Wine 101: Mythbusters: When to Chill Red Wines

This episode of “Wine 101” is sponsored by Apothic, makers of so many red wines. We’re talking Apothic Red, Crimson, Inferno, Crush, and those are just the blends. Don’t even get me started on the single varietals like Apothic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Today, we’re covering when to chill red wine. What? You can chill red wine? Red wine like Apothic needs some chill factor too. To find all the shades of Apothic, follow the link in the episode description to

On this episode of “Wine 101,” join host Keith Beavers to discuss why you should consider chilling red wine and the best way to get started.

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Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers, and I’m kind of okay with this. I said I would stop eating peanut butter for a month, and these are the times when you really… I ate peanut butter.

What’s going on, wine lovers? From the VinePair Podcasting Network, this is “Wine 101.” My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tastings director of VinePair. Hi. Hi.

So today, I get this question all the time. I’ve been getting it for years, and I love talking about it. When do you chill red wine? Do you chill red wine? Which wine do you chill? What?

Okay, wine lovers. I don’t know when it was. I don’t remember the year, but it was hot outside, and I had an Italian restaurant, and a wine rep came in. This is like a long time ago. A wine rep came in with a wine made from an Italian grape called Schiava. Oh, guys, if you haven’t — not easy to find — a red wine made from Schiava is incredible: light, beautiful, peppery, floral. It’s such an awesome wine. It’s from Piedmont. And he served it to me, well, I was trying to buy some wine.

He brought it out, put it on the counter, and there was condensation on the bottle. I’m like, “Wait, that wine is chilled.” He’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “All right.” And I took a sip, and it blew my mind. It was a very exciting moment. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You can drink red wine chilled? That was one of the biggest eye-opening moments. And since I’ve had the wine, I don’t have the wine shop anymore, but in having the wine shop and the restaurant, when I got people, we all know we can chill red wine now because it’s kind of a popular thing, but back in the day, it hits you like, “Wait. What?” And it becomes very exciting. So for me, as a restaurant owner who had a by-the-glass program, and I also had a retail shop at the same time, I was throwing red wines in the chiller all spring and summer long, even sometimes into the fall.

So what is this about? Because we learn things with wine, right? You chill red wine. Yeah, sorry. You throw white wine in the fridge. You serve red wine at room temperature or what’s called quote unquote, cellar temperature, which we will have to talk about. But when we go outside the norms like, “Wait. What are you doing? Why? What’s the benefit of a chilled red wine?” Let’s get into it.

Why do we even chill wine, whether it’s white, red, bubbly, sweet? What is it? Why are we doing this? Well, there is a lot of human experimentation because wine is so old, but there’s also an enologist, a teacher, an educator, scientist by the name of Émile Peynaud in Bordeaux. This is like the 1940s and ’50s. He was born in 1912, but he was doing all of this stuff in the 1940s and ’50s in Bordeaux. And interestingly enough, his pupil was a man by the name of Michel Rolland, who was responsible for some of the most amazing wines in the world. I actually had a chance to meet him recently for the first time. Talk about bucket list stuff. Anyway, Émile Peynaud is responsible for a lot of the things that we take for granted, again, I don’t make wine, that people take for granted in the winemaking, in viticultural process that today is just standard. For example, malolactic conversion. He was the first to really observe and understand that. And something as simple as winemaking starts in the vineyard. That was one of his ideas as well.

Another thing that he was really big on was just understanding how we enjoy wine, trying to figure out the science of our enjoyment, and trying to document ways in which we can enjoy wine to the fullest, and part of that was temperature. And his observations and his findings led to more experimentations. And then, what I’m saying is the idea of temperature and wine is not fully understood and can be highly disputed in certain aspects of it. So it’s observational more than concrete science, but observations can allow us to understand a little bit more about why we would want to chill a red wine.

The thing is, wine is a bunch of stuff in a bottle. It’s alcohol. It’s acidity. It’s tannins. It’s pigmented tannins. It’s all these compounds, acetaldehyde. There’s so much happening in a wine. And if temperature is a factor in the winemaking process, then it should also be a factor when it’s in the bottle because the constituents that make up the wine are still there. They’re just interacting with each other in a smaller environment.

And based on everything you know now from listening to “Wine 101,” different wines have different consistencies. White wine is different from red wine. There’s more phenolic compounds in a red wine than there are in a white wine. There’s more residual sugar in a dessert wine than there is in a still wine. There is higher acid in a sparkling wine than there is in a Pinot Grigio. And temperatures within a wide range can affect each of these wines in different ways. But in general, certain things can happen. At high temperatures, a wine in a glass will evaporate alcohol at a much more rapid pace.

Remember last week we were talking about how to store red wine? If it’s too hot, things can happen. Very similar here. And at a warm temperature, let’s say when above that sort of 77 or even 75 degrees Fahrenheit because the alcohol’s evaporating so fast, your perception of the complexity of the wine is compromised, and the wine can kind of seem off. Maybe even off-balance or something’s wrong with it, but it’s definitely going to be compromised.

Also, the warmer the wine is, the more we perceive sweetness because alcohol was once sugar. And if alcohol is dominating the wine in your glass, you’re going to perceive sweetness. And again, it’s going to take away from the wine. That’s why when people say serve red wine or mature red wine between 60 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, that is a long-observed safe spot for red wines. It’s not always perfect, but that’s a good starting point. But that’s not chilled red wine. We’ll get there.

So it would make sense that for white wines, you could even go further down in temperature because of its lack of phenolic compounds compared to a red wine. There’s not a lot going on. There’s a lot of complexity and texture in white wine. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying scientifically and physically, it benefits from a chill because white wines tend to have a higher acidity. And when you chill wines with a high, see, we’re kind of getting to some place here, wines with higher acidity, they are perceived as brighter, more buoyant. That’s why it’s often suggested to serve white wines between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

And as far as sweet wines are concerned, this is very interesting because of that acidity we’re talking about, how that brightens up a wine. Well, dessert wine or sweet wines that have good acidity can actually be consumed at room or cellar temperature. They can also benefit from a chill, but there are sweet wines out there that are dense because they don’t have acidity, and they benefit from a chill as well. And that’s why it’s often suggested to serve sweet wines that need a little bit of chill in the lower 40s to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, this window here is also really great for bubbly because when a bubbly is served above 50 — if you’re going right above 50, it’s not that bad — but when you get up to 68, in that area, it gets warm, and the warmer a bubbly gets, the faster the gas is released, and it really makes it a very frothy, in-your-face, not a very enjoyable wine. You want that crispness with bubbly. So you want to chill it down. Also, we should talk about sabering one day, but when you want a saber a wine, you want that bubbly to be very, very, very cold so that the activity in that bottle is a little sleepy. So when you saber it, nothing just goes absolutely nuts, and half the bottle doesn’t shatter. So low 40s to about 50 degrees is really good for bubbly.

So you notice we went from about 40, the lower 40s, all the way up to about 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit as a nice range of temperatures for different kinds of wines. We did kind of miss that 50 to like 55, 56 Fahrenheit right there. And right there, wine lovers, that is the comfy home of light-bodied, buoyant, soft, red wine, wine that is perceived as such because of its natural acidity. And it just so happens that wines that have this nice acidity come from cooler wine regions: the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, New Zealand, especially the Central Otago area, Mendocino, and a lot of grapes that thrive in these cool climates tend to have a naturally high acidity in the resulting wine.

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is just a general statement. Like, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Mendocino can actually have a higher acid and be very great, but it’s not a wine you’re going to want to chill down. Because if you want to chill a red wine, and you absolutely should chill red wine, this is the kind of rule. Remember when we were talking about white wine? When you chill a white wine, it has higher acid, so the enjoyment and the perception of refreshment is that much higher. Well, if you were to take a young, vibrant, light, soft, red wine from a grape like Gamay, Schiava, which I talked about earlier, Grignolino, which is another red wine grape, that’s awesome, and light from Piedmont, some Pinot Noirs. You can even chill the carbonic macerated red wines that are coming out of California like mad right now.

Émile Peynaud said that “at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, a red wine that’s meant to age is hot and thin. At 64, it’s supple and fluid. At 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s full and astringent.” So, obviously, that center number is what mature, age-worthy wines are going for. But if you notice that 50 degrees Fahrenheit is full and astringent, that means that a wine that has a lot of phenolic stuff in it is going to feel full and astringent when it’s chilled. A red wine that has more acidity, a higher acid, so the wine is perceived to be light anyway. When it’s chilled a little bit, we’re talking just below 50, like 48, somewhere. If you can go down to 38, it’s weird. But somewhere right below 50, in the 45-50 degree range, that wine will concentrate its fruit while retaining its vibrancy with acidity and will be enjoyable when chilled.

And the thing about wine is wine always comes, well, more often than not, it regulates itself. It comes up to room temperature and basically stops there. So if you are in a warm environment and you have a wine that you serve chilled in the lower part of the degrees like 40, 45, something like that, the wine is going to be cold. But if it’s hot outside, it’s going to gradually, steadily come to room temperature, whether you’re at a picnic table or in a living room, so it eventually will get to the same spot as the room. And by that point, your palate has been enjoying this wine when it was cool. And now that it’s finally at room temperature, all of the aromas and all of the awesome characteristics of the wine will be there for you. When the wine is chilled because it has high acid, you will not be denied anything because the fruit is concentrated, but the acidity is breaking the wine up, allowing you to enjoy the slight concentration of fruit in the wine that will eventually warm up and express itself in different ways.

Are you excited? I think you should be. I love chilling red wine. When we had our wine shop, we had a red wine section for chilling. On the shelf, we had a separate section for “these are red wines you should chill.” And then we had a refrigerator to chill the red wines, a whole section for that. We even had something called a cyclone where on your way out the door, if we didn’t have it chilled, you throw it in the cyclone, and it whirls around all this cold air and chills a wine very fast and rapidly, which is totally fine for the wine.

Okay. Whew. Now, you’re excited. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, Keith. I’m going to go get a bottle of wine. I’m going to go to the wine shop. I’m going to talk to the person, and I’m going to have a conversation about chilled red. I’m going to get the wine that can chill. What do I do next? Do I put it in the refrigerator? Do I put it in the freezer? Where do I put it?”

Chilling a red wine in the refrigerator could take up to two hours, depending on the refrigerator. You know your refrigerator and how cold it is, but up to two hours. So it could take a while. If you were to put that bottle, that bottle of red wine, in a bucket with some ice and water, not just ice, but ice and water, that red wine will chill down within 30 minutes. If you want to put that wine in the freezer, that’s awesome. That shaves 20 minutes off, so you can get a bottle nice and cold in about 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes. But one thing about putting red wine or even any wine in the freezer is just don’t forget about it because, as we said in the last episode, if it gets too cold, crazy stuff can happen.

But this is the thing. You don’t really know what temperature the wine is at. So you’ve put the wine in a bucket with some ice and some water. You’ve put it in the freezer. You’ve put it in the refrigerator. You’re like, “Okay. But what is it, Keith? You’re giving me all these numbers, and what is it?” But that’s the thing, guys. You don’t know. But these are just the guidelines you can use to get the wine chilled and the kind of wines you can chill to get to that place of enjoying chilled red wine with high acid, young, vibrant awesomeness. One thing you can do is — I think you can find it on Amazon — I’m not really sure, but they’re like temperature bracelets for bottles. It looks like a bracelet. It has a digital readout on it, like a flat, wide bracelet. And you can clip this thing onto the main body of a wine bottle, and it’ll digitally register the Fahrenheit degrees, so you know where you’re at. Is it accurate? Not 100 percent, but it’s getting you close.

This is a part of wine that’s kind of loosey-goosey. I’m just jiving with you guys now to help you out because I know once the warm weather hits, whether we’re in it now or whatever, you’re going to want a chilled red wine. And I got to tell you, even in the fall and the winter, chilling a red wine in the refrigerator, there’s a fire roaring, or the heat’s going, whatever. It’s always nice to have a nice, refreshing, young, vibrant red wine. It doesn’t matter really when it is during the year. It’s just delicious.

I hope this helped you out. I know that I didn’t give you specifics, but you have to go to the wine shop and check that out because I could tell you things like wines from Gamay, and Pinot Noir, which I said earlier, but there are so many other wines I would love to tell you about that could be chilled, but they’re just a little bit tougher to find, Schiava, Grignolino. The beautiful red grape that makes Txakolina. Hondarrabi Beltza, it kind of tastes like Cab Franc but lighter. It’s awesome. So go out there, grab a wine, chill it down. If you want to get that little thermometer, I’ll throw it up on an Instagram story so you guys can see it @vinepairkeith. But be okay with chilling red wine. Now you know what you can chill. You can even chill one that shouldn’t be chilled to get an example of why that shouldn’t have been chilled. But now you’ve got some guidelines, and we’ll talk next week.

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And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.

Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.