A bottle of wine in an ice bucket

How chilled should wine be?

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.

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