September 1, 2008

Cold Play

We've all done it. You grab a bottle from the cellar and whack it into the freezer to put a quick chill on it. Then halfway through dessert, you realize with a start, "Oh, [deleted]! The bottle in the freezer!" You race back to the kitchen to discover you've made Gavi granita. So what to do?

I could tell you this experiment was prompted by scientific curiosity. But the truth is elsewhere. Couple weeks ago, I realized we had totally forgotten an employee birthday -- which is always hard on Lab morale. So I jammed a Pinot Gris into the freezer and whipped up some vanilla fondant for a Sarah Lee poundcake I found in the fridge. The cake was a big hit and saved the day, but it wasn't until someone pointed out that Pinot Gris was the classic pairing for Sarah Lee poundcake that I remembered the bottle in the freezer.

In the kitchen, a debate broke out -- not uncommon here -- about whether the thawed wine would suffer any ill effect from being frozen. I cut the debate short -- also not uncommon -- pointing out there is no need to argue about something if there was an empirical proof available.

So we put a bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle/Dr Loosen, Riesling Eroica, 2006, in the freezer and froze it. We let the bottle thaw completely and then tasted it side by side and blind against an identical bottle that we had not similarly abused.

There was a minor color variation between the two, the Left bottle just slightly more pale than the Right. The Right bottle was a little more expressive on the nose, but the fruit in the two bottles was nearly identical: pear, nectarine and pineapple. The residual sugar was somewhat more prominent in the Right. And the faint mineral element on the finish was a little bitter on the Left.

Given what happened with the wine we left in the hot car, when the blindfolds came off we were all a little relieved to discover that the Right bottle was the "right" bottle. The Left had been frozen and thawed. But in truth, the Left bottle was hardly ruined. If you hadn't been looking for the distinctions, you might not have noticed.

Lab Conclusion: Don't toss that frozen Chardonnay into the bin. Just serve it a little later in the evening. Or pour it for people who asked if you had any White Zinfandel. They'll never know.

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