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Does Freezing Affect Wine? Let’s See with Wines from Smith-Madrone

signIt’s early August, the temperatures are regularly surpassing 90 degrees, and it’s hot out there!  Logically we should be writing about which rosé to be drinking and refreshing, chilled summer sippers.  To me it seems like the perfect time to talk about something cold, and we have just the thing.  Actually we had three things, each a completely frozen bottle of wine sent as samples from Smith-Madrone.  Obviously, since it is August, this was not a very recent event, and actually happened in February.  Back then, on the weekend of the Boston Wine Expo, temperatures in Southeastern New England plunged below zero, and the wines unfortunately spent the weekend on the delivery truck exposed to the cold.  What we received were wine popsicles.

The box was bowed up on the top, and we quickly realized why upon opening it, as the corks were pushed halfway out of the bottle

Bursting through the packaging

Bursting through the packaging

right through the capsules and the styrofoam insert.  This was a first, and immediately the opportunity for some experimentation was clear.  I would never freeze bottles of this quality purposely (even for science!), but Mother Nature had chosen to do so.  Time to experiment!

There has been a bit published on whether freezing changes wine, and generally most of it suggests that freezing a bottle of white wine is not a bad thing.  Reds are a bit more suspect.  Cold is not an issue, but what about when they are frozen solid?  I mean top to bottom, through and through, frozen solid.  Not just for a few hours either, as these were likely this way for days.  Clearly there was only one way to find out, and that was to thaw out the ice and drink what was inside.  We set about doing so with eager anticipation.

Red wine leakage and some bits of capsule

Red wine leakage and some bits of capsule

First I wrapped each bottle top and cork in plastic to prevent any oxidation.  The red wine had clearly been compromised with regard to its seal, as there were red wine stains in the bottom of the packaging.  The whites were less clear, but it seemed better to be safe.  All the wines thawed overnight, the whites were

Trying to keep them airtight

Trying to keep them airtight

popped into the fridge (not the freezer!) and the red was left on the kitchen counter.  Anything could happen.

We’ll give you the spoiler before getting to the detailed tasting notes.  The whites were flawless, and it is hard to imagine they were changed in any meaningful way.  The red was not the same, and based on other reviews we have read there is a strong suspicion it did not survive intact.  Was that the freezing?  Did it oxidize a little?  We’re not sure.

This is also a chance to review two white wines from Smith-Madrone,  who makes wine from their estate vineyards

surrounding the winery on the top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.  Specific slopes are chosen with different aspects best suited to the individual varietals planted there.  Grapes grown primarily include Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, and production is relatively modest at a total of about 4,000 cases per year.  They’ve received many accolades, including the 2014 Winery of the Year Award from TheDailyMeal.com (which you can read by clicking here).  We had one of each varietal, so let’s see what happened!

2012 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon – the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are on very steep slopes at the top of Spring Mountain.  Every year this wine is made from the same vineyards, cultivated in the same way and harvested at similar levels of IMG_0413maturity.  This way each vintage is a clear marker of what Mother Nature brought to the party, and you get to see the differences clearly without a different winemaking approach muddying the water.  This wine is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc, and was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.  This is also the wine that clearly had experienced leakage during the freezing episode.

The wine was dark purple out of the bottle, with long legs that cascaded down the glass.  There was a big nose of currant and blackberry with some herbal notes.  A touch of menthol and leather also appeared and contributed to a complex profile.  There were tiny hints of smoke.  So far so good.  The palate brought rich fruit at first, but the wine turned just a touch bitter and this accentuated the tannins.  It was not completely smooth and did not finish perfectly clean.  This does not match other tasting notes we have read, and we suspect the wine did indeed suffer at the rough freezing treatment.  Unfortunately we don’t have an unfrozen bottle to compare it with.  The verdict here is it changed for the worse.  Please note we are not saying it was bad, as it was still a good bottle of Cabernet, but compared to other notes and the wines reputation, not to mention a killer vintage, we were expecting more.  We’ll need to get a bottle that hasn’t been frozen and compare notes.  $48

2013 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay – grown and cultivated in manner similar to the other wines, this Chardonnay highlights each IMG_0412individual growing season’s unique story.  The wine is 100% barrel fermented, and 100% aged in new French oak. You might expect the classic over the top, butter laden oak fest.  Not so.

The color is a light, golden yellow and is quite brilliant.  There is a rich nose of tropical fruit, with prominent but not over the top oak.  On the palate the wine is rich and fresh.  It is in perfect balance with a crisp acid that cleans the palate.  If you like some oak in your Chard, and you like fresh wines as well, then this is for you.  It’s really well made and delicious.  Our verdict on this is it survived intact.  I would drink this after freezing anytime.  $32

2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling – they’ve been making Riesling here for a long time.  Back in the day it was called Johannisberg IMG_0411Riesling, before they changed the name to what it truly is in 1983.  Just stainless steel here.

Light straw in color, the wine has a clean nose filled with citrus.  The palate had grapefruit, tangerine and really was just beautiful throughout.  It stayed crisp through the finish.  Some nice length here too.  This wine was delicious.  Was it affected?  We’re not sure.  While it tasted wonderful there were a lot of tartrate crystals in the bottom of the bottle, so we suspect we gave it the ultimate post-bottling cold stabilization treatment and some of the tartaric acid precipitated out of solution.  Maybe it was a little less acidic than intended.  We can tell you it was still great wine.  $27

Smith-Madrone Vineyards

Smith-Madrone Vineyards

This was a great opportunity to see what freezing does to wine.  Unfortunately it happened with three wines from a great producer we were really looking forward to evaluating.  While this was clearly excellent wine, and two were still in that category after thawing out, we suspect the unaltered products might have been even better.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to check that at some point.

For now we would say if you inadvertently freeze your white wine you’re probably going to be fine.  With the reds maybe not so much, but we don’t have enough data to be sure.  Certainly we would not recommend it!

Also, do try the wines from Smith-Madrone.  They know what they’re doing.

You can visit Smith-madrone’s website at http://smithmadrone.com/index.htm.

A votre santé!

 

 

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