The Goldilocks Wine Philosophy

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - February 21, 2007
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Cab lovers will rave over this one
Cab lovers will rave
over this one

Temperature has everything to do with how a wine tastes. Whatever we eat and drink has an optimum temperature at which point it tastes best. Can you imagine eating a steak cold?

Or conversely how about drinking a beer hot?

And why is ginger chicken served cold instead of hot?

Even pizza, although fine when it’s cold, tastes better when it comes right out of the oven.

Wine acts the same way, a difference in temperature can make the wine taste better or worse.

I’ve illustrated this point with people by taking the same wine and pouring it into three glasses. One glass is served at the correct temperature, another served too cold and the last too warm. If I didn’t tell the tasters that all three wines were the same, they would have thought they were three different wines altogether.

What happens with our perception of the wine at different temperatures is very interesting.

If a wine is too cold, the aromatic character of the wine is completely muted. When a wine is ice cold in an ice bucket or just comes out of the refrigerator at 40° F, you really can’t smell anything.

When people like to drink a wine at this temperature, they really don’t smell anything until they put it in their mouths, and it warms up and releases aromas onto your palate.

At the same time, the perception of alcohol is also muted, so when you smell the wine, you can’t perceive the alcohol.

Generally speaking, people who like to drink their wines really cold are trying to kill the perception of alcohol.

It’s the same principle that so effectively mutes the alcohol in a Martini (shaken or stirred with ice).

For red wines, when the wine is too cold, the tannins (that feeling of astringency you have on your gums akin to drinking tea steeped too long) are exacerbated. They feel even more tannic and rough, even bitter to a point.

On the other hand, if a wine is too warm, the wine will smell really alcoholic. It gives a burning sensation not only to your nose but going down your throat.

That’s never good.

It becomes so strong, even in wines with relatively low alcohol levels, that it overpowers the natural aromas and flavors that we want to enjoy.

As a result of this dominance of alcohol in the wine at a higher temperature, the balance and texture of the wine is affected. The acidity of the wine seems less; the texture is more pronounced, or fatter in a sense.

As you can see with all these factors being affected by temperature it is extremely important to pay attention to it.

Unfortunately there is the “room temperature” myth.

Room temperature varies from place to place, and ours in Hawaii is too warm for serving any wine.

Few people want to take the temperature of their wine before they drink it, but just make an estimate. Refrigerators are usually set to 40°F, and cellars should be 55°F, so you can figure out how long to keep it in or out.

Here are my own guidelines for wine serving temperatures:

Sparkling wine - 50 to 55° F

White wine - 55 to 60° F Red wine - 59 to 64° F Yes, you may see other standards, or you may have your own preferences, but I subscribe to the Goldilocks philosophy of not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Try them and see if you think the wine tastes better or worse.


Recommended sipping: 2004 Luna Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50): Chunky rich fruit with a depth and texture that will make any Cabernet lover gush with joy.

2005 JJ Christoffel Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett ($20): Absolutely lip-smacking, delicious wine, with just a tickle of sweetness that perks up your palate, with superb balance.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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