A bottle of wine in an ice bucket

How chilled is chilled?

At this time of year we all like our drinks cold and refreshing, and wine – still or sparkling – is no exception. But how chilled is chilled and can we take it all too far?

Convention says that white and rosé wines are best served chilled while red wines work best at something called "room temperature" - which is an irritatingly imprecise term, especially in the Spanish summer when rooms can get over 30ºC with no trouble at all!

But conventions, a bit like rules, are there to be broken, or at least bent a bit to suit your purposes so let’s explore what’s what. One important thing to remember is that while we want wine to refresh us, we also want it to intrigue and beguile us with its flavour.

So, time for a spot of science. A wine’s body, or alcohol level, is key to determining how much it can be chilled. We generally talk about wines over 13.5% alcohol as being full-bodied, and the fuller bodied a wine is, the warmer it needs to be before its smellable components vaporize and we start to appreciate its flavours. Lighter wines vaporize more easily so they can be drunk at lower temperatures.

Once we understand that it can help us appreciate that hard and fast rules about reds and whites are not very helpful. So over-chilling fuller bodied whites, for example, will stop you appreciating their subtler nuances, while lighter reds – think Pinot Noir or, here in Spain, a Mencía perhaps – can benefit from time in the fridge before serving.

All very interesting, we hear you cry, but what actual temperature are we talking about? Well, as a rule of thumb if you want to get the most out of any wine, red, pink or white, you want to aim somewhere between 15ºC and 18ºC. Conversely, if you’ve a cheapo bottle at the back of a cupboard you want to get rid of, chilling it down to so-called ¨cellar temperature¨ between 10ºC and 13ºC will help mask most of its flaws.

Finally, a couple of practical tips. If you’re going to use an ice bucket to chill your wine, chuck some water in there as well as the two together are a much more effective combo. And don’t worry too much about over-chilling your wine by a degree or so. Once it’s in the glass and surrounded by all that ambient air, the wine’s temperature will inevitably increase by about 1ºC every three minutes until it reaches ambient temperature.

So, there we are: the SSW guide to staying chilled this summer. If you’d like to put some of these tips into practice, check out the wines below that are perfect for a bit of fridge treatment.

Related Articles
White Riojas: hidden gems from Spain’s most famous wine region
What lies ahead in 2024?
Silhouette of harvest workers in a Spanish vineyard
Spanish white wine Las Tinadas from Spanish wine producer Bodegas Verum
Spanish wine bar the Antigua Casa de Guardia in Malaga
No peace for the wicked
Barrel-aged Spanish wines
Wine and the Silver Screen
What type of wine glass to use
Winemakers harvesting grapes at a Spanish vineyard
Four Great Garnachas
A bottle of Spanish wine Laventura Tempranillo from Rioja
A sign saying "No Alcohol"
The Spanish village of Campisabalos
Red wine bottles in a fridge
A wine glass with sand in it
A vineyard in the Spanish wine region Rioja
Close up of rain splashing on a pavement
Several badges showing wine rating points
A view of Westminster Bridge and Big Ben at sunset
A glass of Spanish rose wine Karman sitting on a table next to the open bottle
White wine grapes hanging on a vine
silhouettes of different sized wine bottles
An 'insect hotel' at the Lagravera vineyard
White wine grapes hanging on a vine
Interior shot of a wine shop
The logo for the Matador Manifesto
Barrels in a wine cellar
The Barcelona Wine Week logo
A blackboard with the score 10 out of 10 written on it in chalk
A female fortune teller waving her hands over a crystal ball
Close up of a man's hand writing on a notepad
Bottles of wine amongst Chrsitmas adornments
A table set for Christmas dinner
Decorations hanging from a Christmas tree
Matthew Desouter and Ben Giddings standing at the top of a steeply sloping vineyard in the Spanish wine region of Sierras de Malaga
Two hands mixing a variety of coins on a white surface
Dust-covered barrels in a wine cellar
An empty beach in autumn in Galicia
Grape pickers in a Spanish vineyard at harvest time
A straight road disappearing off to the horizon
A cocktail sitting on the edge of a swimming pool
An eccentric old man in a straw boater and blazer, wearing a monocle, sitting at a laptop outdoors
A helicopter dousing flames over a forest fire in Spain
Half an orange being splashed with water
Two pop CDs lying on the floor
a collage of 3 women winemakers
A landscape shot of a river and lush green riverbanks in Galicia in Spain
A landscape shot of a vineyard in Catalunya

Liked this content?

Sign up for our newsletter and get more content like this delivered straight to your inbox.