When it comes to the temperature of a wine, every drinker has their own individual preference. (Feel like adding ice? Go for it.) But there are certain rules of thumb to follow if you want to ensure your wine’s flavors and aromas can truly shine. Sparkling wines are best served between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Whites and rosés should be 50 to 60 degrees, and reds are best served at cellar temperature (60 to 70 degrees).
There are exceptions to every rule, though, and some oenophiles enjoy their red wines a bit chillier — closer to white wine temperatures — for a more easy-drinking appeal. To learn how and when to serve red wine cold, we asked sommelier and “VinePair Podcast” co-host Zach Geballe for his best practices.
If you’re thinking about chilling your reds, Geballe says, first ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish by doing so. “One of the answers to why you might serve a wine cold is because, generally speaking, you’re going to mute the aromatic expression of the wine to some extent,” he says. The colder a wine is, the slower the esters — the flavor compounds in wine that give it its taste and smell — within it will volatilize, dampening the characteristics of that wine.
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While this may sound like a negative thing, Geballe explains that this is not always the case — especially for wines that are not very full-bodied but have a fruit character that’s extremely prominent. “Some lighter-bodied red wines functionally aren’t that dissimilar from rosé,” he says.
“And we serve rosé chilled both because you don’t necessarily want the overt, intense fruitiness that you might get from a warmer wine, but also because we think about having it in the context where refreshment is a part of why someone’s drinking.”
Serving light reds chilled, then, can heighten their thirst-quenching nature, making them ideal for warm-weather sipping or pairing with sweet and salty foods like Southern barbecue or charcuterie boards with cured meats and cheeses.
Some wines that are delicious served cold include Beaujolais (or any other wine made from Gamay), Pinot Noirs from California, Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, and many red wines from Northern Italy — including Valpolicella Classico, Dolcetto, and other wines from Piedmont. Chilling these wines can improve their overall appeal. But that’s not the case for all red wines.
For example, Geballe says, “You don’t want to chill a red wine that has a lot of tannins.” That’s because chilling a wine reduces its fruit character, in turn amplifying the intensity of its tannin structure, acidity, and sweetness without fruit notes to counterbalance them. For that reason, it’s best to avoid chilling wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Bordeaux.
If the bottles in your cellar or on your bar cart seem like the right fit for serving chilled, pop them in the fridge, and before consuming, allow them to warm back up just a touch. As you sip, the wine will continue to slowly warm back up to room temperature, allowing your palate to enjoy the liquid in all its various states as it opens up.