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Ice in your wine- Really?

Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

When I started several years ago I pledged to focus on wine education for the aspiring wine enthusiast, and made a promise to myself to never be pompous or judgmental about anyone's wine drinking habits or level of wine knowledge.  For two years I have been true to this pledge, and frankly it's easy.  Sharing knowledge and learning from others about any aspect of wine is a passion for me, and a source of seemingly perpetual enjoyment.  But today, I just can't help myself, just this once I'm going to sound a little opinionated, and the subject is putting ice cubes in wine.  But rather than simply saying “don't do it!” I'm going to explain what happens to a wine when you plop those little frozen exterminators in your glass, and offer some suggestions to accomplish the same desired outcome.

Wine tasting is all about aromas and mouth feel.  Black raspberry, peach, cherry, mongo, pineapple, green apple, anise, bell pepper, vanilla, oak, rose petal, thousands of aromas abound even if they might be challenging to identify.  Couple this with crisp salivation inducing acidity or the pucker power of young tannins, and you have limitless possibilities present in the thousands of wines on the market.

So what's so bad about putting a few innocent ice cubes in your wine, especially in these dog days of summer?  Well for the record the simple answer is, you can do whatever you'd like, and I would be remiss if I didn't point out that a lot, and I do mean a lot, of wine consumers put ice cubes in their wine.  But before you run to the freezer, let me offer some reasons you might not want to.  Adding ice cubes to chill a wine prevents those little chemicals in the wine that give wine it's “taste” from escaping into the air.  Cold wine quickly loses its taste.  The problem is compounded when the ice melts, adding more water to the wine, and again diluting the aromas.  The same is true for acidity and tannins in wine, the intensity of the mouth feel (salivation or dryness) is quickly diminished.  Try pouring a glass of an average wine into a wine glass stuffed with ice cubes, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  Blind taste the wine against a glass of ice water.  You'll probably be able to taste the difference, but I can guarantee it will be inconsequential.

“But I like my wine cold!”  OK, I get it, but let me suggest a couple of things that might work without completely demolishing a perfectly good wine.  Most people that put ice into wine do it because they want the wine to be colder (if you do it so that you can't taste the wine that's a whole different article).  If you want your wine colder simply put it in the refrigerator, or even the freezer, for a while before pouring.  This will chill the wine as cold as you would like.  But be careful, wine will ultimately freeze at around 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cork may pop, or worse the bottle crack, before reaching those levels.  If you put a wine bottle in the freezer, always put the timer on for no more than 15 minutes!  Wine cooled in this manner will still suffer from diminished aromas but only from temperature, not the dilution that occurs from melting ice cubes.

Another suggestion is to try wines that retain their unique characteristics well, even with chilling.  Try white wines that are rich with acidity and aromas.  Look for wines that are light bodied, made in stainless steel, and have slightly lower alcohol content.  Some of the more common whites include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and dry Rieslings, but don't be afraid to experiment.  Try an Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece, Albarino from Spain, Torrontes from Argentina, or Verdicchio or Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Italy.  All of these delicious whites are rife with acidity and aromas that can withstand being chilled in the heat of the summer.

Thank you for following along as I got this one pet peeve off my chest.  If you like ice cubes in your wine, go for it.  After all, the definition of a good wine is a wine you like, regardless of how you serve it.



Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

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