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Chilled Red Wine

Rules for Serving Red Wine on Ice

by Bryan Miller

Grape types for chillable reds vary, although soft and unassertive varieties are the best, such as Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Gamay, Dolcetto and Grenache

Try something different this summer. When you fill the picnic cooler with beer, wine and soft drinks, toss in a couple of bottles of red wine — yes, red.

While conventional wisdom recommends serving reds at cellar temperature (60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit), there are a host of choices that are delightful when served, like whites, at 45 to 55 degrees (achieved by about half an hour in a refrigerator or 15 minutes in ice water).

About ten years ago, a bibulous summer excursion led to the Loire Valley. In a region well-known for its pungent and mineral-tinged whites, a local bistro owner suggested something different, even though it was July: the chilled Sancerre red.

It was terrific — delicate, fruity but dry, and with no puckering tannins, reminiscent of Beaujolais, another red that benefits from cooling. After this, the idea of stocking up on wines for summer came to mind. Despite what many wine professionals say, white wine does not complement hamburgers, barbecued ribs or coleslaw. The strong flavors overwhelm delicate whites. Red is the way to go. Thus began the search for the best examples of summer reds from around the world.

First, a few observations. As you chill red wine, especially those that have aged in wood, the fruit recedes and the tannins intensify, making it puckery, so look for wines with little or no wood aging.

In addition, they should be as young as possible and low in alcohol — less than twelve percent is best. Most of these come from cooler climates. Grape types for chillable reds vary, although soft and unassertive varieties are the best, such as Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Gamay, Dolcetto and Grenache.

Not surprisingly, the richest crop of chillable reds hails from France. Beaujolais is a natural. It is traditionally served a little cool, maybe 10 minutes refrigerated. But if you’re going to break the rules, you might as well go all out. Leave it in the fridge for half an hour. Two excellent choices are the elegant Louis Jadot Fleurie Beaujolais and the Barton & Guestier Beaujolais. Other French wines to look for are the vibrant and refreshing 2004 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir d'Alsace and the drier and more concentrated 2005 Clos de la Lysardière Chinon.

Many Italian reds are brawny fellows, ill-suited to cooling, with the exception of those made from the Dolcetto grape, which is often compared to the Gamay of Beaujolais. Worth trying is the Marchesi di Barolo Dolcetto D'Alba VI.

Valpolicella, from the cool Veneto region, yields a few easy-drinking labels like the Bertani Valpolicella Valpantena Secco VI.

There don’t seem to be many suitable light reds from sunny California, where high alcohol levels and tannins prevail. One that can be recommended comes from the always reliable Fetzer — its juicy Valley Oaks California Zinfandel; in cooler Oregon, Elk Cove turns out a soft and elegant Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir.

New Zealand, known for its flinty sauvignon blancs and bright chardonnays, began planting Pinot Noir about 20 years ago, not knowing what to expect; today it threatens to take over the islands and is garnering high praise. One to put on ice is the soft and fruity 2006 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir; and you might want to compare it with the slightly drier 2005 Oyster Bay Merlot.

So when you are grilling outdoors this summer, reach into the cooler and serve your guests a frosty glass of red wine — they'll be as delighted as they are surprised.

(Updated: 05/20/11 SG)

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