Lover of wine? Then you probably already know that rosés and whites can (and must!) be appreciated throughout the year, not just in the summer. But when it comes to heat waves, it’s a safe bet that your go-to pour won’t be a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon — but what about a chilled red? Beyond the satisfaction of enjoying a red wine on a 90-degree day without feeling like you’re sipping on warm soup, it can deepen your appreciation of the wine itself. “I love the potential that chilling brings to the wine. It just makes it more delicious,” Ci Siamo Beverage Director Robin Wright says. “I feel strongly that having even a slight chill brings out the freshness of a red wine. When reds are served too warm, like wine critic and writer Jancis Robinson always says, they become ‘soupy’, which is not very pleasant or enjoyable.”
If you’ve dipped your toe in the world of chilled reds before, you’re probably familiar with Beaujolais or Lambrusco — which are both fantastic — but it’s time to expand your horizons and explore the delicious and expansive world of red wine with a chill. Continue ahead for an expert-led deep dive on the best varieties and regions for chilled wine, how to cool down your bottles effectively, food pairing ideas, plus plenty of shopping picks to stock your wine fridge with.
To Chill Or Not To Chill?
Determining whether or not you can chill your red wine depends on a few grape-growing and winemaking factors. But before you start dialing down the temperature, it’s important to know the best baseline for your bottles. “Frankly, all reds need some sort of ‘chill’ in the summer,” Wines of Georgia Brand Ambassador and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury says. “A room temperature red (assuming your room is somewhere in the 70s in the summer) risks tasting flat and murky at best. Cellar temperature is around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and is ideal for any red, whatever the style, and especially during the summer.”
Wine styles that are good candidates for a chill are those that are low in tannin and haven’t been aged in oak for an extended period of time. "It’s all about the floral and spicy flavors. With a temperature that is a bit cooler, those flavors — and the freshness of those lighter grapes — are accentuated,” Parcelle Co-founder Grant Reynolds says. If you’re stuck on the science behind why chilling something like a Gamay would be tasty but not a Cabernet Sauvignon, Reynolds offers up an analogy. “It’s kind of like eating a piece of cold Prosciutto versus a cold ribeye. One of them works and one of them is just bad (the Gamay being prosciutto, and the Cabernet being a ribeye),” he says. “The reason is the structure of the wines. Cabernet has a lot of tannin (that cotton mouth-like sensation) and with a cooler temperature, the wines become bitter and tart. Gamay has lower tannin and is all about the crisp nature of the grape, so that works when cooler."
On the winemaker’s side, there are also decisions that can render a red wine chillable. “Equally important (and possibly more important) than the grape variety used is the picking and winemaking,” Stompy Co-founder and Master of Wine Stephen Wong says. "When made in the 'vin de soif' (literally, wines of thirst), nouveau or 'light crunchy red' styles, almost any grape variety can lend itself to being a glass of delicious chilled red.” These styles, he continues, are usually “picked a bit earlier so the wine is less full-bodied, lower in alcohol, and with fresher acidity; given a shorter time on skins, and possibly no malolactic fermentation, and usually little to no oak influence, you can even have Syrah, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec as a chilled red.”
How To Find The Perfect Chill
If you’re chilling at home, Canterbury notes that a red wine usually needs two hours in the fridge to reach cellar temperature (“any less and you’re just chilling the bottle glass”). To bring it down lower, “you can keep the wine in an ice bucket or in a chilling sleeve until you’ve just about finished it off, rather than just starting with it being cool and having it warm up to ambient temperature as it sits on the table,” she adds.
If you’re out at a restaurant and don’t see a chilled red outlined on the menu, Reynolds says just ask for some ice. “I often ask for my reds to sit on ice after I order them to keep them at a cooler temperature than on the table,” he says. “Unless it’s an older red (over 20 years), it’s [smart] to have them sitting on top of ice to retain a good temperature.”
If you like the sound of a chilled red but aren’t certain that you could quickly identify which bottles offer low tannin and oak, there are several varieties you can keep in your pocket before heading to the wine store. “The two red varieties that I best enjoy chilled are Trousseau and Carignan,” Bondle Wines Founder and CEO Duyen Ha says. For Wright, grapes like “Pinot Noir, Gamay, easy-going Langhe Nebbiolo, Valtellina Nebbiolo, or even a juicy Nerello Mascalese show particularly well at cooler temperatures,” she says. Wong’s favorite picks overlap with other experts and are "usually lighter in tannins and with bright, direct flavors, such as Gamay, Grolleau Noir, Poulsard, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, Valdiguie, and Pais.”
l’abeille Beverage Director John McKenna also notes that “cool climate reds translate well with a chill like Alsatian Pinot Noir or Poulsard from Jura. Also, Germanic reds like Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are good options,” he says. The country of Georgia is also home to Saperavi, their “most famous and widely produced red grape,” Canterbury says. “Saperavis made in stainless steel tanks in a semi-sweet style are good for serving chilled from start to finish.” You can also look to coastal or island regions, Golden Age Hospitality Director Ashley Santoro says. “Think Galicia, Sicily, and the Loire Valley. Generally, wines that have higher acidity and lower alcohol, rather than a more tannic profile, are chillable and perfect for a hot summer day.”
Chilled Red Food Pairings
Ask any expert above and they’ll agree that food tastes better with wine, which is why a chilled red wine adventure should always involve a culinary accompaniment. “Richer foods and meat heavy dishes are great to pair with as the wine becomes a perfect counterpoint to the meal and refreshes the palate much more,” McKenna suggests. “Think grilled sausages, schnitzel, charcuterie — Thanksgiving fixin’s!” Duyen also leans on chilled reds for these kinds of cooked flavors. “Grilled sausages and barbecue foods go really well with chilled reds. I love to serve slightly chilled red wines for a summer backyard BBQ with friends and family,” she notes.
For Wong, it’s all about the individual palate when coming up with a food pairing. “The answer really depends on the specific aesthetic taste preferences and food culture of the person the recommendation is being made for,” he says. “That said, to give some sweeping generalized advice, I would serve the lighter chilled reds with crunchy, fresher fare like charcuterie, smoked or cured proteins (including fish!), crunchy vegetables and a zesty dressing; and the slightly more intense or bigger chilled reds as a counterpoint to creamier sauces and lightly grilled food to balance the heavier flavors and texture with something more refreshing and bright-tasting.” His pairing suggestions of the moment include a crisp Saumur red with lamb cutlets, grilled eggplant and a herb yoghurt sauce, or a light Beaujolais-Villages with Baja fish tacos ("the lower alcohol and light, fresh fruit also suits the spice without making it too pepper-hot”).
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