Yes, you most definitely can drink red wines chilled.
This probably isn’t the best way to enjoy that 2005 claret you’ve been lovingly ageing, but chilling down lighter styles of red – think good primary fruit and low tannin – can be a great alternative to whites and rosé in the summer months.
Best red wine styles to think about chilling:
- Beaujolais plus Gamay wines from other areas if you can find them, such as Oregon or South Africa.
- Valpolicella Classico or wines made with Corvina grapes
- Lighter styles of Pinot Noir
- Some Loire Valley Cabernet Franc
There are many more, of course, and winemaking style is also important when considering the best red wine temperature. You don’t want too much oak, for instance.
Peter Richards MW in his pick of lighter summer reds to enjoy also recommends considering what kind of food you eat in the warm, summer months, with simpler fresher flavours.
‘The wines that make a cheery partner for those foods naturally share the same kind of character: keen, crunchy, forthright.’
What you need to know about chilling red wine
Sarah Jane Evans MW, co-chair of the Decanter World Wine Awards, said that ‘as a rule of thumb, the cheaper and/or simpler the red wine the more it will benefit from being served cool or chilled.
‘Think of the refreshing rustic reds served straight from the fridge in tumblers in Mediterranean bars.’
If price seems a bit of blunt instrument, then consider being wary of tannin and over-use of new oak, in particular. Focus on fresher styles with good primary fruit flavours.
‘Chilling emphasises tannin and oak, so be careful to serve a well-structured red only a few degrees cooler than usual,’ said Evans.
One reason why stainless steel vats can be used in wineries, and sometimes also concrete, is to help protect those fresh, primary fruit flavours in at least a portion of the wine.
A pale colour can also be a good indicator, because it suggests lighter extraction in the cellar.
Focus on style, rather than grape or region, said Matt Walls.
‘Go for light- or medium-bodied wines with fresh acidity and discreet, fine tannins. Juicy, fruity flavours work better than savoury notes, so opt for a young wine in preference to an old one.’
‘Wines with modest alcohol levels tend to be more thirst-quenching by their very nature, so as a rule, the lower the alcohol the better.’
How long to chill red wine for
‘Good summer reds should be served at 10°C-16°C (50°F-60°F)’ said Richards.
‘That’s significantly cooler than many a summer’s day, so don’t be afraid to pop them in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving if the weather’s warm.’
Evans also recommends putting a wine in the fridge for half-an-hour, which will particularly tone down the sensation of soupy warmth in a relatively high alcohol red.
Don’t go too far, said Matt Walls, Decanter’s lead reviewer for the Rhône, in the July 2017 issue of Decanter magazine.
‘Cool down too much and aromas and flavours become muted, tannins take on an astringent quality and the wine can feel unpleasantly tight,’ he said.
Should you ever chill a full-bodied red wine before serving?
The short answer is yes, sometimes. Have you ever been served a red wine too warm? It can easily happen, especially in hotter climates.
Even for full bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, it’s important to stop the wine getting too warm before serving.
‘For a red wine, much warmer than 18°C is too high,’ said Walls. ‘Its flavours become blurred and soupy, its structure softens and alcohol becomes more noticeable.
‘Chill it down slightly and flavours come into focus, alcohol becomes less apparent, structure tightens up and the wine is more refreshing to drink.’
Quick tips for chilling red wines in a hurry
By Matt Walls
1. Place the bottle in an ice bucket filled with ice and some water for about 10-15 minutes, but do take regular sips to make sure you’re not over-chilling the wine.
2. A cool sleeve, such as the Le Creuset Cooler Sleeve, is less messy. Since most of these can be flattened, they can also be used as a cushion to keep decanters of red wine cool. Alternatively, use a decanter with an ice compartment.
3. If your red has been stored at around 20°C, pop it in the fridge for 25-30 minutes; set the timer on your oven or your phone so you don’t forget to remove it.
4. If you’re in a hurry, 8-10 minutes in the freezer will suffice, but more gentle methods are preferable.
5. Use a plastic or metal wine cooler to keep the temperature low once it’s out of the fridge or freezer, or an ice bucket filled with cool water and ice cubes.
18 of the best red wines to chill, reviewed by our experts
Originally published in 2016 and updated in 2020 and 2021.