Animation by Eric DeFreitas
Jacques Tranier used to believe that putting ice in wine was sacrilege. But one hot August night in a bar on the Côte d’Azur, the managing director of the Vinovalie winemaking cooperative in Southwest France witnessed something revelatory.
“Two women were [each] drinking a glass of rosé full of ice cubes,” says Tranier. He was intrigued. “It seemed fresh and new enough to be interesting.”
On the sun-drenched terraces of the French Riviera, it’s customary to add an ice cube or two to a glass of crisp, salmon-hued Provence rosé. In fact, it’s not unusual to find what’s called a piscine on the menu, a large glass of rosé or white wine served over a generous scoop of ice cubes.
What may be custom in one place, however, is far from standard elsewhere, and putting ice cubes in wine is divisive. For some, it’s heresy; for others, a habit, a way to quickly cool down a lukewarm glass of white or rosé wine or add extra chill on a hot day.
“I am never going to tell someone they are enjoying our wines in the wrong way.” —Andrew Wilson, Goose Ridge Winery
Instant gratification comes at an expense, though. As the ice melts, wine dilutes and its chemical equilibrium starts to change.
“As winemakers, we spend a lot of time and energy coaxing structure and aromas out of the grapes and preserving the freshness of wines, so it’s a shame to have that lost by dilution when the ice melts into the wine,” says Andrew Wilson, winemaker at Goose Ridge Winery in Washington. “For nice, expressive wines, this can have a dramatic effect.”
Certain wines can handle ice more than others.
“For a wine to taste good when served so cold, it needs a different flavor profile,” says Elizabeth Gabay, Master of Wine and author of Rosé: Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution. These include easy-drinking Pinot Grigios or wines with high sugar content and intense flavors, like a late-harvest Riesling or a dry rosé.
“If you’re going to drink one of our wines with ice, I would recommend Mirabeau Classic, which is a more aromatic and fruit-forward rosé and will cut through at even lower temperatures,” says Jeany Cronk, founder of Maison Mirabeau in Provence.
It’s one thing to add ice to a glass of wine, but crafting a wine designed to be drunk on ice is something else entirely. In 2004, after that game-changing experience with rosé on ice on the Côte d’Azur, Tranier launched Rosé Piscine.
“It took the winemakers two years to perfect the dosage of Négrette and three complementary varieties, all very aromatic, that make up the blend of the wine,” he says. The idea was to create a wine with robust enough aromatics and residual sugar to stand up to dilution.
Rosé Piscine has been particularly successful in Brazil, Tranier says, where 500,000 bottles are sold annually. A spin-off white wine, Blanc Piscine, followed, as have similar bottlings from other producers like Michael Mondavi Family Estate’s Isabel Rosé, Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial and Ice Imperial Rosé and Veuve Clicquot’s Rich. And Pommery’s Royal Blue Sky is best served with precisely five mineral water ice cubes, according to the Champagne house’s website.
Tranier says these types of “swimming pool” wines, as they are often called, target relaxed, uninhibited drinkers.
For those who take their iced wine seriously, the size of the cubes matters. Gabay notes that larger cubes melt and dilute slower than smaller shapes, a consideration for next time you reach for the freezer.
Like everything in wine, it’s a matter of taste. “Our conviction has always been to let people enjoy themselves with rosé wines in the way they like to, so we are never too prescriptive,” says Cronk.
“I am never going to tell someone they are enjoying our wines in the wrong way,” he says. “If adding ice cubes to their Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc helps someone enjoy it more, then I’m just glad they are finding pleasure in something we have produced.”