Red wine: To chill or not to chill?

Wine expert, Victoria Moore explains that on hot summer days, chilling red wine for up to half an hour is not as sacrilegious as it may sound.

Red wine poured from bottle to glass

The day is hot and the wine is too warm. I ask the barman for some ice and plop! plop! plop! three cubes are in my drink. The day is still hot but the wine is cool enough – and my friends are staring at me as though I just went up to a Caravaggio in the Uffizi and defaced it with a Sharpie because the shadows weren’t in the right place.

I see the point. Putting ice cubes in your wine isn’t the perfect solution – who wants to dilute their drink? – but it’s a lot kinder to the wine than drinking it when it’s too warm. White or rosé wine that isn’t cold enough loses its definition, as well as the invigorating frisson you get from any chilled drink; but likewise, red becomes soupy and feels baggy and shapeless, like clothes that don’t fit you.

Yes, red wine can be served too warm – and in summer it often is. We have a peculiar blind spot about this. I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t say straight away if they thought the white wine could do with half an hour in the freezer, yet it’s always assumed that nothing could possibly go wrong with the red. We have the old saw about drinking red at ‘room temperature’ to thank for that. What does room temperature actually mean? It’s often taken to be 20C but really 16-18C is a better bet. Either way, safe to say that if you’re wearing a Bardot dress (ladies) or a T-shirt and shorts (ladies and gents) and you’re not wondering where you’ve put your jumper, the red wine is probably too hot.

When I am visiting wineries in a warm climate such as in Argentina or Australia, winemakers always pour the red, yes even burly malbec or shiraz, from a temperature-controlled chiller unit, usually set to about 16C. It would be considered vinocide to do otherwise, so much better does the wine taste when it has this fresh edge.

Wine bottle in cooler

At home, the easiest way to get a bottle of red to the right temperature on a warm day is to give it 20-30 minutes in the fridge before uncorking. Or, if you can’t wait, pour yourself a small glass to be going on with and THEN put the bottle in the fridge.

And if the wine – white, rosé or orange – is the right temperature but you don’t have an ice bucket, or don’t want to be bobbing up and down to and from the fridge to keep it that way, then I have a handy gadget for you. The Corkcicle wine cooler looks like an icicle topped with a cork and is filled with freeze gel. Keep it in your freezer, then pop it into an open bottle of wine to keep white white wines chilled or cool down warm reds. It’s available from Amazon, Root7, John Lewis and other retailers for around £15 and it really works.

But if all else fails – ice cubes. Put a few in to get the temperature down rapidly, then fish them out and you’ll minimise dilution.

Find out more about wine...

How to buy the best sparkling wines
How to sound like a wine expert


Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta), is out now.

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