Wine Lists

How to drink red wine in summer

By Campbell Mattinson

29 Jan, 2023

The red wine lover's guide to summer drinking

Just before Christmas last year, I got so fired up over the advice being given on my local radio station about how red wine should and shouldn’t be consumed over summer that I took the dramatic and unprecedented step of sending the station a text message.

What had me frothing was the advice that slipping a small cube of ice into a glass of red wine was a distinct and uncouth no-no. No one, they said, who really understands or appreciates red wine would ever do such a thing.

My text – playing to its audience – simply read, “Au contraire, Mr Wine Expert. Ice cubes are cool. Yours, Hot & Bothered.”  Yes, I was that upset. I take the wine advice I give and receive very seriously.

How to enjoy red wine in the summer

Placing a small ice cube in a glass of red wine is a practice worth avoiding, if you can, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The serving of red wine too warm or, as is so disgustingly common, too hot, is the far greater sin.

And this brings us to the point that all red wine lovers know deep down inside: in summer, we’re going to lap up many a beer, sparkling and white wine. But the time will always come when the frivolity wears thin and we need a deeper conversation – and a red.

During summer in Australia, this can be a problem. Of all the potential issues facing all wine served in Australia at this time, red wine served at an inappropriate temperature or in an inappropriate style is arguably the biggest.

Campbell Mattinson

The problem with serving red wine too warm

As soon as a red wine, particularly a robust red, is served too warm, the alcohol gets its dancing pants on and rises up from it like a plume of pollution. Not only does this make it impossible to see the wine’s flavours properly, but its aromas become more fume than perfume. To put it bluntly, good red wine served too warm tastes gross.

So we need to do something. Change things up, as they say at conferences.

Not for naught then does Steve Webber of De Bortoli in the Yarra Valley immediately joke when asked for ways to solve this Summer Red Wine Crisis. “Turn the air conditioner on to 16 degrees, pop a jumper on, grab the 2013 Deborts Estate pinot straight from the cellar, pour into a goblet and enjoy,” he says.

That’s one way. But unless you’re on solar power, you might be filing for bankruptcy by March. 

Glass of red wine being poured

How to serve red wine in summer

A lighter style of red and a keen chilling regime – of the bottle and its liquid contents, not the drinker or the planet – is clearly in order. The problem is that the oak and tannin in reds usually tastes odd or hard or ugly if the wine is chilled too aggressively. All the things that make red wine taste bloody fantastic in the middle of winter can come back to bite us in summer.

And yet we must persist. Because we are red wine lovers. And we have a lot of family functions to get through.

“Wines with crunch seem to work for me,” De Bortoli’s Steve says. “But any obvious oak really does magnify in chilled red. Lightly oaked 'village style' pinot noir and gamay work pretty well. We were in Bassano [in northern Italy] a few years ago, drinking six-month-old Valpolicella chilled from carafes and that wasn't bad.” Steve believes younger red wines work better chilled than aged reds.  

Fruitiness, fellow red drinkers, is our friend in summer, as is little or no oak, freshness, vibrance, youth and liveliness. We must embrace these characters. Demand them. Go to all sorts of scheming lengths to seek them out.

Award-winning sommelier Thomas Hogan of Melbourne bar Harry & Frankie believes red wines should be served between 16 and 18 degrees, rather than chilled. “Nothing worse than warm red,” he says. “I'm always looking for fresh, crunchy, aromatic, lighter reds for summer drinking – wines that avoid obvious oak influence and heavy tannin structures. Grenache pretending to be Beaujolais and aromatic red blends pretending to be pinot noir tend to be in high rotation in the summer months if the situation demands red.” Thomas names Ochota Barrels The Green Room and the Simla Field Blend Red as two great examples.

So what styles should we seek out? Pinot noir, gamay, dolcetto, barbera, graciano and various warm-climate Spanish and Italian red varieties, along with rose, sparkling red, and lighter or fruitier examples of our beloved shiraz. Better still, because of lighter oak regimes, lower priced wines can often fit the bill best in summer.

And don’t be afraid of the ice cube. Or I’ll text you. Now there’s a threat.

Glass of red wine

Four rules for drinking red wine in summer 

1. Look for lower-alcohol reds. If the alcohol reading starts with a 13 or even a 12, that’s a good start.

2. Don’t be afraid to chill a red. Don’t shut it down to full fridge temperature; knock its temperature down to the common definition of ‘room temperature’, or about 15 to 18 degrees, which is often very different to actual room temperature. Around 15 minutes in the fridge does a bottle of red wonders at the height of summer.

3. The price of summer-red freshness is vigilance. If the wine starts to warm as you drink it, simply put it back in the fridge for 10 minutes. But don’t make your red wine cold – that doesn’t taste good either. At least you know it will warm back up if you forget it’s in the fridge while in front of the cricket on TV.

4. There’s also talk of a rose revolution, but it’s more of a rose solution. Modern dry styles that are unoaked and pretty with fruit and spice are excellent summer options. And they’re at least reddish in colour.

Best red wines to drink in the summer

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