Red wine is misunderstood. One of the most common misconceptions is that, unlike its white counterparts, reds are best served at room temperature. Not only is this not true for all (ahem, most) red wines, some varietals are actually better served with a slight chill. This makes them perfect for summer sipping, and experts agree, chilled red wines are a must alongside your warm-weather whites and rosés.
Our Guide to Chilled Red Wine
“We are used to serving many reds slightly on the cooler side,” says Paola Embry, award-winning wine director at Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, who notes she has seen an increased interest in red wines served at a cooler temperature.
Many wine professionals credit this interest, in part, to the styles of reds that are increasing in popularity. “Over the last few years, consumers have been looking for lower-alcohol, lighter styles of red, which are the perfect style for a little chill on them,” says Jon McDaniel, owner and CEO of Second City Soil based in Chicago. “The growth in interest here is also about wanting to enjoy wine individually, something that is fresh, and refreshing.”
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Michael Kennedy, certified sommelier and founder of Component Wine Company, agrees. “I’d say, in general, the wine culture in our country is skyrocketing and with it bringing new interest in non-Cab, non-Chard wines,” he says. “Sommeliers have always loved light reds like Beaujolais with a chill, but with more [younger people] getting into wine, the trend is accelerating.”
How Long Should You Chill Red Wine? To What Temperature?
So how does the chill affect the taste? “A wine served above 66 degrees will have an impact on the overall structure of the wine such as acid, alcohol, and flavors. It will soften the structure of the wine, and the alcohol becomes significantly more noticeable,” says Embry. “However, if you chill the same wine down to 55 to 60 degrees, the flavors will become focused, the alcohol will not be as evident, and the structure will be tighter.”
Embry continues: “Keep in mind that, if the same red wine were to be served below 55 degrees, the wine would have a completely opposite effect on your palate. You would not be able to perceive the alcohol as much. The aromas and flavors of the wine would appear more subdued, the wine would feel tighter, and the tannins would appear much more astringent in your mouth.”
What Red Wine Should You Chill?
As for varietals and types of wine, you want to look out for lighter reds. “Loire Valley Cabernet Francs; young, bright Pinot Noirs; and, most famously, Beaujolais, can benefit from more chilling,” says Richard Vayda, director of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Generally speaking, the lighter the wine the more cooling, but usually not to the point of icy. These wines, unlike heavier reds, are not so appreciated for their complexities and nuances of flavor, but rather for their refreshing and bright nature.” Other wines noted by the experts were Dolcetto from Italy and Spanish Garnacha.
Wines that are meant to be a bit more fruit-forward can sometimes get lost if the wine is served too warm, as the alcohol will push through, says McDaniel. “Think of chilling wine like playing with your stereo. If you want to hear the whole band, but the lead guitar — the alcohol — is too loud and screeching, give it a quick chill to hear all of the players,” he says.
Kennedy encourages playing around with the chill on all reds. “Almost no red wines benefit from being room temperature,” he says. “The wine becomes sloppy, alcoholic, and develops sticky aromatics — think overripe fruit — even from cool-climate regions.”
The best way to chill and find the right temperature, says Vayda, is with an ice bucket. “Simply have a bucket with a light ice bath handy, and sample the wine and adjust the chill until it suits.” And all aforementioned experts agree: It’s all about personal preference. “There is no right or wrong — just find what you enjoy,” says Vayda.
5 of the Best Chilled Red Wines to Try:
Georges Duboeuf was known as the “Father of Beaujolais” and the wines are perfect for chilling before serving, including this one, which has a lot of fruit character, spice, and is medium-bodied.
Any Sonoma Pinot Noir is going to be great served chilled. This one has good tannins, silky structure, and notes of boysenberry and blackberry with some subtle oak and vanilla notes.
As Vayda says, a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc will be great with some chill. This young wine will be perfect for summer, with notes of dark berries, including raspberry and blackberry with ultimate freshness. (Drink it young; drink it now.)
This fresh, affordable, open, and clear Garnacha has sweet fruit and chalky tannins.
This super-fresh Dolcetto from Piedmont has rich, ruby redness that allows for more fruit-forwardness when chilled.