Of all the aspects of serving and sipping wine, one in particular gets the most attention from newbies and committed oenophiles alike: Do you chill red wine?
The short answer: It depends.
Like most things having to do with wine, subtleties abound. Each type of grape produces a different body and flavor of wine, and these elements are heavily influenced by serving temperature. Add to that the knowledge that growing even the same variety of grapes in different locations and conditions will further alter the flavor profile, and you have a nearly endless array of wines to choose from — no two of which will need the exact same care as any other wine for full enjoyment.
Still, there are general rules to follow when it comes to serving and storing red wine, and knowing them is a great place to start. Understanding the basics will also help you to know when those rules are meant be broken.
Storing Red Wine
Regardless of variety, red wine should be stored at fairly cool temperatures to keep it from spoiling. Even alcohol goes bad eventually, although it takes longer to develop off flavors and aromas than, say, fresh fruit. When you consider a traditional wine cellar, this idea makes sense. The temperature underground or in a cool cave is right around 55 degrees, and this temperature is ideal for keeping anything from a California Pinot Noir to a Cabernet Sauvignon from Italy in great shape for drinking at a later date.
You may be lucky enough to have a basement where you can maintain a cellar temperature of 55 degrees year-round, but most people don’t. It’s best to solve this problem with a dedicated wine cooler in which you can store your bottles of Burgundy on their sides. Your standard kitchen refrigerator needs to be kept much colder than this, so a separate wine fridge is efficient and keeps your favorite reds for months — maybe even years — at a time.
Serving Red Wine
Although the proper temperature for wine storage is a cool 55 degrees, the general rule of thumb for serving reds holds that they taste their best at room temperature. This is a great place to start, since many people prefer a warm red with meals, especially for food pairings with rich meats like steak or duck.
If you dig a little deeper into recommended serving temperatures for red and white wine, though, you’ll find that each variety has its own ideal temperature — not all red wine is created equal. Within the color category are subcategories that describe the wine’s body. Body is based on how the wine feels in your mouth, whether heavy and thick or light and thin. This feel, in turn, is typically correlated to the alcohol content of the wine.Generally speaking, different grape varieties fall into different categories of body:
- Full-Bodied Reds: These include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cabernet, Red Zinfandel, Shiraz and wines with an alcohol content above 13.5%.
- Medium-Bodied Reds: Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Rioja and many blended reds from Spain fall into this category. Alcohol content is typically between 12% and 13.5%.
- Light-Bodied Reds: Barbera, Beaujolais, Chianti and Pinot Noir are lighter wines, despite their dark color. This group includes reds with an alcohol content below 12%.
Once you break your reds down into groups according to their body/alcohol content, you have a new rule to follow: The fuller the wine, the warmer it should be served.
The right temperature for full-bodied reds truly is room temperature — provided you keep your house at 64 to 65 degrees year-round. If that sounds little cool to you, you’re not alone. Many people prefer indoor temperatures between 68 and 75, which would be significantly warmer than the temperature at which you should drink your wine.
The result? Even a “room temperature” wine may be at its best a bit colder than you have been led to believe.
Expert Advice About When to Chill Red Wine
Now that you understand the basics of body and serving temperature, you can dive into the nitty-gritty. Set your wine fridge to the right temperature for serving your reds based on their body, and you’ll get it right every time:
- Full-Bodied Reds: 64 to 65 degrees
- Medium-Bodied Reds: 60 to 62 degrees
- Light-Bodied Reds: 55 to 60 degrees
As you can see, many sommeliers recommend that light-bodied red be chilled just a touch before serving. These reds are ideal straight out of the cellar or wine fridge, and as you sip, you’ll notice how they warm in the glass toward the warmer end of the ideal temperature range.
For medium- and full-bodied reds, you’ll need to remove them from storage and bring them up a few degrees before serving — if you want them in the 60-degree range. This is most easily accomplished by placing the bottles on your bar or table 30 minutes before serving; however, you can also harness the convenience of a dual-zone wine fridge that lets you adjust the temperatures to serving standard a few hours before your dinner.
Best Red Wines for Chilling
If you have tried drinking your reds a bit cooler as recommended above, and you like the results, you might consider select varieties of reds that are ideal for serving chilled. Drinking red wine in the summer can be a newly refreshing experience if you seek out these varieties:
- Côtes du Rhone
- Cru Beaujolais
If you can’t find these varieties in your area, look for any red from the Loire Valley, France, to serve this way. If you prefer to use American wines to give drinking chilled red wines a go, just pick a light wine with less alcohol and fruity flavors. Chilling the wine brings out the fruit and highlights the refreshing crispness of lighter wines. You may find that this is the perfect way to enjoy red wine in the summertime; if you prefer it to white wine, you shouldn’t feel like you have to switch gears when the heat and humidity kick in!
Special Recipes for Really Cold Reds
If you’re feeling especially bold, you may want to try some trendy new drink recipes that allow you to enjoy your red wine really cold.
Sangria isn’t new, but it’s definitely worth trying. You can experiment with different fruits, adding sparkling wines like Asti or Prosecco for some extra fizz, or serving it over ice for a lighter drink. Any red wine that works well chilled will be excellent in a sangria. Feel free to use your favorite wine to come up with the perfect house blend for your signature sangria.
Wine Ice Cubes
Due to the alcohol content, wine will never make rock-solid ice cubes; however, you can get them to firm up in a standard ice cube tray if you practice a little patience. Wine ice cubes are useful for cooking when you need just a tablespoon or two of red wine at a time for a sauce, but you can also use them to chill your red wine. This is a great way to allow your guests to drink their red at their own preferred temperature: Those who like it warm can skip the ice, but those who prefer a cooler drink can add ice to taste — all without watering it down!
For a really cold take on drinking red wine, try making wine slushies for your next warm-weather gathering. Think of these as adult smoothies or soft sno-cones. In general, you make them by mixing together wine, fruit and ice, popping it all in the blender, and blitzing until you get a soft, grainy texture. An easy way to start is with your favorite sangria recipe, but a quick internet search will reveal loads of ways to sip red wine in a totally new — and icy-fresh — way.
A Note About Personal Preference
At the end of the day, there’s no truly right or wrong way to enjoy your red wine. Some people like their wine chilled and others like it warmer, and that’s okay. Starting with a solid understanding of the best practices for chilling red wine will help you know exactly why you should serve yours at a particular temperature, but only experimentation and experience will show you what you really like. Fortunately, sipping your wine at different temperatures can be an exceptionally fun project!
Once you figure out your favorite temperature for serving various bottles of red, you’ll have the information you need to set the thermostat on your wine fridge to make sure you always get the right amount of chill on your wine before you pour.
And if anyone gives you grief about trying a red one with a little extra chill, just ask them to give it a try. Most people end up drinking red wine warmer than they should due to our ever-hotter idea of what room temperature should be, so they are likely to be pleasantly surprised at how much added flavor comes out of a slightly cooler glass of red wine.
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