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Five Things You Need to Know About Chilled Red Wine

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With soaring summer temperatures, the last thing you might want to open is a bottle of red. But it turns out that some reds are cooler than others. Robert Stelmachuk, GM/Wine Director, Cibo Trattoria and UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar explains.

A while back I was at a favourite restaurant of mine in Yountville, in California's Napa County and ordered a glass of red. I was more than a little surprised when it came straight from the fridge with no mention or indication that would be the case. Even more surprising, was how much I loved it! Skeptics, take note — whites and rosés are not the only types of wine that can be served chilled.

Chilling a red can increases a wine's versatility to pair with food. At room temperature a red might only pair best with a hearty meat dish, but the same red served chilled can have the ability to pair with lighter food like your favourite fish off the grill or some savoury, lighter vegetarian fare.

Here are five tips to guide you in your enjoyment of chilled red wine:

1. Find a red with lower tannins: Chilling will amplify the tannins, or the bitter component found in reds. A great example of this can be found in coffee. I'm willing to bet that if you drink your coffee black when you have it over ice, you probably add just a touch of sweetener. The chill from the ice amplifies the bitterness found in coffee and does the same with red wine. Generally, certain grape varietals have higher tannins than others (high tannin are typically Cab Sauv, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo etc., while low tannins wines are generally Merlot, Grenache, Zinfandel, etc).

2. Find a red with little or no oak aging: Oak brings tannins — among other components — to the table, or in this case, your palate. Globally, more wineries today are embracing the puritan versions of the grapes they grow in order to let the grapes express themselves with little to no intervention. Often, winemakers will now employ stainless steel, concrete or some other neutral vessel to age their wine and this will help you appreciate chilled reds.

3. Find a wine with a relatively moderate level of alcohol: Mother Nature should produce a wine with around 12 per cent alcohol content. Over recent years, however, we have witnessed alcohol levels pushing upwards of 15 per cent, with global warming as the culprit. The hotter the growing season or climate, the more sugar grapes produce and therefore the higher the alcohol level will be. Even with that being the case, you should still select a wine with an alcohol level below 13 per cent to truly enjoy a chilled red.

4. Find the right temperature: To be technical, 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 12 degrees Celsius) is the ideal temperature at which to cellar and store wines. So you'll want it a little below that temperature for serving a chilled red, 48-52 degrees (eight to 11 degrees Celsius). But let's be honest, how many of us are actually going to take that measure? The system I use is to put a bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving, or, in a pinch, slip it into an ice bucket with a 50/50 mix of ice and water 15 minutes before serving.

5. Find the right advice: How will you know which wines will work best with the above pointers? Ask a trusty sommelier or consultant at your favourite wine store or restaurant. All great sommeliers will love the challenge and sense of adventure you're exhibiting. Tell them you're looking for a red that would be great to serve chilled and you'll make a new best friend.

Finally, more great news is that the wines you should try this with should be fairly inexpensive. For best results in chilled reds, look for wines from the following regions: the Veneto region of Italy, specifically Valpolicella or Bardolino (Corvina grape) (we offer a brilliant Bardolini chilled by the glass at Cibo Trattoria!) The Loire Valley region of France, specifically a Chinon (Cabernet Franc-based). The Burgundy region of France, specifically a Beaujolais (Gamay grape), which is a slam-dunk. Chile, specifically any entry-level Pinot Noir. The Rioja region of Spain, specifically varietals made with Grenache or Tempranillo grapes. [Photo of Chilled Reds via Shutterstock]
· Cibo Trattoria and UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar [Official Sites]
· Follow Robert Stelmachuk [Twitter]
· All Previous Eater Instant Experts [EVAN]