A few months back I was with two friends in a sweltering French bistro in Piccadilly drinking a rich red wine that felt like it had been immersed in a pot of boiling water.
Its flavours had boiled off and the experience was, to say the least, not the high point of my wine-drinking life. Not feeling satisfied, I looked at my friends and said we should ask for an ice bucket to cool the wine down.
They took one look at me and said the proprietor was likely to throw me out of the restaurant for committing such sacrilege.
This is in stark contrast to nearly a year ago when, at a celebratory dinner after completing he London to Paris charity bike ride, the hotel restaurant brought bottles of Bordeaux to our table in a well-chilled state. One person at my table expressed his displeasure at such a faux pas, saying the wine had been ruined.
But he was wrong. It was the height of July, the sun had been shining all day and the restaurant was packed. It was broiling in there and beads of sweat were rolling down many a forehead. Serving a red wine in a chilled state at least gave it a fighting chance of warming up to the correct temperature. If it had been served without chilling at all, it would have been too warm, too unappetising.
Now, it’s often a good idea in summer to pop regular red wines in the fridge for 20 minutes before drinking if they have not been stored at cellar temperature. But here’s another idea altogether: Why not try some red wines that can be served lightly chilled?
To do this you will want to go for a lighter-bodied red rather than something deep, brooding and powerful like a Bordeaux or an Australian shiraz. Instead, look to wines made from the pinot noir or gamay grapes since these are low in tannin and light in body. You could also do this with a cabernet franc from the Loire Valley or even a Valpolicella or Bardolino from the Veneto region of Italy.
Wines to try:
Domaine de la Croix de Chaintres 2010 Saumur-Champigny, Loire, France (£8.35, Waitrose Wine Direct)
Saumur is a great place to find red wine made from the cabernet franc grape that is light-bodied, showing red fruits and a herbaceousness that is perfect for chilling. This example is an incredible bargain and well worth seeking out.
Marks & Spencer Beaujolais 2011, France (£6.99, Marks & Spencer)
Made from the gamay grape, Beaujolais is often considered the lesser relation to wines from the northern end of Burgundy, where pinot noir reigns supreme. But this light-bodied wine has fruity aromas reminiscent of cherries and the perfect constitution for chilling.
Marks & Spencer Macon Rouge 2011, France (£8.49, Marks & Spencer)
If you want to venture into pinot noir territory but not completely, travel further north to Maconnais region of Burgundy and give this a try. A blend of gamay and pinot noir, this is light and fruity, brimming with red berries. Should you want to get a little more serious and drink 100 per cent pinot noir, try the Marks & Spencer Cotes de Nuits 2009 (£13.00, Marks & Spencer). This one is made in the same region as Nuits-St-Georges but is much cheaper, yet it has all the cherries, violets, strawberries and blackcurrants the wine is known for.
Marks & Spencer Ripasso Valpolicello Classico 2009, Italy (£8.99, Marks & Spencer)
From Italy’s Veneto region, Valpolicella gained a reputation for being a rather meek light-bodied wine that garnered a lot of indifference, but these days quality levels have improved and the wines are showing much better. This one is fruity, showing flavours of strawberries, red currants and prunes. While ripasso wines are the bolder versions and you might want to avoid these when chilling, chances are these are the most commonly found in the UK. You can also try the Musella Valpolicella Superiore 2008 (£12.99, Virgin).
And for something completely different:
Scarpantoni Black Tempest Sparkling Shiraz, Australia (£15.99, Laithwaites)
It’s hard to think of a chilled shiraz let alone one full of bubbles. But this is more common than you think and, with a little searching, you might even find a version in your local Tesco or Sainsbury’s. This is packed with black fruits and goes nicely with poultry, if you’ll believe it.