Red wines served cold? A short guide on how to choose red wines to cool down summer evenings.

As we are approaching the summer season, and wine drinking preferences are shifting in favour of whites and rosés, I have decided to give you a perspective on drinking chilled red wine.

We’re in the season of making changes to our wine list. We are taking red wines off the menu to list more white and rosé wines. We have created this habit that white wine is served cold and is best suited for summer, and red wine is served “warmer” and is more suited to the cold season. That’s why in this article I will talk about red wines that can be served cold and the characteristics they need to have to suit summer dinners with warm evenings.

What are the criteria by which we choose the right red wine to be served chilled?

The variety

The first important aspect to consider when looking for the best summer red wines is that not all varieties are ideal for chilling. In fact, you should know that, depending on certain structural and organoleptic characteristics, only a very small proportion of red wines can be served chilled. For example, if you chill a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Malbec, their tannins will become stronger, resulting in a very bitter wine. In contrast, a wine such as Pinot Noir, Gamai or sweet Zinfandel, chilled, is a very good choice.  Here are some recommendations of varieties you can serve chilled this summer.

Pinot Noir

From the outset we exclude Pinot Noir from Burgundy and Europe in general. The classic Pinot, which the Burgundians call “an iron fist in a velvet glove”, is neither light nor fruity. A New World Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is just right; with aromas of black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, clove, and caramel the one from California or Romania; fruity and spicy, with notes of ripe berries, sweet spices and tobacco the one from New Zealand.

Gamay

A Burgundy variety from the Beaujolais region that produces light, refreshing fruity wines with noticeable acidity, delicate spice flavours and almost no tannins. The “Beaujolais” inscription on the bottle means a young wine that should be drunk within three years at most. The commercial phenomenon of Beaujolais Nouveau is a young Gamay wine, bottled a month and a half after harvest. Hence its lightness and lack of tannins.

Dolcetto

Piedmont’s summer speciality is young, dry and easy to drink. The colour is ruby with intense aromas of liquorice, bitter almonds, cranberries, cherries, raspberries and flowers. Medium body, low acidity and slightly bitter aftertaste. Drink within the first year after harvest.

Nerello Mascalese

A variety indigenous to the island of Sicily. The taste is freshly fruity, herbal aromas, excellent minerality and earthy notes. Elegant and refined, Nerello Mascalese resembles the fragrant noble wines of Barolo and Burgundy and is the most serious competitor to the leading Sicilian variety Nero d’Avola.

Alcohol

The second important aspect is the alcohol content, as low temperatures usually reduce it. For this reason, very strong red wines should not be served at high temperatures as they will lose their structural characteristics.  For the same reason, aged wines should not be served cold. Therefore, the best red wine to serve chilled is young, unstructured wine, as younger wines tend to have ripe fruit flavours. I recommend that the wine be chilled slightly, so the flavours will concentrate, the structure will firm up and the alcohol will become less noticeable.

Aromatic character

Another fundamental characteristic to consider is aromatic character. Cold has the ability to change and hide the most subtle aromas. For this reason, aromatic red wines are best kept refrigerated to withstand the effects of cold temperatures.

Acidity

To understand which red wine can be paired with a summer dinner, we must also consider its acidity. A fresh wine is more acidic, but particularly light and delicate.Low temperatures enhance freshness, so drinks with acidity are best served chilled.

Pairing with food

When it comes to choosing red wines for summer dinners, we also need to consider what kind of food we’ll be serving. In Italy, for example, on hot summer evenings, people tend to eat cold food for dinner, mainly snacks and cold meats. Because these ingredients pair well with red wines, they are often present at summer dinners. An example would be Lambrusco – a fruity but very light wine, or Brachetto, a sweet and fragrant sparkling wine.

A few tips for chilling red wines when you’re short on time.

Without a doubt, if we decide to drink red wines during summer dinners, there are certain aspects that are absolutely necessary to know in order to avoid mistakes and serving an inappropriate drink.

When we talk about low temperatures in relation to red wines, we mean 11° or 12°. In fact, any wine at temperatures below this level, even the youngest and most aromatic, significantly changes its organoleptic qualities. One mistake we all make is to chill the wine we are about to serve too much.

The most common and familiar method is to put the bottle of wine in a container of ice and water. But the secret is to speed up the cooling process. To do this we add salt, which will lower the freezing point of the water even further. This will make the wine bottle colder in a shorter time.

To speed up the cooling process, when putting the bottle of wine in the fridge, I recommend wrapping it in a towel soaked in water, but not before squeezing it. This will also ensure even cooling over the entire surface of the bottle.

We can decant the wine in small quantities in a decanter kept in the freezer or directly into glasses, which we put in the fridge with the wine.

To keep the bottle cold when it is on the table, we recommend using an ice frappe.

And one last tip: when choosing red wines for your summer wine list to serve chilled, don’t forget to pay attention to their characteristics.

P.S. This article was written for issue 108 of HORECA.