Monday, September 10, 2007

60 Degree Zinfandel

Serving wine at the right temperature is a difficult business. As a rule, in the US we tend to drink white wines too cold, and red wines too warm. If the wine you're serving for dinner tonight is a red, and has high alcohol levels, you may not be happy if you don't chill it down a little first.

But how much? Take zinfandel. Experts disagree on the ideal serving temperature. The Wine Taster recommends serving zinfandels at 62 to 67 degrees which is too warm for me. Vino! suggests serving temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees. If I drank a zinfandel at 80 degrees I guarantee you I would find it tasted hot, alcoholic, and raspy on the throat. But 60 degrees sounded too cool. I thought I'd give it a try and see.

I pulled a zinfandel out of my wine refrigerator, which keeps wine between 55 and 58 degrees and let it sit out for a bit while I whipped up some quick grits with cheddar cheese. I was going to top them with some spicy black beans and sauteed peppers, and the zin would make a good pairing. Ten minutes later, the grits were done, the peppers sauteed and tossed with the black beans, and the wine had come up a few degrees to around 60. It was utterly perfect to my palate: smooth, spicy, and yes, even refreshing.

My 60 degree zin was the 2003 Carol Shelton Monga Old Vines Zinfandel from the Lopez Vineyard. (previous vintage pictured here) Like its name suggests, the Monga Zin was certainly a big wine. It was bright, true garnet in color like a ring my grandmother used to wear. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, black tea, and spice rose to meet you as you poured the wine into the glass. Once there, a good swirl released something sweet, herbal, tangy--sassafras. I've never smelled sassafras in a zinfandel, but it was unmistakably there for me. The flavors were what you would have expected given the aromas, developing chocolate and pepper notes as you held the last drops in your mouth. It had 15% alc/vol, but it was nicely balanced and by drinking it at a cooler temperature it didn't taste rough or raspy.

It's hard to assess the QPR on this wine, because I bought it on sale as a bin end for $18.99. At that price, it was very good QPR given its complicated and intricate flavor profile. But most retailers have this for between $22 and $26. First of all I don't know whether I'd plunk down that much money for a zinfandel without thinking twice, since there are some awfully good versions at lower price points. But given the complexity of this wine, I think even at around $25 it would still be good QPR.

But the real message from this wine was not about QPR--it was about serving temperature. Serving wine too hot or too cold can mess up the flavors and textures of any wine. What the "right" temperature is for you may be as subjective a business as figuring out whether you prefer California or New Zealand sauvignon blancs. So do some experimenting with chilling wine down and letting it warm up and then try to remember it next time you drink that varietal. For now, I'll be serving my zins at 60 degrees.


Alastair Bathgate said...

A good tip someone left on my blog is to put red wine in the fridge for half an hour before drinking it, whereas white wines should be taken out of the fridge half an hour before drinking.

Dr. Debs said...

I've done that, too, Alastair and it works ok in the winter here in LA, but in summer the ambient temp is so high 30 minutes only chills down the bottle, not the wine. I find here it needs an hour in the fridge, and then perhaps a few minutes warm up. With the new wine fridge, I'm discovering how nice cooler red wines are--at least for me. I'm liking them between 60 and 68, for the most part.

Wine Scamp said...

I enjoyed reading of your temperature experiment. You make me hungry with your food pairing talk!

When I was just starting to get seriously into wine, I had a boyfriend whose father had been a collector (built his own cellar, the whole 9). This guy had tasted lots of Great Wine and was totally caught up in himself about it in a very condescending way. I did taste my first older vintages with him, so our time together was not wholly wasted for that reason and for this: he always chilled his Zinfandel (rather ostentatiously, very conscious of his "breaking the rules" at that time), as I do to this day. Best way to even out that high alcohol bite you find on most good Zins!

Dr. Debs said...

Hi Wine Scamp, and welcome! (great blog, too, by the way). I couldn't agree more about zin and the chill taking the edge off the alcohol. That's what I object to most with zinfandel, and discovering that a few degrees of coolness helps to manage it was great news to me.

(And you should try those grits. Very good...)