Chilled red wines: how to choose them, cool them, and drink them

River temperature is probably good.
River temperature is probably good.
Image: Courtesy, Martha Stoumen
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with pale rosé. In these latter days of summer, my preferred potion is not blush in color, nor the electric orange of an Aperol spritz. It’s a gleaming shade of ruby, and served in a condensation-covered glass. Yes: chilled red wine.

The habit of serving white and rosé straight from the fridge and red at room temperature is hard to break, but it ignores many of wine’s nuances that go beyond color.

For a long time, the easiest (and sometimes only) way to order a cold glass of red at a restaurant was to seek out Gamays—lively and light-bodied reds, often from the Beaujolais region of France.

But now, a wide variety of chilled reds that are fun, food-friendly, and easy to swill are appearing on more restaurants’ wine lists and shopkeepers’ shelves. Many of the best bottles come from natural wine-makers, whose slow, low-intervention fermentation processes often result in wines that are high in aromatics, but low in tannins—a crucial quality, since chilling will make any wine taste more tannic, or textured.

If you see a wine described as glou glou—the French term for the “glug-glug” sound of gulping an easy-drinking wine—there’s a good chance you’re in the company of a chilled red.

Chuggable red

Helen Johannesen, who owns the Los Angeles bottle shop Helen’s Wines, oversees the wine programs at several buzzy Los Angeles restaurants, where chilled reds are poured by the glass to accompany pizza, barbecue, seafood, and more. Basically, she says, look for “more of a chuggable red.”

And it’s not just temperature that distinguishes a chilled red. The best wines for the treatment generally have a lower tannic structure, Johannesen says, so are likely to be made from thinner-skinned grapes such as Gamay, Carignan, and Zinfandel, or Austrian varietals such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. “Usually a wine that’s gonna be a little bit juicier—and not sweet—but just juicier, low tannins, a good amount of acidity,” she says, adding that wines that undergo partial carbonic maceration, a process that involves fermenting whole stems of grapes without crushing them first, also lend themselves to chilling.

Cheap(ish) and cheerful

Also—good news!—those qualities often come from wines of younger vintages, which means they’re not outrageously pricey. These are wines made to drink by the pool, not to hoard in the cellar.

“Usually the wines that you’re going to chill, they’re not really expensive, high-end crazy bottles.” says Johannesen. “If you took a super-dope bottle of Burgundy and chilled it all the way down, you would miss all of the insane, beautiful aromatics and complexities that are the expression of the terroir in Burgundy. So you can chill all reds, but some are really ideal chill-zone.”

One of Johannesen’s chill-zone favorites—and mine—is the 2017 Post-Flirtation, a Zinfandel-Carignan blend made by the northern California-based winemaker Martha Stoumen. With hints of Haribo gummy raspberries, this $25 bottle has all the hallmarks of a perfect chilled red: It’s a young vintage that’s juicy but not too sweet, heavy on aromatics but light in tannins—and in color, which is apparent in its clear glass bottle—brightly acidic, and cheerfully easy to drink.

Stoumen says she was inspired to create this kind of red because it’s what she craves. She describes it as a Zinfandel made with a lighter hand—more fresh rhubarb, raspberry, and pomegranate than the syrupy stewed fruit of old-school California Zinfandels. And it pairs great with tacos. (For more recommendations, see the online reviews of chilled red evangelist, Marissa Ross.)

How to chill

All reds should be served slightly chilled, Johannesen says—the perfect cellar temperature is around 68°F (20°C). But a properly chilled red should be more like 42°F. Refrigerators are generally kept at 40°F or below—so a few minutes out of the fridge should put a bottle in the glou glou zone.

Stoumen chills hers in rivers on camping trips. (Tie a rope around the neck to stop it from drifting away.) Or, she says, “If I get home and want the wine, I put it in the freezer, and set a 20-minute timer on my phone… The thing about it is, you don’t have to worry too much, as long as you’re not freezing the wine.”

In a pinch, you might even just drop an ice cube into the glass. I prefer to plunge a bottle into an ice bucket or cooler, but hey, these wines are made to enjoy without being too precious.

In other words: Just chill.