I can still remember my horror years ago when my Italian father-in-law asked me to grab him the bottle of red from the fridge. Surely I had heard wrong? Wasn’t it the cardinal rule that red wine is served at room temperature and only white was chilled?
To say my FIL’s standing as a wine connoisseur went down that day would be a gross under-statement. Guiseppe is many things, I figured, but a wine dude certainly wasn’t one of them.
Don’t diss the FIL
Of course, we now know that my rule-breaker FIL was just ahead of his time. As it happens, his preferred drop of Pinot Noir is best served at around 13°C (55°F). Not ‘room temperature’ as guidelines so often state, and definitely not ‘back of the cupboard where it’s been stored for a year’ temperature.
Guiseppe, I stand corrected. Certain reds – though certainly not all reds – sip better when they break the rules. This is particularly the case in a hot climate country like Australia (and also in Southern Italy where my FIL learned his wines).
Cheaper the wine, higher the chill
Fuller-bodied wines are higher in tannins and oak than lighter reds and chilling enhances both of these flavours, often ruining the structure of the wine. So, the better a wine is structured, the less it will need to be chilled to taste good.
The opposite is true: ‘cheap’ wine often tastes better chilled as the lower temperature will bring out tannin and oak, emboldening the wine’s structure. Worth a try when you pick up your next bargain bottle of $10 plonk.
“It stands to reason that if you like your red wine served cold, then by all means go ahead and do so. Whatever temperature you enjoy best is the optimal temperature to serve any wine.”
Cool wines for hot climate
Aside from the ‘simpler the wine, higher the chill’ rule of thumb, consider the weather. Unless you cellar your wines in a drafty castle atop a Swiss Alp in December, chances are most red wines will drink better after a spell in the fridge.
The most important rule of thumb (and I believe we have run out of thumbs at this point), comes down to personal preference. It stands to reason that if you like your red wine served cold, then by all means go ahead and do so. Whatever temperature you enjoy best is the optimal temperature to serve any wine.
That said, here’s a quick run-down on what works best for most:
Pinot Noirs reign supreme in the light-bodied or light-medium bodied style, but lighter reds also includes wines we are more familiar with chilling like Rosé, Zweigelt, Dolcetto and Lambrusco.
These light-bodied reds are best served on the chilled side, around 12-13°C, or after a couple of hours in the fridge and a 15 minute rest at room temperature before serving.
Other light-bodied reds like Zinfandel, Gamay, Grenache and Barbaresco sip better at a more traditional ‘coolish room temperature’ of around 16°C. Note that this is significantly higher than the temperature of a baking Sydney balcony on a humid summer’s day. Chill your reds!
Full-medium bodied reds
Fuller-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Merlot, and even many medium reds like Tempranillo, Merlot and Sangiovese, are best served at around 16-18°C.
This is significantly warmer than a chilled the lighter reds, but most definitely cooler than ‘room temperature’ in most parts of Australia in the summer months.
To bring full-to-medium bodied reds to optimal drinking temperature, chill for around an hour in the fridge, open or decant, then wait at least 30 minutes before pouring.
Some chilling don’ts
It’s best not to get overly-enthusiastic with your red wine chilling. Unless you have a wine fridge specially set to keep reds at their optimal temperature, most benefit from being stored on the warm side. A decent cellar or, for those without, in a cool, dark spot in the cupboard, is ideal.
It also stands to reason that plonking your plonk in the freezer to bring it to temperature is not a good idea. While a bottle of Rosé might survive a fast cooldown, you run the risk of dismantling the structure of most other reds. Fridge temperature is as low as you should go.