BUZZ: Hey Marnie, I was out of beer last night after a sweaty day of yardwork, so I tried adding ice to my favorite cabernet. It tasted awful!
Marnie: Some red wines can handle being chilled, Buzz, but that isn't one of them. The same traits that people love about cabernet sauvignon make it very temperature-sensitive.
Buzz: Temperature-sensitive? Don't sauvignon grapes like hot weather?
Marnie: No, Buzz. Red wines that are dark in color and intense in flavor are usually high in tannin. As you discovered last night, high-tannin wines are among the worst performers when served cold. At temperatures below 65 or 70 degrees, tannin seems progressively more harsh and bitter on the palate.
Buzz: Holy cow, what does that feel like to you?
Marnie: It leaves an astringent, mouth-drying sensation that reminds me of chewing sandpaper. Lowering the temperature of any wine also mutes its flavor, leaving big reds tasting weaker than usual. Neither effect is particularly flattering.
Buzz: That sounds like the yuck factor I got last night. I'll warm it up next time.
Marnie: Be careful. Overheating your strong red wines can be as problematic as over-chilling them. Smells dominate the wine experience. Since scents come from volatile compounds, they evaporate at different rates, depending on temperature.
The esters and aldehydes that give wine its flavor evaporate faster at higher temperatures, making warm wine taste bolder and cool wine taste milder. If wine gets too warm, though, alcohol vapors themselves begin to blot out more pleasant scents. At around 75 degrees, most wines begin to "singe" the nose and throat like a whiff of rubbing alcohol.
Buzz: Yeesh. These wines are so overly sensitive. No wonder I normally stick to beer.
Marnie: It's true. Big, steak-house reds run into problems on both ends of the spectrum, when they're served too hot or too cold. Good beer is just as temperature-sensitive - but maybe not the stuff you drink.
Ultimately, though, it's your wine. Don't be afraid to do whatever is necessary to enjoy it. Not everyone agrees about what tastes best, and only you can decide what you like.
If a wine doesn't taste refreshing enough, chill it a little even if it's red. If it seems too thin or bland, warm it up a little even if it's white. And, frankly, a couple ice cubes won't hurt most of the wines we drink every day.
Buzz: Well, you've schooled me again. If I'm out of Schmidt's beer on a hot day, I'll throw an ice cube in a dry-style chardonnay and save the cab for cooler weather, when I'm ready for a room-temperature drink.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crash course for the wine curious. Marnie also advises clients in the beverage and restaurant trades. Check her out at MarnieOld.com or follow her on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Gar Joseph.