Neither cold nor hot

If there’s one reason I’m thankful the Platter guide takes place during July and August, it’s because it’s winter in the Cape. I really can’t imagine tasting all those wines in summer, not because I’d prefer to be outside (well, only partly) but because it’s so much easier to taste the wines close to the temperature that will help them show at their best.

Not all white wines should be chilled to this degree.
Not all white wines should be chilled to this degree.

My office in winter is pretty chilly – it faces south with a single high north-facing window that doesn’t even get much sun through it. In fact it’s cooler than the cellar, which sits at a constant 16°C, good for some reds but a bit warm for most whites. The whites that do need a bit of chilling, I leave in my office as I faff around doing some chores and getting rid of the taste of toothpaste before settling down to taste them. This usually does the trick; there’s no need to put them into the fridge. Only bubblies and sweet whites need that treatment.
If all this sounds a bit too fussy, the temperature wine is served at makes such a difference to how it performs. And when Platter is involved, it could make the difference between leaving a wine at 4.5* and nominating it for 5*. Whites can be killed with chill; reds served too warm also hibernate and too cold send those tannins into hyperdrive.

I proved this again to myself with an elegant Swartland white blend. I like to drink rather than merely taste some of the better wines, which I’d done with this blend but I’d put it in the fridge after tasting to enjoy a glass in the evening. I forgot to remove it until just before I wanted that glass; the wine was dumb, zilch, nada of the delights I’d experienced earlier that day.

As I usually do, I did a re-taste the following day having made sure it had been nowhere near the fridge; to my relief it had returned to its former delightful self. The stress of indecision on a rating was no longer.

Not the best way to bring up a red to the right temperature & there are some better enjoyed much cooler.
Not the best way to bring up a red to the right temperature & there are some better enjoyed much cooler.

The issue of temperature is becoming more important with the increase of lighter, fresher red wines, with softer tannins (which, in my book are so to be welcomed); wines such as the new Craven Wines Pinot Noir 2013, Sadie Pofadder Cinsaut, Spioenkop Pinotage 1900. Red wines like these will give much more pleasure when served cooler (around 12°C to 14°C) rather than more traditional red-wine temperatures. That ‘room temperature’ idea is really a nonsense, as this varies according to the room and time of year. The more full-bodied reds are fine served directly from the cellar in winter; we tend not to drink the bigger ones at the height of summer.

Whites too need a re-think; gone are the days of the majority of those hefty, oaky, buttery chardonnays. With less oak, less of the acid-softening malo-lactic fermentation, which gives a much fresher taste and taste better when slightly chilled. Fuller, richer styles, not only of chardonnay but chenin, semillon and blends can easily be killed with over-chilling. But there is no ‘one size (temperature) fits all’ these days.

At least there’s a fix, if not always quick, to correct a wine’s temperature, something not possible with other mistakes.


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