Should You Chill Red Wine?

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Key Takeaways

  • As a generally traditional principle accepted by oenophiles around the world, wine shouldn’t be served at room temperature. It must not necessarily be served at fridge temperature either. All wine should be chilled slightly, even if just to a fraction beneath room temperature, or 68°F. In short, it should be cold but not icy cold. However, with this being said, there are no hard and fast rules, just known effects and recommendations. Enjoy wine at whatever temperature works for you. 
  • Give fuller-bodied wine just a few minutes to chill and bring them down to just under room temperature. Medium-bodied and fortified wine needs to be a bit cooler, cooled to the point where the body of the bottle is cold but not yet completely chilled. Young, light red wines are perfect for serving ice cold, so as soon as that bottle becomes icy to the touch, your wine is good to go. Give sparkling red wine a little longer even so that it’s actually ice-cold before serving. 
  • Avoid serving red wine too warm, or the sweetness and tannins will overwhelm its taste and aromas, limiting the bouquet while overwhelming the more subtle flavor notes. Don’t serve it too cold either, as this will subdue the flavor and aromas, making the wine overly crisp with a sharp, overemphasized taste of alcohol and a muted, underdeveloped, often inhibited bouquet. 

Whether or not red wines should be served chilled is an age-old question encountered at some point by everyone from casual drinkers to would-be sommeliers. Whether or not wine is suitable or suited to being served cold depends on the type of wine itself, but ultimately, all wine tastes best when it’s a little cooler than many would at first imagine. We’ll be taking you through a complete overview of chilling red wine so that you will always unlock the full flavor and bouquet every bottle has to offer. 

The Traditional Temperature Of Wine

Wine has always been traditionally stored in a cellar at cellar temperature, which falls between 45°F and 55°F. Roughly half an hour to an hour before serving, the wine is removed from the cool storage area. It is then opened, decanted, and left to stand for up to an hour, which in turn results in the wine warming up ever so slightly. The breathing period is essential to allow oxidation caused by contact with air to blend and soften the flavors while releasing many additional aromatic compounds. The ideal serving temperature for all red wine, classically, falls around twenty degrees lower than room temperature, and that’s before considering how certain wines are further chilled before serving to promote taste and aroma.  

Why Red Wine Should Be Chilled

Red wine, across the board, is generally best served at a moderate temperature. A moderate temperature is not room temperature (70°F) but rather a temperature range of between 41°F and 68°F, which depends on the blend and the fullness of its body. Serving red wine just below room temperature balances out the flavor of its tannins. Serve red wine too hot, and the tannins will turn harsh and overly dry with little to no sweetness and overly sharp undertones. The right temperature for rich, high-end full-bodied wine is just a couple of degrees cooler than the room so factor in the enviroment and heat of the day before chilling and serving. 

What Happens When Red Wine Is Chilled

Chilling red wine blends the crispness of the alcohol, the wine’s acidity, and the fullness of the rich tannins making up its body while at the same time subduing sweetness. A slight drop in temperature before decanting balances wine. However, overcooling wine flattens flavors and aromas while intensifying the taste of alcohol to too great of a degree. When one gets the balance right, acidity, body, and the flavor of alcohol are balanced, which elevates and enriches the wine giving its sweet lingering flavor while instilling unmistakable crispness to each sip.

Determining How Chilled Your Red Wine Should Be

Young red wines taste best when served far colder than just below room temperature. The younger and brighter the wine, the more it’ll benefit from extended chilling and a lower temperature. Cheap red wine and early harvest blends typically fulfil this criteria. Consequently, the fuller the body and the more tannins the wine has, the shorter the duration of cooling required. 

Full-bodied wines with deep flavor derived from tannins don’t need anything more than four degrees below room temperature (64°F), whereas acidic, light-bodied wines can go as cold as 53°F and taste better than any other serving suggestion. Please note true full-bodied wine will always be served at 64°F (18°C) or perhaps a few degrees cooler depending on the climate, season, vicinity, and drinker/s preference. 

The balance of the wine sets how long it should be chilled for. There’s a slight but noticeable difference between room temperature and 15 to 30 minutes of chilling to 64°F. Try covering your nose and tasting the wine in question. If it still has a pleasant taste with sweetness detectable, it’s suitable for cooling over an extended period. If not, bring it to just colder than room temperature.

Which Wines Are Best Served Chilled

All red wine should technically be served slightly chilled, but here’s an exact breakdown of the best wines for chilling and the temperature they should be served at. Keep in mind that extremely young wines may be served even colder than the recommendations stated. It is normal practice to serve something like Beaujolais Nouveau, which is fermented for mere weeks at a time at 50°F to 52°F.

Light Bodied Wines

Light-bodied red wine is typically a little lower on alcohol which makes it well suited to drinking at a cold temperature.The taste of alcohol is intensified which brings out more flavor in many blends which would otherwise be much flatter. Light-bodied red wine is generally best served at between 53°F and 57°F or colder.

  • Blaufränkisch
  • Cinsault
  • Counoise
  • Frappato
  • Gamay Noir
  • Nebbiolo
  • Pinotage
  • Pinot Noir
  • Primitivo
  • Schiava
  • St. Laurent
  • Valpolicella Classico
  • Vernatsch
  • Zweigelt

Medium Bodied Wines

Balanced best describes a medium-bodied red wine that should be treated as such in terms of cooling. Wines with moderate alcohol, moderate acidity, and evenly matched tannins taste best at a midway point to chilled. Medium-bodied red wine is typically best served between 58°F and 62°F.

  • Beaujolais
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cornelissen
  • Dolcetto
  • Garnacha
  • Grenache
  • Rosato
  • Sangiovese
  • Trollinger

Fuller Bodied Wines

Dropping the temperature of wines with high alcohol content and high concentrations of tannins brings about superb balance and unlocks more flavor and a fuller bouquet. Full-bodied red wine is normally best served between 60°F and 68°F.

  • Aglianico
  • Barbera d’Asti 
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay
  • Chinon
  • D’Avola
  • Malbec
  • Merlot
  • Nero D’Avola
  • Syrah/Shiraz
  • Tempranillo
  • Zinfandel

Sparkling Wines

If it has bubbles, put it on ice and serve it ultra-chilled. Sparkling red wine is ideally served ice cold at between 41°F to 50°F when it reaches the prime point of crispness.

  • Aglianico Spumante Rosso
  • Barbera Frizzante
  • Brachetto d’Acqui
  • Cava (Sparkling Rose) 
  • Freisa di Chieri
  • Lambrusco
  • Sparkling Shiraz

Fortified Wine

Sweet and dry fortified wine is preferably best served at between 50°F to 65°F. Those with a sweet tooth and extra wine on hand should give our homemade red wine simple syrup a try. Any red wine works. Making a cup of decadent boozy dessert topping is quick & easy and makes enough to slather over pancakes, waffles, and just about any and all baked goods for the next two weeks or so.

  • Port
  • Sherry
  • Madeira (Dry Madeira Served Up To 54°F)
  • Marsala

How Long To Chill Red Wine

According to testing from Food & Wine Magazine, a bottle of red wine placed upright in the average refrigerator takes roughly two and a half hours to reach 55°F. The same temperature is reached in a freezer after 40 minutes. Three hours in a fridge drops red wine to 45°F, so be very careful from the two-hour mark onward. Only sparkling wine and white wine needs to be served at that icy cold temperature. We recommend two hours in the fridge for medium to full-bodied wines and a full two and a half to two and three quarter hours for light-bodied wine. 

Here are the basic timings in a refrigerator for each different type of wine:

  • Light-Bodied: 90 Minutes
  • Medium-Bodied: 60 Minutes
  • Full-Bodied: 40 Minutes
  • Fortified: 40 Minutes
  • Sparkling: 90 Minutes

An easy way to ensure that your wine is at roughly the right temperature is to store it in the fridge overnight and then remove it two to two and half hours before drinking if it’s medium to full-bodied and an hour before drinking if it’s a light wine. Always remember to let your wine breathe for 20 to 30 minutes after opening it. 

How To Chill Wine The Right Way

The very best way to chill wine is in an ice bath. Sure, a fridge or freezer will do, but there’s no faster way to drop the temperature of whatever you’re drinking than an ice bucket or improved ice bucket filled with salted ice water. It’s really easy to set one up. 

  1. Open the bottle of wine 30 minutes before drinking. 
  2. At 5 to 15 minutes before consumption, stand the bottle of wine upright in an ice bucket or mixing bowl nestled on top of a layer of ice. 
  3. Fill the vessel with ice, surrounding the bottle with cubes all the way up to the neck. 
  4. Pour in ice water to roughly the three-quarter-way mark. 
  5. Toss in two handfuls of salt. 
  6. Wait between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the desired temperature. 

Ten minutes in a salted ice bath chills a bottle of wine to 55°F, so adjust around this duration based on how cold you want it. The salt makes the ice melt at a lower temperature, making the chilling process roughly three times faster. For the best results, use coarse rock salt. Pay close attention to the temperature of the bottle, as an ice bath can often deliver dramatically quick results. 

The Fastest Way To Chill Wine

Now, we don’t necessarily recommend this method even though it does reportedly work. There are some things that you just shouldn’t do with a good red wine, but hey, if you’re in an extreme hurry, this should be your go-to. Decant your bottle of red wine into a sealable plastic packet like a ziplock bag. Submerge the bag in a salted ice bath for just 2 minutes, and the wine will be an icy 50°F.

How Not To Chill Wine

Don’t Add Ice – Ice cubes dilute wine and, in turn, ruin its flavor, aroma, and bouquet.

Don’t Chill The Glass – There isn’t enough surface area on a cold stem glass to effectively chill its contents. 

Don’t Remove And Serve Immediately – Regardless of the chilling method employed, always give wine at least half an hour to breathe in order to bring out its best qualities. 

Don’t Half-Submerge The Bottle – If you’re using an ice bucket or improvised ice bath, ensure that the bottle is surrounded with ice all the way up to its neck, or it won’t chill properly. 

How to Store Opened Wine

Once a bottle of wine has been opened, it will generally last for around three to five days when stored in the refrigerator. The cool temperature slows down oxidation significantly, which means that it’ll retain most of its flavor and aroma. Just ensure that you seal the lid by either recorking with the original cork (which may take a little modification first), a wine-stop, winged closure, or, ideally, a vacuum pump for the best freshness.

Consider A Wine Cooler

If you maintain a diverse wine collection and either entertain or drink wine frequently, perhaps you should consider investing in a good wine cooler or fridge. Experts agree that there’s no comparison between good wine that’s been stored properly and its uncared-for counterpart. Furthermore, coolers are nearly indispensable to natural wines that are particularly susceptible to oxidation. 

Each wine cooler offers one or more cooling zones that sustain a fixed temperature of between 41°F and 64°F. Entry-level wine coolers generally start at a six-bottle single-zone capacity, which costs $120+ and range all the way up to massive 155 or more bottle designer wine fridges with three separate temperature zones. 

Frequently Asked Questions – Chilling Red Wine

Whether or not you should chill red wine raises several common concerns, and we’ve got all the answers you need waiting. 

Should You Refrigerate Red Wine After Opening?

All wine, white and red, should be refrigerated after opening if it’s not going to be consumed immediately. As soon as wine is opened, the oxidation process hastens immensely and begins degrading the primary flavor and aroma compounds. At first, oxidation unlocks a whole new bouquet of tastes and smells, but eventually, this same process flattens the taste of the wine until all the acetaldehyde converts to acetic acid, vinegar. Refrigeration slows this significantly, allowing a bottle of opened wine to last, once closed, for up to five days in the fridge. 

What Happens To Wine If It Is Served Too Cold?

Serving a full-bodied wine that’s rich in tannins at too cold of a temperature nullifies most of its bouquet and main flavor notes. Wine served too cold will have muted sweetness, fruitiness, and acidity. Over-cooling the wrong type of wine to the wrong degree will bring out the taste of alcohol prominently as well as sour notes, while thinning the highlights and undertones. As more and more aroma is lost to cold, the bouquet is impaired, and the flavor becomes more astringent. 

Does It Ruin Wine To Chill And Then Unchill?

The only thing that will cause wine to spoil prematurely is large rapid temperature fluctuations, such as taking an ice-cold bottle of wine straight into the hot sun without any coverage or cooling. Chilled wine that’s slowly but steadily warmed back to room temperature is perfectly fine. It is safe to drink and good for refrigeration. Most of the flavor and bouquet will still be intact. 

Once You’ve Chilled A Wine, Does It Need To Remain Chilled?

Whereas allowing wine to gradually warm up to room temperature or higher won’t cause it to spoil, it is far better for wine’s flavor, bouquet, and longevity to be kept at a steady temperature instead. To sustain the best possible quality for as long as possible, keep chilled wine that’s cooled to anything beyond a few degrees below room or cellar temperature on ice or closed in the refrigerator. Many wines, especially fuller-bodied varieties, will only require initial chilling and are then left to reach room temperature after being decanted before serving.

What Temperature Should Red Wine Be Stored At?

The optimal prolonged storage temperature for red wine is in the 45-65°F range. Certain wines benefit from a colder temperature whereas the longer you plan to store wine, the cooler it should remain. Storage temperature is vitally important to preserving the full spectrum of flavor, aroma, and color compounds. As wine degrades due to an improper storage temperature, there’s a significant difference in not only what the wine tastes and smells like but what it looks like directly too.

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