Summer time guests who ask for a glass of red are usually surprised and often a little concerned to see me make a bee line for the fridge. After all, the rules are clear and known to most of us – white wines chilled and reds at room temperature. Trouble is, the custom of drinking reds at room temperature was established centuries ago when indoor temperatures were far lower. Nowadays, in centrally heated buildings, reds served at room temperature are just too warm.
Restaurants should know this but often don’t. Have you ever tried asking a supercilious sommelier to fetch an ice bucket for your red wine? I have and it’s not pretty.
Before suggesting some reds that are particularly suited to lower temperatures, I recommend a little ‘research.’ Simply, pick your favourite red wine, try it first at 15C and then at 22C. The fruit and the perfume will be more pronounced in the former, while in the latter, the alcohol will leap out of the glass and the flavours will seem jammy and indistinct. Our heightened perception of alcohol in warmer drinks is the main reason why cocktails, cheap beer and shots are always served extremely well chilled.
So, reds in the fridge. How long and how cool? Obviously, it depends on the room temperature but I find that 20 to 30 minutes is about right and with certain unoaked wines made from grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Corvina and Zweigelt you can go as low as 14C.
Which red wines will benefit from a spell in the chiller? Definitely not heavy, tannic wines such as Barolo or Bordeaux or those made from Shiraz, Grenache or Carmenere. These heavier wines will taste woody, almost chewy, when too cool. Think instead of light, soft, juicy reds, those with very low tannins and tangy, red-berry fruit flavours. Think, firstly and thirstily, of Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir, the most seductive and silky of reds is, when young, the wine that’s most emblematic of summer. Youthful Pinot is characterised by deliciously sweet and vibrant fruit flavours of squashed raspberries, sun-warmed strawberries and cherry fruit – the sun really does shine out of its glass! When chilled, its natural mouth- watering acidity is heightened which makes it the perfect al fresco drink and a great match with rich fish dishes or roast chicken with salad.
Pinot Noir originates from Burgundy in France and is now grown, with highly variable results, across the globe. However, the most regular Pinot inhabitant of my fridge is Puy de Dôme Pinot Noir, Cave St. Verny, a cooperative produced wine from little known wine producing region, the Auvergne, in central France. Here, the producers have, against the odds, fashioned a sinuous, dark berry fruited, ridiculously moreish wine that’s absolutely delicious with a few slices of saucisson and a humble baguette.
Italy too, offers plenty of options for those with a view to a chill. Valpolicella or Bardolino, both comprised mainly from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes in the Veneto region of North East Italy are floral, cherryish wines with subtle herbaceous notes ideally suited to outdoor drinking.
However, my preferred option is a lesser known wine from the Piedmont region (the home of Barolo) called Braghé da uve di Freisa, Claudio Mariotto. This unusual wine is made from rare grape variety, Freisa, has a palate of wild strawberries and crushed nuts and pairs beautifully with slow cooked pork shoulder.
The suggested wines will be spot on after 20 to 30 minutes in the fridge. Any longer and your licence to chill will be revoked!