When summer arrives and temperatures climb, many wine lovers tend to reach for white, sparkling, and rosé wines. Yes, these are often fresher and easier drinking with minimal tannins and brighter acidity. Just what you need to quench your thirst while baking under the summer sun. Yet just because it’s warmer outside doesn’t mean it’s time to lock your reds away in the wine fridge until the the fall. In fact, many of the best red wines for summer are just as delicious served chilled.
Typical Red Wine Serving Temperature
First, let’s cover a quick refresher on the ideal serving temperatures for different styles of red wine.
- Light bodied reds: 13°C (55°F)
- Beaujolais, Valpolicella, Pinot Noir
- Medium to full bodied reds: 15°C-18°C (59°F-64°F)
- Red Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo, Amarone dell Valpolicella, Vintage Port
As a general rule of thumb, red wine is typically served at room temperature. However, room temperature always varies thanks to the conveniences of air conditioning and heating. So, it’s wise to do your best to stick to the above temperature guidelines.
When a wine is served too warm, it can seem flabby with an enhanced perception of alcohol. If this happens, stick the bottle in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool it down. If a wine is served too cold, the aromas and flavors will be masked. Plus, chilling a bottle emphasizes the tannin and oak in the wine. When you find yourself with a glass of wine that’s too cold, simply embrace the bowl of the glass with your hands. Then, your body heat will gently warm the wine allowing it to open up more.
Ideal Temperature for Chilled Red Wines for Summer
When you’re chilling reds for summer sipping, the target chill zone is 10°C-16°C (50°F-60°F). The lower end of this temperature range is ideal for lighter bodied, fruit forward reds. Whereas the higher end of the range can be reserved for medium to full bodied red wines. This will help you to avoid muting aromas and flavors, as well as any unpleasant astringent tannins.
The Best Red Wines to Serve Chilled This Summer
Counoise is a Southern Rhône variety which typically plays a supporting role in red wine blends. For this reason, it’s known as the salt and pepper grape because it helps to elevate the flavors of the other varieties in the blend. However, I first fell in love with this French grape when I tasted it as a single-varietal wine at team wine tasting for my first wine gig in Paso Robles.
Wines made from Counoise are light bodied with vibrant acidity and low tannin. They tend towards notes of red fruits like strawberry, energetic hibiscus florals, rhubarb, and a signature peppery spice.
Another stunning light bodied red from the Southern Rhône, Cinsault offers endless opportunities for intriguing wines. Every single varietal Cinsault wine I’ve ever tasted has been captivating. You’ll frequently find Cinsault hiding amidst Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre dominant blends of the Southern Rhône. Additionally, this red grape is a regular player in the internationally adored rosés from Provence.
Cinsault wines have low tannin, light body, and medium acidity. Wines made from this grape often express tart red cherry, cranberry, red currant, violet, and black tea aromas. I’ve always found Cinsault wines to be lively and expressive with an exceptional balance of fruity and floral aromas. Consequently, this punchy grape makes one of the best red wines for summer.
Thacher Winery dishes out creative, unique, and expressive wines year after year. Read more about the winery here.
No red wines for summer roundup would be complete without mentioning Gamay. Beaujolais is famous for wines of this fruity, easy going grape. The French wine region located just south of Burgundy, though technically a part of Burgundy, produces a plethora of Gamay wines year after year.
The fruitiest and freshest style called Beaujolais Nouveau is released annually on the third Thursday of November following harvest. Then, growers and négociants are only permitted to sell this wine up until August 31st the following year.
If you can’t get your hands on a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, worry not. Beaujolais is just as light in body and tannin, dominated by red berry fruit notes, as well as notes of banana and cinnamon-like spice. Expect earthy and floral notes, too. Most Beaujolais is made with some amount of carbonic maceration, which enhances the fruitiness of the final wine.
Ten villages in Beaujolais are considered crus with the right to include their village name on the label. Those with the greatest production are Brouilly, Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent. Furthermore, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent tend to be more structured. Whereas Brouilly and Fleurie lean towards lighter, more fragrant styles. So, if you’re planning to chill a Beaujolais cru, perhaps the latter two villages are better options. Though, you can’t go wrong chilling all Beaujolais in my opinion.
My wine pick: Moillard, Moulin-à-Vent, Les Crus de Beaujolais
Pinot Noir is a top red wine for summer regardless of whether you decide to serve the wine chilled or not. It’s one of the world’s most popular light-bodied red wines after all. The high acidity, low tannin, and appealing red fruit aromas and flavors make Pinot Noir wines a great match for all types of food. Depending on where the grapes are grown, these wines can further express floral notes like rose, hibiscus, and violet. Plus, earthy aromas like forest floor and mushroom, especially with age.
For chilling purposes this summer, I’d reach for a fruit driven California or Oregon Pinot Noir that’s still relatively young. Save the Burgundian Pinot Noir as a wine for meditation or special occasions. The centuries of grape growing in this historical French region really come through in the bottle and that’s not something to play with.
A grape that’s just as fun to pronounce as it is to drink, Nerello Mascalese hails from the sun-soaked island of Sicily. It’s a rare Italian variety boldly growing on the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. Those fertile volcanic soils provide an unbeatable trademark savory, mineral, sapidity to the wines of Mount Etna.
Nerello Mascalese wines are generally light bodied with medium alcohol, high acidity, and low tannin. Lively aromas of red cherry, orange zest, dried thyme, allspice, and gravel immediately transport you to summertime on this Italian island.
For another taste of Italy, look to Schiava, whose wines are destined for summer fun. Schiava is grows mainly in Trentino-Alto Adige in Northern Italy. This red grape produces light-bodied wines with sweet aromas of strawberry, raspberry, rose, lemon, and a hint of smoke. Certain examples even showcase cotton candy aromas. In Germany and within German-speaking Alto Adige, you’ll find the same grape labeled as Trollinger or Vernatsch as well. With low alcohol, body, and tannin, plus high acidity, Schiava is ideal to serve chilled at the beach, poolside, or at your next summer barbeque.
Dolcetto grows widely in Piemonte in the northwestern corner of Italy just below the Alps. This Italian variety ripens early than the more famous Nebbiolo and Barbera of the region. Therefore, Dolcetto ripens well even in the coolest sites of Piemonte.
Though the name means “little sweet one,” Dolcetto wines can be somewhat tart. Yet they are loaded with sweet blackberry flavors, along with notes of plum, black pepper, cocoa, and violet. Expect medium tannin, alcohol, body, and acidity from Dolcetto. Thus, if you plan to chill these wines, aim for the middle of the target chill zone.
My wine pick: G.D. Vajra, Dolcetto D’Alba DOC
One of my all-time favorite grape varieties, Cabernet Franc offers a sensational balance of fruit and pepper notes. Cabernet Franc is a parent of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In such, Bordeaux blends often include this red variety.
However, the best and purest expressions of Cabernet Franc comes from the Loire Valley. More specifically, I love Cabernet Franc from Chinon. Yet the lighter styles from Saumur and Saumur-Champigny are also perfect for chilling. This early flowering and early ripening variety is well suited to the cool maritime to continental climate of the region. Grapes grown in sandy soils produce light, fruity wines. Whereas Cabernet Franc grown on the region’s south-facing slopes with limestone and clay soils are fuller-bodied and more tannic.
Cabernet Franc offers aromas of strawberry and raspberry, along with green pepper, chile pepper, and crushed gravel. Certain examples from the Loire will show enticing floral notes, too. This dance between fruity and savory flavors is what makes Cabernet Franc so intriguing and one of my top choice red wines for summer.