To ice or not to ice – is NEVER the question

To ice or not to ice – is NEVER the question

Like fingernails on a blackboard or a knife scrapping a dinner plate, the sight and sound of ice cubes being plonked into a glass of red wine is an irritating insult to my senses.  My older sister does it; frequently. It drives me nuts. And to think, my siblings have the gall to suggest that I’m the uncivilised member of the sibship because I was born in Darwin!

Would you believe (yes, you would) that I often chide my philistine sister for her uncouth ice-chilling of her shiraz? Reluctantly, however, I have to admit there’s actually method in the boorish nature of her habit – the temperature at which we drink our wines DOES make a very real difference to the experience. Serve a wine too hot and not only is it unrefreshing, but it can also appear flabby or unstructured. Serve it too cold and the fruit can be bound up so tightly that it mutes the fruit characters and makes it linear and uninviting.  You may as well drink a glass of water; cheaper too.

Wine experts and sommeliers will tell you that there are rules of thumb which guide the temperature at which particular wines should be served. Sparkling wines like champagne or prosecco need to be chilled to bring out the fruit, acids and yeasty characters and to allow appreciation of the effervescence. An ideal temperature is considered to be around 5 – 9 degrees Celsius. For acidic white wines like a pinot grigio, Riesling or Semillon the ideal temperature would be between 7 – 9 degrees. When drinking a full-bodied white like an oaky or buttery chardonnay, a slightly warmer serving temperature will allow the taste and texture to shine say 9 – 14 degrees Celsius?

When it comes to red wines, it’s often said that they should be savoured at room temperature yet defining room temperature is like the proverbial piece of string! As a rule of thumb, the lighter reds like pinot noir or gamay (Beaujolais) will show their best side at 12 – 15 degrees Celsius whilst a bigger, juicy, or tannic red like shiraz, cabernet or Amarone would be more impressive if imbibed at 15 – 18 degrees.

These rules of thumbs are, of course, just that. The individual characteristics of a wine can influence the optimum temperature. A red wine with lots of tannin will cope with being served at a warmer temperature, whilst a delicate or more elegant red will be better presented at the lower end of the range. And at the end of the day, the biggest variable is personal preference – if you like your coffee really hot, then your coffee needs to be served really hot! However, that’s not to say my sister may drop ice cubes into her glass of shiraz. Sorry sis.

I recently came across a nifty feature on a bottle of Taylors Estate range cabernet. They call it their “Optimum Drinking Temperature Sensors” – a strip on the rear label of the bottle reads the temperature to within one degree C, using thermochromic ink technology. Apparently, they’ve been using these labels since 2015 – and I had no idea! If you don’t have access to a climate controlled wine fridge, this feature will certainly make it easy to serve your wine at the recommended temperature.

For what it’s worth, the Taylors Estate Cabernet 2020 (with the sensor on the bottle) was surprisingly good for the very modest asking price. The RRP is $22 yet I’m sure you’ll find it cheaper in all the majors. The Clare Valley fruit has once again shown why the region is up there with the Coonawarra and Margaret River as one of Australia’s premier cabernet producing regions. Blackcurrants and mulberries dominate the front palate while hints of tobacco and eucalypt appear through the middle. The real attraction of the wine, however, is in the finish where cassis, star anise and sweet cedar oak collide and linger through an opera length conclusion. How this sell at $20 is a mystery??

As we swelter through the heat and humidity of the Australian summer months, finding the “Goldilocks” temperature for our reds is more important than ever. Why not use the Taylors’ sensor, grab a thermometer, or simply store in the fridge and allow to stand on the kitchen bench for half an hour before serving?

Whatever mechanism you use, just go easy on the ice cubes, please.

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