by Fred McMillin
for June 10, 1999


Pliny on Summer Sipping


Written in 1775 by Dr. Edward Barry, London physician. ("s" often written as "f")

    "Pliny afcribes the following invention to Nero. To gratify their tafte, they frequently added fnow to their Wines, which was apt to vitiate [the wine] with its impurities. But the manner of cooling Wine was greatly improved, by immerfing the veffel containing the Wine into SNOW; by which means it very quickly received a more pure, equal, and intenfe degree of coldnefs.

    Nero valued himfelf more on this improvement in luxury, than in [improving the] finer arts."

The Rest of the Story

Today, we can get that "intenfe degree of coldnefs" simply by putting the bottle in the frig. It will cool about 10 degrees an hour. To chill your Chardonnay, I suggest two hours, to put it down into the 50 degree range. Sitting on the table during the meal, again it will warm about 10 degrees an hour. (I've measured it.)

Alexander the Great

He liked his wine cold.

As for sparkling wines, chilling is more serious. I give it a full three hours. Pop the cork after only one hour and you'll lose half the wine in an uncontrollable eruption of foam. (Unfortunately, I've done that, too.)

Summer Sipping

I keep a sparkler in the frig to open when summer visitors drop in. It seems a bit more festive... it implies that their visit is something special. Here's the one that my panel liked a lot.

1992 Pacific Echo Private Reserve Brut
Elegant, nothing excessive
Rating—16 out of 18 tasters gave it high marks. This is a real "guest pleaser."
Contact—Office of Matt Egan, (212) 888-7575, Fax (212) 888-7551
Price—$30 range


Sir Edward Barry tells of another early devotee of cold wine. He "directed thirty pits to be made as refervoirs for fnow, which were covered with ftraw, to defend it againft the external air; with this his Wine...was cooled." Who was it? Alexander the Great. (pictured)

Note: For more about Pacific Echo, see the March 25,1999 WineDay titled "The Explosive Start of American Champagne", with Gorbachev and Pres. Reagan pictured hoisting ECHO.

Credits: Research Asst. Diane Bulzomi; Book Sleuth Gail Unzelman

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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