Make red wine cool again: 5 reds you can and should serve chilled in the heat of summer
Why you should make room for red wine in your cooler this season
The longest day of the summer is behind us, but many sticky days remain. Yes, white wine will flow plentifully, and yes, the crisp refreshment of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, Pinot Grigio, Gavi and more will hit our mouths like wave pools of flavour and relief. "Colder!", you will cry, when your aunt pulls out the fresh-and-breezy Prosecco or ready-to-party Cava. And it will be nice, the bottle doubling as an emergency ice-pack in outdoor situations.
But sometimes, despite the heat, you want a red wine. You love red wine. Its bigger body. Its darker fruit. Its spicy personality. Its ability to pair with BBQ-anything, grilled mushrooms, stars. For you, dear reader, there is a solution! You're familiar with tear-away pants, mesh shirts and the iced-Americano, now, meet cold, red wine. Read: a red wine that can do both! That is, be a red and quench your thirst. We could make it complicated, but why not make it simple; we are asking you to put your red wines in the fridge.
We know what you are thinking: you are scandalous! That may be the case! But hear us out.
Traditionally red wine is meant to be served at cellar temperature, but think the dungeon cellar of a 15th century monastery, not the small, stuffy pantry of a Canadian home in summer; what we mean is 18 degrees Celsius. All red wines, especially in the heat, will benefit from 30 minutes in the fridge before opening. They'll taste fresher, livelier, and if you forget about them in there while watching The Staircase, they can be quickly warmed up in the glass if they become a bit too chilled.
Aside from being refreshing, when the weather is sweltering leaving your reds to chill for a bit will be transformative. Temperature is one of the main factors that determines how a wine's body — the sensation of weight in your mouth — comes across. The colder a wine, the less you perceive alcohol and the more the fruit and acid are highlighted.
Here are the top five reds that particularly love a polar bear dip, regardless of the season.
Lambrusco is a deep-hued sparkling red made in Northeast Italy from grapes of the same name. It looks and tastes like gurgling, purple, adult juice. It can range from slightly sweet to completely dry, and is exploding with deep, dark fruit (think fruit jerky, blueberry pie, over-ripe cherries), hot muddy earth and often an herbal element that makes it feel decidedly good-for-you. Lambrusco should always be served at white wine temperature: 8 to 12 degrees Celsius. Pair with anything. Feel alive.
2. Beaujolais / Gamay
Gamay is a thinned-skin grape most famously made in Southern Burgundy under the name Beaujolais; Beaujolais is the place and it's always 100% Gamay! Gamay is now made around the world and is always low-alcohol, low-tannin and light-bodied. It is less "big and bold" and more "let me read you this poem". Sometimes it's Instagram poetry — not complex, but easy and sweet! — and sometimes it the Mary Ruefle-poignant, gets-under-your skin-you-are-in-fact-now-crying-on-the-streetcar kind. Always, it appreciates a solid chill, and will text you back.
3. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is the other most quintessential red grape that loves to be cold. Like Gamay, it is thin-skinned, light-coloured, low-alcohol and more about texture and restraint than tannin. If Gamay is the teen who is down to party, Pinot is Gamay all grown up, a bit more complex, a bit less showy, a bit more mysterious and powerful. It is all about red fruit, spice, earth, mushroom, delicate flowers, and charcuterie hand-cut by a pocket knife in the countryside. The most famous examples come from Burgundy, but find other great Pinots from cool-climate regions around the globe.
4. Cinsault / Païs / Mencia / St Laurent / Schiava / Frappato / Dolcetto / Barbera +++
Okay, so we get that this is cheating. There are eight (!) grapes listed above and three plus signs and this is not what we agreed upon in this top-five listicle! But, cut me a break. The above are all native grapes of Europe that were harder to find, but more and more available in great wine shops, restaurants and even our Canadian monopoly stores. They are all light-to-medium bodied and a cool bath will make them lip-smackingly delectable. If we had them all together at a party, we would be like what is this incredible cool international party and am I also cool for having acquaintances like this?? To that we say to ourselves, you bought them, don't get carried away. But we keep living our truth and anything is possible!
5. Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre / Montepulciano / Merlot / Cab Franc / Zinfandel etc.
If we are going to cheat let's just CHEAT. So this next group are rich wines, they are darker coloured and fuller bodied. In the summer, a full-bodied wine is like wearing a really beautiful tailored suit. Like, wow this is so nice, but also please get it off of my body! A good chill (fridge for 30 minutes) will lower the perception of alcohol and make these bigger, bolder wines way easier to enjoy.
Nicole Campbell has spent the last century studying, making, buying and selling wine with the goal of helping all people drink nice things made by nice people. Find her hosting monthly natural wine parties and educational sessions under the name Grape Witches.