Dessert wine: How cold?
It doesn't take most of us long to learn the basic rule of wine-serving temperature: Red wines at room temperature. White wines cold. (The nuances and exceptions can come later.)
But what about dessert wines? These sweet, strong after-dinner goodies don't seem to fit neatly into either category.
Rather than merely follow the conventional wisdom, I thought it might be more fun to test it. With a half-bottle of Quady "Essensia" California Orange Muscat ready for tasting (as promised in Monday's "Muscat Ramble"), I set the scene by popping the bottle into the refrigerator in the morning. A half-hour before serving time, I moved it to the freezer for a short final chill.
I started taking notes immediately, while the wine was still cold enough to frost the glass, and continued jotting down my impressions over the course of the evening as it warmed to room temperature.
At its coldest, the wine seemed surprisingly light-bodied, almost thin, and the flavor - dominated by orange-peel - came across as rather one-dimensional. It "opened up" as it warmed, though, and after about an hour, when the glass was still quite cool to the touch but no longer ice-cold, its texture seemed thicker, almost velvety, and the orange peel had added attractive notes of mint and spice with a pleasantly bitter finish. Toward the end of the evening when it had come all the way up to room temperature, it was still tasty but seemed almost syrupy.
The wine struck the best balance, it seemed to me, when it reached the middle of the coolness range - which, not coincidentally, approximates the natural temperature of caves and underground cellars, around 55F or 13C. In this instance, the conventional wisdom seemed justified, and I wouldn't hesitate to advise drinking any quality dessert wine, from Muscat to Sauternes to Vintage Port, at a similar point.
There's no need for obsessive precision, though. Put your dessert wine in the refrigerator for an hour before serving, or maybe 20 minutes in the freezer (don't forget it's there!) until the bottle is perceptibly cool to the touch but not icy, and you'll be fine. If you err on the cold side, no problem, just give the wine a few moments to warm in the glass.
Your assignment for further study, if you choose to take it, is to try a similar experiment the next time you open a red wine, or a white. Challenge the conventional wisdom by tasting a red wine cold and a white at room temperature, and draw your own conclusions. Paying attention to the standard advice is always good. Checking it out for yourself can be even better.
Quady 2000 "Essensia" California Orange Muscat ($11.49/375 ml)
This is a clear, bright golden-bronze wine with ripe, appealing aromas of orange peel and delicate spice, adding a pleasant minty nuance in the background. Very sweet and fairly full-bodied, light acidity and a pleasant bitter note in the finish add a bit of complexity to sweet-orange flavors. (Jan. 29, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Best served by itself after dinner, although I could imagine it with creme brulee or a dessert flavored with orange liqueur. For some dessert ideas, see Quady's desserts page,
VALUE: Very good value by the relatively pricey standard of quality dessert wines.
WHEN TO DRINK: I like sweet Muscat young and fresh, but its 15 percent alcohol would help preserve the wine should you choose to cellar it. Expect it to change after a few years, but it might be interesting to see what happens.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery's Essensia fact sheet here:
In an act of exceptional carelessness in Wednesday's Wine Advisor, discussing the vinous Super Bowl bet between the governors of California and Florida, I inadvertently wrote that "California law makes it a felony for anyone but a licensed distributor to ship wine (or any other alcoholic beverage) into the Sunshine State."
As I hope the context made clear, that should have read "Florida law." Thanks to all who sent kind and gentle notes pointing out the error.Administrivia
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Friday, Jan. 31, 2003