Odd Pair: Ice Cubes and Chardonnay (Water and Wine)

Categories: Wine Time

chardonnay ice cube.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
If you like ice cubes in your Chardonnay and getting caught in the rain, if you're not into yoga, and you have half a brain...
Back in the 1990s, when a new awareness of fine wine began to emerge in the U.S., the combination of "ice cubes in your Chardonnay" became a sort of litmus test, a line in the sand dividing those who knew and appreciated fine wine and those who didn't.

Even today, when we're invited for over for dinner and I ask if I may bring wine from my cellar, some will respond by saying: "Sure! Thanks. But don't bring anything too fancy. We put ice cubes in our Chardonnay." The expression -- ice cubes in your/my Chardonnay -- has become part of the modern-day vernacular the way that shit from Shinola became part of everyday speech after the second world war. There are people who know shit from Shinola and there are people who don't. (What? Were you born in a barn?)

The primary component in both ice cubes and wine is water. Of the approximately 1,000 "constituents" in wine (according to the Oxford Companion to Wine), water and alcohol are the predominant elements, and their balance is one of the defining elements in the wine's identity.

When you introduce water into the mix (by adding ice cubes), that balance is unsettled: There's nothing that makes a fine wine producer cringe more than the thought of water being added to her/his wine.

But the tradition of adding water to wine dates back to antiquity.

The Greeks are said to have added sea water to their wine and by the Roman era, it was common to mix wine and water (the alcohol in the wine helped to sanitize the water in an era when potable water could be scarce). In Boccaccio's Decameron (fourteenth century, Italy), the author describes fine wine "so good" that water did not need to be added to it.

And today in Europe (and some of the hipper bars and restaurants of our country's major cities), sparkling water is commonly added to white wine and a bitter like Campari or Aperol to make a spritzer.

At our house, especially during the summer, I often spike a glass of inexpensive wine (like an easy-going Muscadet from France or a Barbera from Italy) with a splash of chilled sparkling water: The added water reduces the amount of alcohol I consume, and it makes the beverage more refreshing. I learned to do this in Europe, where, for the most part, people don't drink wine to get drunk; they drink it because it's healthy component in a balanced meal.

I'm not saying that you should add ice cubes to a fine (and expensive) wine like a Bâtard-Montrachet (arguably the greatest appellation in white Burgundy). You wouldn't be getting your money's worth if you did.

But I am convinced that the ultimate acid test for a wine is whether you like drinking it or not. If it tastes good to you, then it's good.

If you like ice cubes in your Chardonnay, write to me and escape...



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trisch
trisch

I put ice cubes in my wine from time to time, red and white.  I like my wines on the cool side -- whites chilly and reds cool to the touch -- but sometimes restaurants bring wine to me so warm I'm tempted to put mulling spices in it and sing Christmas carols.  Thus the ice -- it might change the flavor balance a bit, but it's still an improvement from what was there before.

csoakley
csoakley

I put ice cubes in milk. Now I don't feel like such a weird-ass.

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

and, btw.... the vintner may well cringe at the thought of ice cubes in her wine, but let's face it, she's not the one who paid for it and should enjoy it.  If you think it will benefit by adding an ice cube or two [either because of temperature or dilution], then go for it.   I am reminded of cajun chef Justin Wilson's pronouncement on what color wine you should drink with fish.  He poured himself a big glass of red and said "that fish, he don't know nothing about the color of that wine!"

Jeremy Parzen
Jeremy Parzen

I love chef Justin's observation! Awesome! 

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

my adoptive family in france [no slouches in the wine department] taught me it was fine to put ice cubes in wine.  not too many and only in the right situations/wine.  but there's certainly not any "no ice cubes in wine" fine line.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Jeremy, is there any extent to which the practice of adding small amounts of water to wine can help improve the appreciation of its subtleties, as is the case with whiskey? How about the dulling effect of (substantial) chilling on the tastebuds?

I am definitely showing this to my mom, though, as she is a chronic wine-icer. Usually, it's because she's forgotten to chill her wine. Which suddenly makes me think a speedy wine chiller might be a good Christmas present for her. . .

Jeremy Parzen
Jeremy Parzen

Ultimately, when you add water — even a small amount — your fundamentally changing the wine's balance. So adding water doesn't improve the flavor (it only dilutes it). When I add water to wine, it's with $15 and under wine for quaffing... 

And yes, chilling wine will mask its flavor... Btw, the best way to chill wine quickly is to fill the sink with water and add ice cubes: submerge the wine and it will chill in about 5 minutes. 

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I'm not saying it improves the flavor, but that it might allow you to appreciate some of its subtleties. With whiskey, a few drops of water "tame" some of the alcohol, and make some of the other nuances more apparent. Just curious if it would have a similar effect with wine.

Handfasted1
Handfasted1

even better if you add a good dose of salt to the cooling bath.

Megan
Megan

Huh.  So my grandmother added ice cubes to her cheap-ass Chardonnay for a reason (other than to be a pain to the bartender, aka me).

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