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Wineaux: Sorting out the chill factor

By From page A9 | May 01, 2014

I usually say no to the offer of a wine bucket. In part because restaurants typically keep their whites quite chilled, and they need a few minutes to come to a good temperature. But mostly because I enjoy the experience of a good white wine as it gradually warms.

Most of us just put whites in the refrigerator and take them out at serving — and keep reds on a shelf in the pantry so they’ll be at “room temperature.” But the typical temperature of a refrigerator is 35-38 degrees, which is too cold even for white wine, and many folks keep their rooms at about 70 (different from European “room temperature” — more in the range of 65), which is too warm even for bold reds. In the summer, my own thermostat tends to hover around 80, which is much too warm.

You can easily get more precise advice — more precise than “chilled” or “room temperature — on the “proper” temperature at which to serve wine.

Usually it goes something like this: 40-50 degrees for light whites, rosés and sparkling wines; 50-60 for full-bodied whites and light reds; 60-65 for full-bodied reds. Alternatively, you might be advised to take the wines in that first group out of the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving and the second group 30 minutes; the third group you’ll want to put in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes before serving.

Sometimes charts offer even more precision — they might tell you, for example, to chill a pinot noir for 25 minutes and a cabernet for 15.

Of course, as soon as you pour the wine into the glass it will begin to warm, and if you touch the bowl of the glass with your hand, it will warm even faster. Which is why most wine glasses have stems.

The reason for all this concern is that if a wine is too cold, you won’t get much range of flavor; if it’s too warm, the alcohol will dominate the taste. That said, though, there’s a great deal of wiggle room here. And paying attention to your wine as it gradually warms is a good way to discover the point at which it seems to you at its flavorful peak, which may or may not be what the chart advises.

A really good wine will reveal its layers as it changes temperature (of course, it will also be opening up and changing as it interacts with whatever you’re eating), so rather than just one peak, it may have many. And even a relatively simple wine often has a hidden personality that will never emerge if you keep it too cold.

A case in point is the La Poggio Trebbiano that I mentioned in the last column. It’s not a complicated wine, but it manages to hold my interest even as the bottle approaches room temperature, as it does by the end of my dinner. If I’d kept it completely chilled, I would have thought it simply a pleasant, peachy quaffer, and I wouldn’t have discovered the core of stone fruit and mineral that makes it so appealing — and such a good bargain ($8 at Valley Wine Company).

I’ve always thought the exception to my little “rule” was sparkling wine, which I like cold and crisp. I usually keep it refrigerated while I’m eating, so that it doesn’t warm up on me. One night, though, I decided to experiment. We had been saving for a special occasion a bottle of Champagne that some lovely friends gave us as a gift. On Easter Sunday (and thus the end of our non-ranting Lent) as I was roasting a pound of Fiddler’s Green asparagus for asparagus-lemon zest-pine nut linguine, I decided that this was indeed just the special occasion.

The bottle? Champagne J. Lassalle Brut. Imported by Kermit Lynch — in fact, one of the oldest wines in his portfolio — it comes from small-production, family-owned vineyards, all premier cru. All three permitted Champagne grapes, pinot meunier, pinot noir and chardonnay, go into this wine — in proprietary proportions, probably about 60/20/20 in the current release, though it changes year by year. Angéline Templier, granddaughter of the founder, is the winemaker.

Kermit remarks, “Their 28-year tradition of “une femme, un esprit, un style” (one woman, one spirit, one style) holds true today more than ever.”

The “tough, hard-working” (Kermit’s description) women who continue to make this Champagne use the same methods as the house’s founder, Jules Lassalle, even using the same wooden basket press he installed more than 50 years ago. Enormous care goes into each bottle — they allow it, unlike most champagnes, to complete its malolactic fermentation. And the bottled wine is extensively aged.

The result is a lovely, elegant, layered wine with flavors of pear, peach, fig and ginger — and warm, buttery, yeasty biscuits. The most repeated comment at our dinner table was an awed “This just keeps getting better and better.” And the most surprising thing was the persistence and liveliness of the bubbles that just seemed to increase as the wine warmed.

Had I kept it in the refrigerator with a spoon (someone once told me a spoon would help retain the bubbles — I have no idea if that’s true but I persist in doing it), I wouldn’t have experienced that — or the increasing richness of the flavors. And it certainly didn’t need a spoon to keep up that steady stream of bubbles.

My only criticism is that we reached the bottom of the bottle all too soon — but I’m saving my pennies (dimes? quarters?) in order to acquire another as soon as possible. Fortunately, it’s not one of those $150 extravagances. At $35, it’s an entirely do-able splurge. And a great bargain for true premier cru Champagne. I can’t find it anywhere in Davis, but a spring trip to Berkeley sounds delightful.

Kermit Lynch, where you’ll undoubtedly find a hundred other bottles you want to try, is on the corner of San Pablo and Cedar, handily next door to Acme Bakery where you can pick up the wonderful Edible Schoolyard Loaf.
The next special occasion is, I’m sure, just around the bend.

You won’t, though, need to bring a bottle for this special occasion: The Davis High Baroque Orchestra continues its fundraising efforts from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at the Good Life Garden (Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science). More than 20 wineries will be pouring, the students will be playing, appetizers will abound. There also will be a silent auction. Tickets are $50 — get them at Watermelon Music or online at Brown Paper Tickets. Support these dedicated musicians!

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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