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Should you put ice in white wine? And other cool conundrums

Different wines behave better at different temperatures – anywhere from 6C to 18C – and you may well be surprised by which bottles benefit from a spell in the cooler

Rosé wines on a summer party table outdoors .
‘Whites and rosés tend to be sufficiently chilled, and I wouldn’t dream of popping ice in a serious red, but a simple, fruity one? Absolutely.’ Photograph: Jean-philippe WALLET/Getty Images/iStockphoto
‘Whites and rosés tend to be sufficiently chilled, and I wouldn’t dream of popping ice in a serious red, but a simple, fruity one? Absolutely.’ Photograph: Jean-philippe WALLET/Getty Images/iStockphoto

During the recent heatwave, friends looked on askance as I gaily dropped ice cubes into my wine. That may strike some of you as heretical, particularly from someone who is supposed to be a wine expert – but why on earth not? Wine is supposed to give pleasure, after all, and if it’s too warm, it’s simply not refreshing.

Sometimes when a wine isn’t quite cold enough, I just drop ice in, give it a stir and take the cubes straight out again. In extremis (35C plus), I leave them in. (Those big, slow-melting ice cubes are perfect here.)

Of course, I don’t do that with every kind of wine; whites and rosés tend to be sufficiently chilled, and I wouldn’t dream of popping ice in a serious red, but a simple, fruity one? Absolutely. It tasted delicious the other day with the Austrian Zweigelt from today’s pick.

As I remarked when I was writing about barbecues last week, full-bodied reds get unattractively soupy when the temperature rises into the 20s, never mind the 30s. Most producers recommend a “cellar cool” temperature of 17-18C, but since 99.9% of us don’t have cellars, you’re more likely to resort to 20-30 minutes in the fridge or a dip in an ice bucket. It’ll warm up rapidly enough in the glass. Don’t do this with a heavily oaked wine, though, because it will accentuate the tannin.

The danger with white wines, conversely, is serving them so cold taht you can’t taste the fruit. This particularly applies to smooth, dry whites such as chardonnay, which should be served at about 10-13C, or roughly the same as a light red such as a beaujolais or other gamay (I’d serve today’s Languedoc white at that temperature).

Aromatic and off-dry whites such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc, riesling and especially gewürztraminer can afford to be a bit colder, at around 7-10C (or 90 minutes to two hours in the fridge, depending on how stuffed full it is).

Sweet and sparkling wines should be colder still, at about 6-9C; in the case of sweet wines to keep the sweetness in balance; with sparkling wines, more importantly, to keep the pressure under control, so the wine doesn’t shoot out of the bottle when you pop the cork. Warm fizz tastes unattractively flabby, too.

You can also keep things cool by not pouring too much wine into your and your guests’ glasses. Better to top up from a bottle in the fridge than find half the wine is too warm.

Five wines that taste better chilled

Côté Mas L’Esprit du Midi Languedoc white 2021

Côté Mas L’Esprit du Midi Languedoc White 2021 £8.09 on “mix six” at Majestic, 13%. A Rhône-style white that manages to be both full-bodied and fresh-tasting. A good barbecue white.

Château La Négly La Natice Rosé 2021 12.5%

Château La Négly La Natice Rosé 2021 £13 Co-op, 12.5%. Elegant, pale, dry, Provençal-like rosé to pair with grilled prawns.

M&S Found Zweigelt 2021

M&S Found Zweigelt 2021 £8.50 Marks & Spencer, 13%. A soft, fruity, Austrian red that tastes deliciously fresh chilled or even with a couple of ice cubes dropped in.

Morrisons The Best Crémant de Limoux 12.5%

Morrisons The Best Crémant de Limoux £12, or £9 if you buy three, 12.5%. There’s a good multi-buy discount on this attractively soft, southern French sparkler.

Berry Brothers & Rudd Sauternes 2017 by Chateau Climens

Berry Brothers & Rudd Sauternes 2017 by Château Climens £14.95, 14%. Great buy if you’re a sauternes fan. Will age, but drink young and chilled in summer, preferably with peaches.