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Do You Chill Red Wine?

There’s a lot of common wisdom in the wine industry, not all of it is really accurate, in large part because we’re often missing some historical significance.  Take what should be a simple question: do you chill red wine?

The common wisdom is that no, you don’t chill red wine, you serve it at room temperature.  White wine is supposed to be chilled.


Not exactly on either count.  Most of these truisms are turned at least slightly on their head because we live in an era of insulation, central heat and central air.

When we talked about the appropriate temperature for the serving of wine, you’ve got to think about where and when those ideas came about.  Take an old dusty farmhouse in Bordeaux (yeah, Bordeaux was full of peasants back in the day, that’s not how we picture it though) or an old brick building in Champagne.

Room temperature in those spots was much different than it is today.  In fact, there was a lot less difference between red wine serving temperatures and white wine serving temperatures in those spots any number of years ago.

These days, we chill white wine too much.  Our red wine is too hot.

So, if you ask me, yes, we should be able to chill red wine.

But again, this largely depends on where you live. Average temperature in many wine regions is remarkably consistent, 60 to 65 degrees.  That’s about right, but when’s the last time you set your thermostat to 60 degrees?  For our house, we’re within a half mile or so of San Francisco Bay, so it’s never all that hot and never all that cold either.

Ok, so what red wines should we chill? Personally, I find that there is a direct correlation between the amount of acidity in a wine and how cold people like to drink it. So more acidic wines are better bets to be chilled than are more tannic versions.  So you should consider chilling Pinot Noir before Cabernet Sauvignon as an example.

Secondly, one thing that we do know, is that serving a wine at cooler temperatures does tend to decrease the aromatics of the wine, so if you’re mostly concerned with the smell of a wine, don’t chill it nearly as much.  This does hold true for white wines as well.  Gewurztraminer coming out of the refrigerator is a problem as an example.

Lastly, as always, two caveats.  Knowing a bit about the vineyard sourcing or winemaking makes a TON of difference.  I’d gladly chill a Grenache from William Allen at Two Shepherds, but wouldn’t dream of doing the same from that same varietal made by Anthony Young at Kinero.

Oh and most important of all.  If common wisdom doesn’t work for you, please don’t follow it.  If you like your Chardonnay as cold as ice, go for it.  If you want your Zinfandel coming out of an ice bucket like a beer on the 4th of July, don’t let any wine snob stop you.

So, do you chill red wine?  Kind of.  It’s complicated.

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