What red wines should you drink this summer?
Author: Elisa De Luca
Warm summer days call for a glass of something chilled. While white or rosé wines might be an obvious choice, some red wines also respond well to a short stint in the fridge or an ice bucket – making them ideal for summer drinking. We explore why you should consider chilling red wine here.
Say “summer wines”, and it’s likely that it’ll be zesty whites and fresh rosés that spring to mind.
Red wines are often left out of the conversation entirely, relegated to autumnal or winter evenings. After all, reds may not immediately offer the refreshing character that one looks for during summer.
Yet in many cases, this is all down to serving them too warm. In fact, time in the fridge can transform some reds into an ideal choice for summer drinking.
What does chilling red wine do?
For some wines, a lower serving temperature helps change how they taste. It does this by altering our perception of four key things: aromas, alcohol, bitterness, and acidity.
Chilling will make the harsh flavours of alcohol seem more muted, while highlighting acidity and any fruit or floral aromas. As these are important characteristics in lighter-style wines, a lower serving temperature can bring these into focus in a very pleasurable way. They become easier to detect for your palate, making the wine seem more refreshing – ideal for any summer drink, and a key reason why whites and rosé wines are expected to be served chilled.
Bitterness, however, can prove a challenge. It’s also why not every red is suitable for sticking in the fridge. Chilling red wine will harshen the bitter notes of tannins (the “drying” component). This makes tannic wines – think Bordeaux, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino – seem overly astringent and unpleasant to drink. If you’re planning to serve your reds at a colder temperature, it’s best to focus on wines where tannins aren’t prominent.
One important thing to remember is that over-chilling any wine will numb flavours entirely.
The room temperature myth
Serving up red wines at room temperature is seen as a rule of thumb. Yet, many are regularly poured when too warm. This extra heat is detrimental. It makes flavours flat, unfocused and fuzzy – none of which are appealing for a summer wine where a refreshing character is key.
The problem lies in the term “room temperature”. Many serving guides will tell you that 16-18oC is the ideal for a full-bodied red. Yet, venture into many of Britain’s houses or pubs – snugly built and well-insulated – and the temperatures you’ll find will be far higher than that. These will only increase over the summer. In an era where draughty drawing rooms and high ceilings are less common, “room temperature” means a different thing than it did in years gone by.
To get reds into a state where they appear considerably more refreshing, aromatic and fruit-forward, a short stint in the fridge should do the trick. About 15-20 minutes is ideal for reducing temperature down to around 13-14oC – a sweet spot for lighter-bodied reds.
Which red wines should I chill?
Just as highly tannic or alcoholic red wines aren’t suitable for chilling, neither are extremely full-bodied wines. For the most part, these are more appreciated for their complexity, structure and depth of flavours – none of which will be helped by chilling.
A good rule of thumb is to save chilling for lighter-bodied wines, which are more refreshing and bright. Lower serving temperatures will enhance these features, making your drinking experience more enjoyable.
In terms of flavours and aromatics, vibrant fruit, florals and sweeter notes are what you should look for. In general, unoaked reds display more of these. They have a predominantly fresher, cleaner character, which is more suitable for serving at lower temperatures.
Generally, red wines from warmer climates tend to be more fruit-driven and slightly sweeter. Grapes here ripen more fully in the heat. If you’re looking for a wine to chill, regions like California or Australia are an excellent place to start.
If you’re looking for something from closer to home, there are a wealth of European wines that would do being chilled. Light-bodied reds like Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc or younger Pinot Noirs are all excellent choices. Those from Cairanne and the Côtes du Rhône would also work well, as would a Trousseau from Jura. For fans of Italian wines, Valpolicella is a great choice – even a lighter Chianti might benefit.