Should You Chill Red Wine? A Guide to Red Wine Temperatures

Spoiler: Yes, you should.
Last Updated
Sep 30, 2021

If you store your red wines next to the dog’s bed, and your white wines between the butter and OJ, you’re not alone. Most people abide by the general premise of serving reds at room temperature and whites fresh out of the fridge. But, as your high school guidance counselor told you, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s right.

Should red wine be chilled? The short answer: often, yes. The longer answer: it depends on the type of red wine and how it’s being stored. It might sound nit-picky, but you’re spending money on an experience, so you ought to get the most out of that experience as possible. From the types of red wines that should always be served cold, to how you should chill them—we have rhetorical questions, and we have concrete answers.

How Should I Store Red Wine In General?

Before concerning yourself with chilling red wines, the first order of business should be making sure they don’t turn into vinegar. The best way to prevent that is proper storage. If you have a wine fridge, then you can skip down to the part where we talk about ideal serving temperatures. 

No wine fridge? No worries. All you really need to do is avoid extreme temperatures. In other words, don’t hang your wine rack like a Christmas stocking over the fireplace, and don’t plop the bottles in a snowbank outside. Keep them somewhere that avoids direct sunlight, and try to make sure the bottles lie on their side. This keeps the wine in constant contact with the cork, preventing it from drying out and allowing oxygen into the bottle.

Why Should I Chill Red Wine?

Why should you care? Wine is wine, right? Yes, regardless of temperature, it’s still fermented grape juice that’ll make your in-laws seem almost pleasant. However, serving wine at the wrong temperature is like going to the Louvre and not seeing the Mona Lisa—you’re not getting the full experience. Serve a wine too cold, and it’ll taste bland, with muted flavors and aromatics. Serve it too warm, and those flavors will rapidly disappear, leading to a soft-tasting wine, short on freshness and structure.

What Temperature Should Red Wine Be?

Red wines should be served between 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit. So assuming you set your thermostat above “sweater weather,” you should get used to cooling red wines down before popping them open. 

Photo Courtesy of Parcelle Wines

What’s The Best Way To Chill Red Wine?

There are a bunch of ways you can lower a wine’s temperature. The fastest method is to put the bottle in a bucket of saltwater (water and table salt), and the most official is to fill an ice bucket three-quarters full with equal parts water and ice. But unless you’re trying to impress Bill Nye or pass a sommelier exam, then you’re totally fine just putting the bottle in the freezer.

How long it should spend in the freezer depends on the style of red wine. Light-bodied reds—more on these in a second—will get down to their target temperature of 55 degrees in 25 to 30 minutes. 

Medium-bodied red wines should be served within shouting distance of 60 degrees, meaning they only need about 15 minutes on ice. If time isn’t of the essence, then a refrigerator works as well. Just keep the bottles in there for about twice as long as they’d spend in a freezer.

What Types Of Red Wine Should Be Chilled?

Generally, the lighter the red wine, the colder its temperature should be. Light-bodied reds with relatively low alcohol and high acidity should be served at the same temperature as full-bodied white wines. These thirst-quenching red wines should be staples of your “let’s drink in the park'' go-bag. Your best bets are easy-drinking reds like Beaujolais and Valpolicella, light styles of pinot noir and cabernet franc, or Italian varieties like frappato and dolcetto. Not only are all of these great options for a casual drink on your fire escape, but since they have more body than most rosés and crisp white wines, they have the added benefit of pairing well with food, from charcuterie to burgers and dogs on the grill. 

When it comes to red wines with more meat on their bones, it’s less about making them cold, and more about getting them below room temperature. You can put medium-bodied wines like Chianti and barbera in the fridge for half an hour before drinking them, but they shouldn’t be cold enough to frost your wine glass. 

Meanwhile, full-bodied reds like cabernet sauvignon and Barolo don’t really need to be chilled, and considering tannic wines like that should be decanted for a while, a few minutes in the fridge beforehand won’t have any effect by the time you actually drink them.

How Do I Store An Open Bottle Of Red Wine?

Now you know what to do with a bottle of red wine before drinking it, but what if you don’t finish it all in one sitting? Left to its own devices, the wine’s aromas and fruit flavors will quickly lose their intensity, and before long it’ll begin to smell more like vinegar than Valpolicella. So, let’s prevent, or rather delay, that from happening.

Should I Refrigerate Red Wine After Opening?

As you might remember from a high school science textbook or a Neil deGrasse Tyson clip, chemical reactions slow down at lower temperatures. Therefore, storing your re-corked bottle in the fridge will help delay its inevitable decline. It won’t do much for old bottles, and it’ll only give light reds like pinot noir a couple extra days. But storing open wine in the fridge allows red wines with high tannin and acidity, like nebbiolo or cabernet sauvignon, to retain their freshness for up to five days after you first uncorked them.

Why You Should Trust Us and Our Recommendations

A little about us: We’re Parcelle, a direct-to-consumer wine shop run by sommeliers from the world’s top restaurants. We were co-founded by Grant Reynolds, who was a partner and oversaw the wine program at Charlie Bird, Pasquale Jones, and Legacy Records as well as the co-author of How To Drink Wine. We’ve got a team of somms who worked at places like Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, and Le Bernardin among others. Our concise selection features wines from the best producers in the world. The wines primarily come from European cellars, with everything from old and rare wines to natural wines from the hardest to find winemakers. We take pride in every bottle, whether it’s a simple red for pizza on a weeknight or a well-aged and sourced Burgundy from the ‘70s. 

Great Reds to Chill (and Ideal Serving Temps)

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