In recent years, it’s been impossible to get through a summer without someone bringing up the topic of chilled red wines. While it may feel like breaking the time-honored tradition of cold whites and warm reds, drinking red wine chilled can be a fun and refreshing way to explore and integrate these wines into the summer months. Though the process, of course, can be as simple as sticking a bottle on ice and calling it a day, a few easy tips can make drinking chilled reds even better.
Those new to the chilled reds discussion may be asking, why chill red wines at all? At the most basic level, it’s simple: chilled wines are refreshing! For the same reason that cold brew coffee and iced tea explode in the summertime, nobody wants to drink warm wine when it’s hot outside. On another level, chilling red wines brings out a wine’s acidity and heightens fruity, fresh aromas.
However, “chilled red wine” truly does mean chilled, not cold; there’s a difference between a noticeably cooler wine and an ice-cold wine. This goes for all wines, in fact. When a wine is fridge-temp, it actually may be too cold, subduing aromas and flavors and stripping the wine of its character. A good temperature range to aim for is 50-55 degrees, but for those who don’t keep a thermometer on hand, a fail-safe trick is to take a super-chilled red out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before serving or put it in the fridge about 45 minutes before serving. Need the wine to be ready sooner? A bucket with ice water is even better; in six or seven minutes, it’ll be good to go.
So which red wines are best chilled? It’s really all about structure: light-bodied, low-tannin, acid- driven wines are the ones to gravitate toward. Fruity or floral wines are also often chilled, since the colder temperature causes those flavors to pop, but earthy or herbal wines can be interesting when chilled as well. Pinot Noir from around the world and Gamay from Beaujolais are two of the most commonly chilled reds, but Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, Barbera from Piedmont, and Zweigelt from Austria are also delicious with a chill.
Lovers of full-bodied wines may be thinking, hey, can’t I chill my favorite wines? Is it ever appropriate to fully chill full-bodied reds? The answer is: yes. While it may be more common to chill light reds, full-bodied wines will also take well to a chill provided they aren’t too tannic. Cold temperatures heighten the structure of the entire wine, including the tannins, which will become more astringent and downright unpleasant. Look for full-bodied wines with less tannin and more fruit, such as Zinfandel and Malbec, which will remain fresh when chilled (and may convert light wine lovers!). While it may not be advisable to drink a big, tannic Barolo or Napa Cabernet Sauvignon straight out of the ice bucket, try sticking them in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving; the light chill will make the flavors pop without promoting those harsh tannins.
Above all, select a wine that you truly want to drink because regardless of which wine is going into the ice bucket, it’s clear that chilled reds are here to stay.