After the long, cold and snowy winter, the warm spring days are really feeling good—and warmer days call for cooler wines. I am not talking about hip or trendy wines; I am speaking of wines that can be served appropriately chilled.
All wine-drinkers know that white and rosé wines should be served chilled, but what about red wines? Can you serve red wines chilled, or even more shockingly, with ice?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer requires a little more elaboration.
The first question we should know the answer to is this: At what temperatures should different wines be served? The reality is, most people serve their wines too cold and too warm. Most of us serve our white wines so cold that many of the aromas and flavors are muted. Additionally, we serve our red wines so warm that the aromas and flavors can be distorted. (Of course, I will always tell you to drink what you like, how you like it—no judgment—so if you, say, like your white wines barely above freezing, that’s just fine.)
So what are the recommended temperatures for different wines? While there are no absolutes, here are some good guidelines. Refrigerator times listed assume the starting temperature of the wine is 72 degrees.
Sparkling wines and champagnes are often served in ice buckets, so they should be served ice-cold right? No. Sparkling wines should be served around 39 to 45 degrees. If it is an expensive bottle of champagne, serve it between 45 and 50 degrees to enhance the flavors and aromas. You should be able to achieve these temperatures by placing the bottle in the refrigerator up to two hours before serving.
Light dry white wines, like pinot grigios and sauvignon blancs, are best served between 45 and 50 degrees. This is cold enough to preserve and highlight the acidity and freshness, while warm enough to allow subtle flavors to be appreciated. An hour and a half in the refrigerator should achieve this temperature.
Rosés come in many styles, from very pale to deep-colored; the latter wines have more complex flavors and more tannins due to the extended skin contact. In general, the lighter the color, the colder it should be served. A lighter Provence style rosé should be served at 48 degrees, with richer rosés served closer to 55 degrees. Refrigerate the bottle for an hour to 90 minutes to achieve these temperatures.
Full-bodied white wines, like oaked chardonnays, will taste best when served around 55 degrees; if it has less oak, you can chill it a little more. One hour in the fridge will do.
Light to medium-bodied reds—like pinot noir, Beaujolais and grenache—are best served around 55 to 60 degrees, to accentuate the flavors and aromas of these bright wines. If served too warm, these wines will taste tart and acidic; 45 to 60 minutes in the refrigerator will provide the right amount of chill time.
Full-bodied reds, like cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot, will present the best flavor, mouthfeel and acidity when served between 60 and 65 degrees. If they’re served warmer than that, alcohol will dominate the flavor. Chill 25 minutes to reach these temperatures.
A basic rule to remember is the lighter the color, the colder it is served.
Steve Sanchez is a sommelier who manages the wine programs at all of Mark Estee’s restaurants here in Northern Nevada. I asked him his thoughts on serving wines in the heat of Northern Nevada.
“Preserving the proper serving temperature of the wine is very important with our heat,” Sanchez said. “If you have a red wine that should be served around that 60-degree mark, and it is 80 degrees out with strong sunshine, you will want to do something to preserve the wine’s temperature.”
When I asked Sanchez how to best maintain the proper temperature, he said, “I have a marble chiller that I’ll keep in the freezer in the summertime. I use that in the backyard when it is still 90 degrees outside at 7 o’clock. You can pick one up for around $20, and they come in really handy.”
I could not agree with him more. I will sometimes rest a bottle on ice and count on my warm glass to adjust the wine to the correct temperature. Just remember, a bottle in ice will get far colder than a bottle in a marble chiller.
One of the biggest wine taboos is the mere thought of adding ice cubes to wine. I asked Sanchez if he’d ever condone it. He replied without hesitation.
“I 100 percent condone it,” he said. “If we were talking about a Grands Cru Burgundy, I mean, that’s a completely different conversation. But if you’re outside, and you’ve got a moderately priced wine that’s meant for enjoyment and refreshment, yeah. You know what? It’s probably going to taste better with a couple of cubes of ice in it, versus it being 85 degrees.”
That’s right: When you are at a picnic or an outdoor reception, cooler wine is always better than hot wine. In addition, a slightly lower alcohol level per glass will not hurt you—trust me. If you do not want to water down your wine but do want to keep it cool, consider freezing leftover wine in an ice cube tray, and add those cubes to your glass. Alternatively, you can freeze table grapes and use them to help keep your wine cool.
If you are like me and prefer red wine even during the summer, think about drinking red wines that can be chilled. Whether you chill them by having them in your wine cellar, or in your wine refrigerator, or resting next to the eggs in your food refrigerator, or whatever, you will enjoy these wines much more when they are closer to 60 degrees than 80.
As Sanchez said: “I’m here to help, not to tell you what you should be doing. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s more about your company and enjoyment—versus what? Some rules that your grandparents came up with?”