Few people think of red wine as something that needs to be chilled. Red wine, after all, is usually served at “room temperature,” but that value can vary wildly from room to room, house to house, and climate to climate. But most red wines benefit from at least a little time in the fridge, especially during the hotter months.
To find out when wine should be chilled, and how chilled it should be, I reached out to Ian Ferrier of Shalom Y’all and formerly Enoteca Nostrana. (He has also served me many glasses of wine while attempting — with varying levels of success — to educate me on the subject.)
Err on the side of cool
“Each wine has its own specific ideal temperature range but generally you want to lean on the cooler end of things than the warmer,” explained Ferrier, “because it’s always nice to drink a wine that’s warming up.” In terms of degrees, “you always want your reds at least in the 15-20 degrees Celsius range. The main reason you don’t want a wine warmer than that is that the aromatics start to shift and the sensation of alcohol starts to take over when you stick your nose in the glass. You especially don’t want a warmer big red wine that tends to have a higher alcohol content. In general, think of it like drinking a warm Pabst versus an ice cold one. You taste different things and the mouthfeel is different.”
The lighter the wine, the cooler you can go
“Generally,” explained Ferrier, “you can cool lighter reds even more, down to traditional white service temps (9-12 degrees Celsius). You don’t want a big red to get this cold because, among other things, chilling the wine can increase the sensation of tannic structure and can make a wine bitter and sharp. With a lighter red it can brighten the acidity, enhance the structure and show off more floral aromatics. Every wine is different and has its own sweet spot.”
Do it for the bubbles
If you’re a fan of bubbles, the chill is your friend. “As far as sparkling reds go, the wine itself generally follows the same principle as far as aromatics, structure, etc., but the big difference is the carbon dioxide in solution,” Ferrier told me.
“If your wine is cold, the carbon dioxide stays in solution well and you get excellent fine bubbles, if it’s room temp your bottle probably will explode a little when you open it. Aside from that, it’s like a warm soft drink versus a cold soft drink — the carbonation is rough and unpleasant. The wine might be nice as it warms up, but at the point of opening a traditional ‘champagne style’ cork, you want an ice-cold wine.”