I like to add an ice cube to my wine when I'm sitting outside in the summer. My husband gets on my case about it. Who am I hurting?
Only the winemaker's feelings, but that shouldn't be a problem unless your husband is the winemaker. I say stand your ground. What do husbands know anyway?
If I had to choose between a slightly diluted or overly warm wine, I'd choose the former. Shifts in temperature can significantly alter wine flavour, tipping the balance to where it can taste unpleasant or at least not like it was made to be enjoyed.
We chill whites to enhance perceived acidity. As the wine heats up, the acid level appears to dip, which in turn raises sweetness. Ever drink lukewarm Coke? Three words: real bad thing.
When it comes to red wines, heat again plays a distorting role, lowering acidity but also bringing out the alcohol in a "hot" or medicinal way. You may also sense stronger bitterness from the tannins. As many winemakers and sommeliers will tell you, even in winter most red wine is consumed too warm – room temperature of 21 degrees instead of a more appropriate 16 or 17. Let a red sit on an exposed patio table for half an hour and the dark colour will absorb lots of solar heat, turning your zinfandel into zinfanhell.
It's best to chill wine from the outside, of course. An ice bucket works well for a bottle providing you remember, in the case of red, to keep bottle in only briefly. As red wine gets too cold, the pleasant aromatics disappear and flavours become muted. Although an ice cube may seem sacrilegious, you might be surprised at how little the flavour suffers from the resulting dilution. Not that I'd perform the ice-cube trick with a glass of Lafite; if I were rich enough to afford such a wine for casual patio sipping, though, I'd be freeze up a few ice-cube trays using the Lafite itself.
When I want to control and minimize the dilution (as in the case of a more expensive wine), I drop in a cube and stir for a few seconds before scooping the ice out.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol was recently named one of this season's Top 10 cookbooks in the United States by Publishers Weekly. Published by HarperCollins.