glass of hot red wine is an ice-cube, which is not ideal.
Taste and Texture
Beyond aromatics, temperature also affects wine texture and taste. Wine served cold seems more acidic (which makes it more refreshing), fruitier, and more tannic (which makes it more astringent and bitter). 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 and rosés rarely have any tannin at all. The curious thing about tannin is that you perceive its drying effect more at lower temperatures. That means if you take the same tannic wine and serve it at both 10ºC and 18ºC, the cooler sample will appear more astringent and more bitter, perhaps unpleasantly so. At 18ºC the wine will still be tannic, but much more tolerable. Then when decanted and served with a little salty protein, the tannins may no longer be a significant factor at all.
But many reds grapes have naturally low tannin levels such as Gamay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Tempranillo, and Barbera. These wines are more enjoyable when served with a chill, as are most unoaked reds of any variety. You can increase the fresh, fruity aspect without danger of making them too astringent. Creeping alcohol levels across the world is yet another reasons to serve reds chilled to knock down the burn of alcohol. And because the majority of red wines produced today are intended for immediate consumption, that is, with little tannin, you can serve just about every thing in your cellar at least slightly chilled, especially in the summer and with spicy foods. Even your most prized bottle of massive, concentrated red wine is best below room temperature, which for most folks is above 20ºC.
Bottom line: serving wines cooler increases their crispness, fruitiness, and astringency, and decreases aromatic intensity. Serving wines warmer makes them seem more sweet, flabby and alcoholic, less fruity and less astringent.
Buyers’ Guide: Reds To Chill
Remelluri Lindes De Remelluri 2010 Viñedos De Labastida, Rioja, Spain ($22.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a classy, polished, well composed and elegant “second” wine from the respected Rioja house of Remelluri. Made from vineyards in the village of Labastida, adjacent to the historic Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri estate, it’s neither ultra modern nor traditional in style, finding it’s own just balance. I appreciate the finesse and elegance; a very classy wine over delivering by a wide margin. Best at 16ºC, from 2015-2022.
The Good Earth 2012 Gamay Noir, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($19.95)
John Szabo – Gamay is a classic candidate for chilling, capitalizing on the variety’s mists of strawberry, raspberry and red currants, and increasing the cut of its juicy acids. The Good Earth’s wines have improved notably since bringing on winemaker Ross Wise (also at Keint-He), and this 2012 is delightful, especially alongside a plate of charcuterie or grilled sausages.
Seven Terraces 2013 Pinot Noir, Canterbury, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Lighter style pinot, like this crunchy, leafy, cool climate example from Canterbury on New Zealand’s south island, needs a light chill to deliver its full message of refreshment.
Lailey 2013 Merlot, VQA Niagara Peninsula, Ontario ($24.95)
John Szabo – Merlot swings both ways, from delicate and elegant to dense and extracted. Derek Barnet’s version leans to the former style, an open, honest, no-nonsense wine with lovely fresh herbal notes, lively red and black fruit, minimal oak and maximum floral-violet character. It’s reminiscent of cool climate malbec, a positive association.
Buyers Guide: Whites (To Chill)
Dog Point Vineyard 2012 Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand ($42.95)
John Szabo – This is a chardonnay of terrific intensity, so be sure not to serve ice cold (10-12ºC would be about right). Though the lovely, edgy, reductive-flintiness character will shine through at any temperature. A classy example from one of New Zealand’s most reliable and accomplished producers, and fine value in the worldwide context of premium chardonnay. Best 2017-2026.
Jean-Max Roger 2013 Cuvée Les Caillottes Sancerre, Loire, France ($26.95)
John Szabo – Here’s another terrific Sancerre from the ultra-reliable Jean-Max Roger, this one very floral and mineral, like an essence of chalk dust and sweet green herbs. Best 2015-2020.
Momo 2014 Pinot Gris Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
John Szabo – Tone down the impression of sweetness in this rich, Alsatian-style gris with a proper chill. It’s quite unctuous and indeed off-dry with overripe orchard fruit, yet balanced by more than sufficient acids. Length and depth are excellent for the money – a terrific option with spiced-up dishes.
David Lawrason Momo is a second label of Seresin, a prominent organic producer. NZ tends to like its ‘gris’ on the lush side. This has generous ripe peach cobbler, bready, honey and floral notes. It’s quite full bodied, fleshy and warm with some firm acidity. I wouldn’t open it for refreshment in the hot sun, but over an evening meal of chicken, pork – with Asian accents – it could perform very nicely.
Bailly Lapierre Réserve Brut Crémant De Bourgogne, Burgundy, France ($19.95)
John Szabo – Bubbles last longer in chilled wine, and are perceived as less aggressive. Low temp also hides the pinch of sugar added to virtually all sparkling wines to balance their ripping acids. This is a beautifully balanced crémant, elegant and fresh, with a fine streak of stony flavour, hazelnuts and marzipan, and fresh brioche. And half bottles ($11.95) are perfect for two.
Tenute Messieri 2012 Visioni Offida Pecorino, Marche, Italy ($16.95)
John Szabo – I love the unusual herbal and resinous, licorice, tarragon and citrus zest notes in this pecorino, a wine to take you out of the rut of standardized fruity white wines. Perfect for fresh herb-inflected salads and fish dishes on the terrace, chilled, of course.
d’Arenberg 2014 The Stump Jump White, McLaren Vale, South Australia ($14.95)
David Lawrason – This is a creative blend from one of the iconic producers of McLaren Vale, nicely combining riesling, sauvignon with Rhone white varieties like roussanne and marsanne. It is mid-weight and quite fresh without distinct characteristics, as often is the case with blends. Nicely bridges refreshment and richness, and it has the weight to stand up to grilled foods.
Crossbarn 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is from Paul Hobbs, a very successful international winemaker born and raised in a vineyard in upper New York State, and currently consulting at Stratus in Niagara. The oak is very nicely played here – supportive of the peach fruit with leesy/vaguely toasty complexity. It’s mid-weight, serious yet fresh. A style to which more California wineries should aspire.
Wolfberger 2103 Signature Muscat, Alsace, France ($16.95)
David Lawrason – This is a dry muscat, a style that Alsace is doing better than any other region. I love the soaring aromas of lavender, spice, shaved ginger, orange marmalade and persimmon. Exotic indeed. Chill well and serve with Asian inspired salads, pad thai. I was reminded of Argentine torrontes.
Miraval 2014 Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France ($22.95)
David Lawrason – This is perhaps the best ‘Brangelina’ rose yet (by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). It’s more restrained and lower alcohol than previous years. Very pale pearl pink colour typical of Provence. Lovely soft and pure aromas of red plum, watermelon with vague herbs. It’s mid-weight, very smooth, dry and elegant. A fine afternoon sipper but do not overchill.
Ktima Gerovassiliou 2014 White, Epanomi, Greece ($18.95)
David Lawrason – No austerity measures here. This is a lively, firm blend of malagousia and assyrtiko – two principal indigenous grapes of Greece. It has a quite lifted, exotic nose of lychee, pineapple, fennel and clover honey, with some white pepper. It’s mid-weight, fresh, lively and quite spicy on the palate and finish. Very good value.
Jermann 2014 Pinot Grigio, Venezia-Giulia, Italy ($31.95)
David Lawrason – I am dead certain most would never venture $30 on an Italian pinot grigio, but this does not mean the category can’t attain these heights. For a generation Jermann has been a leading producer of Italian white wines. And if you prize, elegance, purity, subtlety and finesse you will love this understated wine.
Dal Cero 2013 Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This was not highlighted in VINTAGES Chillable feature but add it to the list. It is a quite lovely, light, fresh and pure pinot grigio with apple, florals and lemon. Straightforward, zesty and pure with very good length. Ideal for an Ontario summer.
Louis Jadot 2011 Clos De Malte Santenay, Burgundy, France ($39.95)
David Lawrason – A good buy in serious white Burgundy – and underpriced because Santenay doesn’t have the cachet of neighbouring Chassagne-Montrachet. It is quite powerful, well-structured and complex with lifted notes of barrel toast, lemon curd, pear puree, candle wax and toasted almond. It is mid-weight, firm and quite dry. Excellent length. Drink over the next three years (maybe longer).
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
From VINTAGES July 25th, 2015
Szabo’s Smart Buys
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