I am perched atop a high stool at a wrought-iron table in the patio of D19, one of my favorite restaurants in Aspen, Colo., where we spend a good part of our summer. It's a warm noon, but we are protected from the sun by a wide umbrella. Checking over the wines by the glass for something to sip with my bison burger (outstanding with braised onions and bacon), I home in on Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2005.
D19 serves its wines by the glass the right way. It brings out a big crystal glass, and the wine in a small 187-milliliter carafe (about 6 ounces), so you can fill the glass as much or as little as you like. Only one problem this time: the wine is too warm. Patio temperature at that moment was the high 70s.
I could have asked the restaurant to open another bottle, which might have been just as warm, or to chill the opened bottle, requiring a 10- to 15-minute wait. But I had another option. My friend Dick, who comes from Miami, a pretty warm place, had asked for a separate tumbler of ice for his water. So I just reached over, grabbed a small cube and swirled it around in my glass of red.
Are you scandalized?
I can hear the wine purists yelping already: the ice will melt and dilute the wine!
For me, warm wine is hard to drink. It's like soup. It lacks the refreshing qualities that it should bring to the table. A little ice cools it off, and I am OK with the wine being less assertive if it means drinking a refreshing wine.
Some years ago, I was leading a tasting in front of a couple of hundred perspiring wine lovers at the first International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon. Outside the temperature was approaching 100 degrees. There was no air conditioning in the room, where it had to be in the 90s. The poor Pinots tasted awful, so I extracted an ice cube from my water glass for each of the six small glasses in front of me. You should have heard the horrified gasps. But it made it possible for me to taste the wines' charms. I could actually enjoy drinking them. (These cubes were large, so I fished them out after 5 or 10 seconds in the glass.)
For the Seghesio Zin, the ice brought the wine to the perfect temperature, somewhere around 65° F. Ah! Raspberries! A lovely touch of exotic spice! Those characteristics weren't noticeable when the wine was warm.
I did a little calculation. I figure the small ice cube I dropped into the glass equaled about 1 teaspoon of water. If the little carafe held about 6 ounces, and there are 12 teaspoons in an ounce, I diluted by wine by 1/72, or about 1.4 percent. I looked up the Seghesio Zin on the winery's website. It had 15.2 percent alcohol, so my ice cube ministrations diluted it to about 15 percent even. The wine was not wimpy as a result of its encounter with an ice cube.
Would you do the same? Or does the idea of tossing ice into good wine horrify you? I vote for the ice cube every time. I'll even ask for my own little glass of ice to do it.