How cold is too cold? Will the wine police show up if I put an ice cube in my glass? Why won’t the fridge hurry up and cool down that bottle?
With chilling season on the way – you know, hangin’ by the pool, glass of Chenin Blanc in hand, maybe a little grill action unfolding nearby – questions do arise.
Of course, our first rule on pretty much anything to do with wine is that it’s a free country and you are welcome to do whatever works for you! But we do have a few insights and guidelines that could help maximize your own enjoyment while pleasing your guests.
Yes, you probably should chill that red. A bit.
If you don’t keep your wines in a 55-degree cellar, when you bring out a red on a warm summer afternoon or evening it could be at 70 to 75 degrees or even higher. Reds that warm will tend to take on a flabby, overly alcoholic quality. Unattractive any time, and downright unappetizing in the summer. Avoid this fate by sticking the bottle in the fridge 30 minutes before serving it. Bigger, tannic reds shouldn’t be served too cold, however, certainly no lower than around 60-62 degrees. Lighter reds, like Barbera, say, should be fine down to 55 or even a little lower in the summer.
Right out of the fridge is too cold for white wines, even in the summer.
If you’ve left a white wine in the fridge overnight, the wine will come out of the fridge at 35, 36 degrees. That might feel refreshing on a hot day, but you’re really missing out on what makes wine wine: the aromas and flavors.
The old rule of thumb is to take a white out of the fridge a half-hour before serving it, but in the summer, adjust this to 15 to 20 minutes. You want to start a little colder because the ambient temperature will warm the wine in the bottle and the glass.
Get it cold – fast.
If your guests are arriving – or your own personal need is, uh, immediate – and the Chenin Blanc is at room temperature, even the freezer won’t do the trick. It would take 30, maybe 45 minutees to get the wine down to serving temperature.
There is a way to speed up that freezer cooling: Wrap a wet dish towel or paper towel around the bottle. How’s that work? This sciency guy explains:
If you want to go the ice bucket rout, that’s cool, but to make the cooling happen fast you can’t leave it to plain old ice and water. You also need to add salt. That’s because dissolving salt in your ice-and-water filled bucket will lower the ice bath’s freezing point, sending it well below zero. Use a good handful or two of the cheapest salt you can find. Oh, and if you give the wine bottle a few spins in the bucket, jostle it around a bit, the process will go even faster, arriving at drinking temperature in a matter of a few minutes.
(If you’re concerned about labels getting soaked and turning into an unattractive mess, you can put the bottle in a plastic bag before placing it in the ice bath.)
Keep it cold!
That ice bucket will keep a bottle chilled at the table. But there is the matter of the wet bottle dripping all over the place, and you might have to refresh the bucket from time to time.
One clever way to overcome those issues is the Corkcicle, a gel-filled icicle with a cork on top that goes down into the open bottle and will maintain the temperature for up to an hour.
You could even use this on a red to keep it from warming too much.
There are also chilling sleeves on the market that claim to keep a bottle cold “for hours.” Two thoughts there, though: You really want to cover up that beautiful protea Chenin Blanc bottle with something that looks like it fell off the lunar module? And does a bottle of wine last “for hours” at your house?
When all else fails, cubism is not entirely passé.
It’s not against the law to put ice in your wine, not even in Napa Valley. It’s something we’d only recommend in case of emergency, but as we’ve noted before, the practice of briefly floating an ice cube in a too-warm glass of wine has been endorsed by the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague, who picked up the habit from the famous wine writer Alexis Bespaloff. So if anyone scoffs at you, tell ‘em that.
And then there’s this suggestion, from another wine writer, Anthony Giglio: During the summer, he keeps on hand in his freezer frozen red and green grapes. “I’ve taken to offering guests frozen grapes in an ice bucket when entertaining on warm summer nights,” he writes. “Wine snobs might snicker at the sight, but the grapes are practical, efficient, edible, and, most importantly, they don’t add water — or color — to the wine.”
Get more tips on wine service by clicking on these protea blog posts:
- The Right Temperature for Wine
- How to Open a Wine Bottle, with (or Without) a Corkscrew
- How to Decant (and Why It’s Not Just for Snobs)