Red wine should be served at room temperature, right?
As a simple rule of thumb, yes.
Room temperature is not what it used to be. In the 1970s average room temperature was a chilly 12 °C, whereas today room temperature is estimated at a tropical 20 °C or higher.
So, what temperature should I serve red wine?
The serving temperature for red wine should be between 12 °C and 18 °C.
The bigger and fuller the red, the closer to 18 °C it should be served. These will generally be wines with big tannins and maybe some oak ageing. Examples that spring to mind include full-bodied reds made from Bordeaux blends, those made with Nebbiolo (like Barolo or Barberesco), or aged Rioja (Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva).
The lighter, less structured a wine is, the closer to 12 °C it should be served. For this category the wine making may be more important than the grape variety. For example, any red wines made using carbonic maceration (a technique which enhances fruit flavours without adding much tannin) will be better served chilled. Other candidates include wines made from Pinot Noir, Gamay, Dolcetto or Barbera.
What happens if red wine is served too warm?
Too warm, and we risk cooking the fruit, giving a jammy or stewed flavour to the wine. It's why red wine should never be put on the Aga to warm up before serving.
Heat can also make the wine taste unbalanced. This means that the alcohol might feel "hot" at the back of the throat, or the tannins are muted and thus the acidity seems too high.
With the efficiency of modern central heating, even big reds will benefit from twenty minutes in the fridge to get them to the ideal serving temperature.
What happens if red wine is served too cold?
Too cold and the risk is that the tannins become exaggerated. Tannins are the compounds that make the inside of your mouth feel furry or dried out - an effect similar to sucking on an old tea bag (mmm, delicious).
The cold will also dull the aromas of the wine.
Take wines out of the cellar (or cupboard under the stairs, garage, or where ever you store them) a few hours before serving. Leave the bottle on the side to reach the correct temperature.
Don't leave it on a radiator, put it in the oven, or stand it on the Aga!
Red wines to drink chilled
My first choice is a little contentious. Pinotage would generally be classified as "big" and not an obvious candidate for a chilled red wine.
However, winemaker Angus Paul chose to use semi-carbonic maceration for this wine.
The result is light on tannins and is a juicy, zippy wine with red fruit flavours and a note of bubblegum. Super delicious when served at the best temperature of 12-14 °C.
2. Altos de Bergasa Tempranillo Joven 2021, Rioja
This Rioja is another slightly left field suggestion. Earlier in this article I said Rioja was not great as a chilled wine, which is true for oaked styles, but here is a Joven (or young) wine with no oak ageing.
Visit the tapas bars of Spain and joven wine is served by the gallon straight from the fridge.
Bright and intense wild blackberries and fresh cherries waft across the nose. On a summers' day, pop the bottle in the fridge and serve generously at 12 °C.
3. Whale Point Pinot Noir 2020, North Macedonia
Pinot Noir chilled is probably the most obvious choice when chilling red wine.
Pinot Noir often produces a light, fruity style - and this wine is no exception. Time in oak barrels adds structure, and wines treated in this way shouldn't be served too cold. Here, however, the wine is entirely made in stainless steel.
The result is a wine that will be better when served at a temperature of 12-14 °C.
The palate is smooth with red fruit flavours and sweet spices. It is also an absolute bargain!
4. Clos du Vieux Bourg "Croix Penet" Régnié 2021, Beaujolais
Wine made from the Gamay grape are never high in tannins and always fruity. They are an excellent choice for chilled red wines.
Serve this example from the cru village of Régnié at 14 °C.
Régnié is the youngest of the Beaujolais Cru villages, only being granted AOC status in 1988. Geographically it sits between Morgon and Brouilly and its wines are noted for their fruitiness.
When chilled this is a red wine that really typifies the appellation, notes of wild strawberries, cherries, and red currants sing in the glass. Delicious.
5. Domaine Bel Avenir Fleurie "Poncie" 2020, Beaujolais
My final choice is possibly the best known of the Cru Beaujolais villages, Fleurie.
Throughout the summer I always have a bottle on hand, chilled to the ideal temperature, should guests arrive unannounced.
The name is evocative of the wine as Fleurie wines are generally floral. This example from Cecile Dardenelli is typical of the region. Chilling to 14 °C enhances the wonderful aromas of peonies and rose petals, all of which are enhanced by the notes of forest floor.