Do You Chill Red Wine? Ditch Conventional Wine Wisdom
Picture this. It’s a blisteringly hot summer’s day and you’re out to lunch. You’ve ordered a fillet of steak and you need a wine to pair with it. Will you pair it with an oaky white wine, like Chardonnay? Get a classic red but pine for a frozen cocktail? Or forgo the vino altogether?
What you really want is a red wine that’s fruity yet cold enough to save you from the heat. But, do you chill red wine? Isn’t that against the rules?
In this article we guide you through the ins and outs of chilled red wine, from how to pick a chillable red to how to serve it at the perfect temperature.
Rewriting the Wine Rules
Once upon a time the general consensus was that white wine is best served cool and red wine is best at room temperature. However, as we all grow wiser and more informed (thanks internet), we now know that this is simply not true.
First off, room temp varies in every climate. A Chicago room temp in winter is different from a Los Angeles room temp in winter, not to mention the fluctuations that come with heating and air conditioning.
Wine experts actually believe we could all do with drinking our red wine a little bit cooler, as warm red wine can taste flabby and far too alcoholic. In fact, some suggest serving red wine too warm can give the drinker an unpleasant burning sensation as it goes down.
The more you learn about wine, the more clear it is that these broad rules don’t apply to all varietals. Each variety of red, white, and rosé wine have their own unique tannin levels, acidity, alcohol content, and ideal serving temperature.
Why Drink Chilled Red Wine?
For those who live in countries with warm climates, drinking a room temperature wine won’t always cut it. In fact, al fresco lunches and summer picnics call out for a chilled drink to cool you down. This is why plenty of warm climate countries, like Greece or Spain, chill their reds and pop ice cubes in their glasses.
After all, while we love all types of wine from Prosecco to Port, some wine lovers only have eyes for red wine, and a chilled glass of bubbly just won’t hit the spot. By finding the perfect red wine to chill and enjoy on a warm evening, red wine lovers don’t have to miss out.
While serving certain wines too cold can mute their flavors and dull some of the complexity of the wine, others are simply perfect as a refreshingly chilly beverage.
Which Red Wines Should I Chill?
When it comes to knowing whether or not to chill your red, it pays to know what body your bottle has.
As a general rule, red wines with a fuller body (like Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon) can stand warmer temperatures and taste best at around 60-65 degrees. However, lighter-bodied reds (like Pinot Noir or Gamay) definitely benefit from extended time in the fridge.
Red sparkling wines like Lambrusco taste great straight out of an ice bucket, while some traditional red wine spritzer recipes like sangria benefit from the addition of ice cubes.
If you do fancy giving chilled red wine a try, look out for these varieties.
Hailing from France and made from Gamay grapes, Beaujolais is a medium- to light-bodied red with high acidity and low tannins. It’s exceptionally fruity and can be served cool on a warm summer’s day.
One of the world’s most popular wines, Pinot Noir has a wonderful light body. It’s highly acidic with low tannins and a mix of fruity yet savory tasting notes.
Another French beauty, Gamay is deliciously light, acidic, and dry. It has a complex flavor profile and commonly includes tasting notes of pomegranate, potting soil, and violet.
Which Red Wines Are Better Warmer?
While medium- to full-bodied wines don’t benefit from being served hot (unless you're making a festive mulled wine) they do usually taste better when they’re a little warmer.
To get the proper temperature for full-bodied bottles you should utilize your wine fridge, but leave your bottle to warm up for 15 minutes before pouring yourself a glass. This should help you to get your wine to the ideal temperature of 60-65 degrees.
However, not all of us are bougie enough to have a wine fridge, so instead put your bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving. Then, either decant the bottle or pour the first glass, allowing it to breathe and warm on the table for 10 minutes before you drink it.
If you’re on the hunt for the perfect chilled red, these are a few you should avoid.
With an incredibly full body and high levels of tannins, Cabernet Sauvignon shouldn’t be your first choice for a summery chilled red. However, it does pair beautifully with grilled meats, so could be a welcome guest at the BBQ if you don’t care for a cold drink.
Hailing from Argentina, Malbec is a full-bodied red with high alcohol levels. It’s chock full of rich dark fruit flavors, such as plum and blackberry, but also boasts savory notes of tobacco and vanilla. All of these flavors work best at room temp.
An absolute red wine classic, Merlot pairs with a whole host of dishes. However, due to its full body and high tannins, it’s probably not the best choice to pop a few ice cubes into.
The Australian version of Syrah, this full bodied red has notes of black cherry and cloves. While it’s best served a little warmer, sparkling Shiraz is a really interesting bubbly red that you can serve chilled.
While white Zinfandel is best served chilled, red Zinfandel boasts a medium to full body and high tannins, so it isn’t the best red for drinking cold. However, on a cold windy night, its notes of peaches, strawberry, and cinnamon are a lovely winter treat.
How to Best Chill Your Red Wine
While a sommelier may advise you to make use of your wine cellar to achieve the right temperature for your wines, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have access to one. Luckily there are several ways to chill your red wine.
Ice buckets shouldn't just be reserved for sparkling wines. They can really come in handy for chilled reds too. Simply take your light-bodied red and place it in an ice bucket filled with water and ice for 15 minutes, take it out and leave it to warm slightly before serving.
To chill your red in a fridge, pop it in for 30 minutes before serving. Then, pour the first glass, allowing it to breathe for 10 minutes before you take your first sip.
While some people may shudder at the idea of having ice cubes in wine, it really is effective. The only issue is the melting ice could dilute your wine. To combat this, freeze a handful of grapes and pop them into your glass.
For a picnic or al fresco dining, a wine cooler sleeve is a must-have wine accessory. Leave the cooler in the freezer overnight, then slip it over your bottle to keep cool. Remove the sleeve and leave the wine to warm slightly before serving.
To Chill or Not to Chill?
As you can see, serving wine at the “proper temperature” is a lot more complicated than white, cold and red, warm. While not all red wines benefit from chilling, there are several lovely light-bodied styles that taste great at lower temperatures.
As a general rule, look into the body of the wine. Reds with medium to full body aren’t usually the best wines to chill, whereas lighter styles like Beaujolais and Gamay taste best when they’ve spent some time in the fridge.
Personal preference is the most important variable. If you like your wine with ice cubes, go for it. And if anyone tries to shame you, tell them to chill out.