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Why It’s OK to Put Ice in Your White Wine

DiningOut_Woman_Solo_300Heating food helps release its aroma, allowing you to taste its flavors more intensely. Here’s why Barb Stuckey, a professional food developer, does just the opposite to her white wine. From Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good.

As a nightly wine drinker, I am a big advocate of drinking white wine on ice. The first reason is that the dilution principle holds true: even when something tastes fine on its own (single strength), you will savor more of it with a slight dilution. One or two cubes of ice result in the perfect amount of dilution to let you experience nuances you might otherwise miss in a crisp acidic, fruity wine that can be overpowered by bracing, heartburn-inducing acidity. The objective of adding ice to wine is not to lower the temperature of the wine; it’s to increase the dilution. This requires adding a just-about-right amount of ice. Too much ice will chill the wine to a point at which the volatiles are less active. The second benefit of subtly icing your wine is that you will dilute the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. This becomes more and more important as you get older. My fortysomething metabolism can’t handle the same amount of wine I enjoyed in my twenties and thirties. Of course, you can also add water to wine to achieve this effect, as the French have been doing for years.

Adding ice to very sweet white wines, such as dessert wine, ice wine, and late-harvest wine, makes them more dilute, too, so that you can enjoy the fragrant floral and stone fruit flavors without the sometimes cloying sweetness. Ice wine makers in both the northern and southern hemispheres will cringe upon reading this next sentence, but it’s one of my favorite ways to drink sweet, high-residual sugar wines: I frappe them in a blender with ice and enjoy them with a spoon. Ice-blended ice wine. Yum.

This technique doesn’t work for all wines, because some white wines are better when they’re warmer. Cold suppresses and warmth liberates volatiles. Varietals such as chardonnay, which are low in fruit flavors, may release more of their nonfruit aromas (such as butter, oak, or vanilla) when they’re warmer than refrigerator temperature. When you see wine drinkers cupping the bowl of a wineglass in their palms, they’re usually trying to increase the temperature to release more volatiles. The best way to figure out whether ice and/or dilution is a benefit or hindrance is to drop in a cube and taste.

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