Okay, so this is a subject hardly anyone feels lukewarm about – to ice, or not to ice? Whether you consider this a heinous crime against wine, or if you love nothing more than sneaking in an indulgent cube or two on a sweltering Summer’s day, we want to help melt away any misunderstandings you may have about the ice-in-wine debate. This week I (Kristen) headed to one of Lyon’s coolest watering holes to break the ice.
When the notorious canicule (heatwave) hits, there’s nothing more urgent on a European’s agenda than finding a way to cool down. If the beach isn’t in reach, the next best thing is hitting the closest waterside spot to sip on something cold and refreshing. I happened to be in Lyon (France’s second-biggest city) this past Tuesday to celebrate Bastille Day and to visit one of my favourite Frenchies, Charline, and boy was it a scorcher of a day. Charline suggested we grab a drink at La Barge, a tapas bar located on a permanently-moored péniche on the Rhône river.
After settling down beneath some palm fronds and scanning the wine list, my eyes fell upon something I had never seen before: une piscine de rosé. This is literally French for “a swimming pool of rosé” – and given the pressing heat, my internal search engine was on high alert for all of those terms. Charline quickly came to my aid and explained the contents of this intriguing-sounding beverage: a large wine glass crammed with ice cubes and a light, refreshing rosé. At this point I think I was more interested in the ice than the wine, so we shrugged our shoulders with a pourquoi pas? and ordered two glasses tout de suite.
As my glorious glass of icy heaven started to perspire in the afternoon sun, I realised with a slight pang of guilt that I was enjoying my iced rosé tremendously. Charline assured me that loads of French people put ice in their wine and that it’s a pretty normal thing, but after years of having heard it was definitively wrong to put ice in wine, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something a bit taboo. Nevertheless, I indulgently gulped down my swimming pool and resolved to do some research into the subject after recovering from the revelry of the 14th of July. So, after poking around the internet for a bit, and of course after consulting my personal Frenchie, what have I found?
First off, I don’t think we can turn this into a moral issue by using words like right and wrong. I’m in the camp of those who believe that consenting adults can put whatever they wish into their wine and not be chastised for it. I think the question should rather be: does adding ice enhance the taste and/or enjoyment of the wine? Generally, the answer to this will depend on a few key factors:
1. Dilution: Adding ice cubes to wine dilutes it (obviously). So if you’re drinking a really well-made or complex wine, you probably won’t want to water down the flavours and aromas. Some wine enthusiasts even view adding ice cubes as an insult to the winemaker, who put extensive care and effort into creating a perfectly-balanced wine. On the other hand, diluting wine with ice can soften the alcohol, similar to the effect of drinking whisky on the rocks.
2. Temperature: It’s widely understood that temperature can have a significant effect on the taste and enjoyment of a wine. As a rule, white wine as well as light-bodied reds are best served chilled, while medium or full-bodied reds should be served at room temperature to maximise the release of aromas. That said, it’s important to remember we’re talking room temperature of a European cellar, which tends to be around 15-18°C. White wines can be chilled in either a fridge or ice bucket (filled three quarters full with equal parts water and ice), however on sweltering Summer days you might need to glug down your wine before it gets warm (unless you’re in the ice cube camp, of course).
3. Context: If you’re sipping on an elegant Chablis at a work function, you may get some strange looks if you lob a few blocks of ice into the mix. However, if you find yourself in a casual environment drinking a casual wine, or if the sun is beating down mercilessly, poppin’ some cubes into your Sauvignon can be downright refreshing. In fact, Moët & Chandon recently released a Champagne designed to be drunk over ice (also to be consumed on your private yacht in Saint-Tropez, as their marketing campaign would suggest). So if that isn’t enough of an excuse to ice ice baby, I don’t know what is.
Now that you’re in the know, you’ll be able to go forth and ice with discretion. As for me, the heatwave in France continues and I’m already on the lookout for my next piscine…