How and Why to Chill Red Wine

Just because it's hot outside doesn't mean red wine is off-limits. (Photo: Disobeyart/Shutterstock)

There are so many rules when it comes to wine — and there are plenty of reasons to break them. I believe you should drink whatever wine you like in whatever manner you like. So if you want to drink your red wine chilled instead of room temperature, go ahead.

In fact, one of the standard rules of red wine is serving it at room temperature. But the average room temperature — usually around 72 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 23 Celsius) — is too warm for red wines. When experts say room temperature, they're talking about cellar room temperature, which is somewhere between 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). Light, fruity reds are often served colder.

Again, it's fine to break wine rules, so if you pull a red off the wine rack and you want to open it and drink at that temperature, go for it. But if you want to add a little chill to your reds, here are some tips. Keep in mind that even the experts will disagree on the perfect temperature for a wine, so these are simply guidelines. (You may read plus or minus 5 degrees elsewhere.)

  • Keep your reds in the coolest part of your home, especially if you don't have a wine refrigerator. I keep most of my wines in the basement next to an outside wall. A digital thermometer keeps an eye on the temperature for me, and even in the middle of summer, the temperature doesn't rise above 65 F (18 C).
  • For full-bodied reds like cabernet sauvignon, a Bordeaux or a Brunello, serving at cellar temperature is fine. If your full-bodied red is above 68 F (20 C), you can put it in the refrigerator for about 15-45 minutes to bring the temperature down before opening.
  • Lighter, fruitier reds can use even further chilling. Keep them in the refrigerator for an hour or more to bring them down to about 60 F (15 C). You can also use an ice bucket to chill the wine. Fill the bucket it up with ice about 1/3 of the way and then add cold water to the halfway point before adding your wine bottle.

Lighter reds that chill well

beaujolais nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau is a common red wine to be chilled, but there many others that can benefit from a little cold. (Photo: Imagepocket/Shutterstock)

Beaujolais Nouveau, made from the gamay grape, is the one red wine many people know to serve slightly chilled. It's a wine that's meant to be consumed a year or two after bottling because it hasn't spent time in a wooden barrel. It doesn't have the characteristics needed to age. It's light, fresh and fruity and perfect for chilling to serve at 55 to 60 F.

Pinot Noir is light and a great year-round wine. It's best served at 55 to 60 F so pop it in the refrigerator or into an ice bucket for at least a half hour before serving.

Lambrusco can be sweet or dry, and after being relegated to the bottom shelf of the bulk wine section for a while, better versions are bringing this Italian grape back in a semi-sparkling style. Talk to a sales person and ask for a recommendation on lumbrusco as well as asking what temperature to serve it. You may just find a new, great value wine for summer sipping.

Grenache (France), or garnacha (Spain), is another grape that works well chilled. The fruity, jammy characteristics of this grape make it well suited for chilling. Serve it between 55 to 65 F, depending on how hot and humid it is where you are. The hotter it is, the cooler you can go on serving temperature.

Sweet reds from a local winery are often perfect candidates for serving cold. If your taste buds skew sweet, head to small, local winery and ask to taste their sweet reds and for a temperature recommendation. You'll find that at small wineries, the sweet reds are often less expensive than the dryer reds, making them a summer bargain.