Why you should be chilling your Côtes du Rhône reds this summer

The Côtes du Rhône produces some fantastically fruity wines that are aromatic and balanced - serving them at the ideal temperature is key to appreciating every element of their quality

Words by Sophia Longhi In partnership with Inter Rhône

It’s quite common for us to unwittingly drink our red wines too warm and our white wines too cold, which can often transform the profile of a wine and rob us of its alluring flavours and freshness. A fine tip to remember is the 20-20 rule: put red wines in the fridge for 20 minutes and take white wines out of the fridge for 20 minutes before serving to achieve the perfect serving temperature for both types of wine.

This 20-20 trick is ideal for red wines from the Côtes du Rhône. The grapes in this region ripen well in the hot summers and yield fantastically fruity wines. Yet, when these wines are served too warm, their personalities can become obscured by heat and alcohol. Serving them slightly chilled, at around 15-16°C, gives the naturally fruity character of the wines chance to shine and their freshness, which comes from several elements of the terroir (including the Mistral wind and the clay and sandy soils), is enhanced. The overall experience is refreshing and thirst-quenching.

Côtes du Rhône reds
The easiest and quickest way to cool down a bottle of wine is to put it in a bucket filled with water and ice cubes, plus a handful of salt

‘A fresher red wine avoids cooked fruit aromas,’ says Denis Alary, co-president of the AOC Côtes du Rhône promotion division. ‘Cooked fruit gives the wine a hotter flavour. A chilled red wine will bring out the fresher, more delicate side of the red fruits in the wine.’ Florence Quiot, fellow co-president agrees: ‘When red wine is cooler, the fruity flavours of red berries and fresh fruits that are present, like cherry, redcurrant and blackcurrant, come to the fore.’

Côtes du Rhône reds
Serving Côtes du Rhône red wines at 15-16°C allows their fruity character and freshness to shine

If relying on a fridge isn’t practical when out and about, the fastest way to cool down a bottle of wine is to plunge it into a bucket filled with water and ice cubes. A handful of coarse salt added to the ice water can speed up the chilling process, as the salt will lower the temperature of the water by a few extra degrees.

You might be concerned that you’ll look foolish in a restaurant if you ask for an ice bucket for red wine but don’t be; it’s what they do in France, according to Alary. ‘It’s customary for a lot of people to chill red wines,’ he says. ‘For example, I always ask for a bucket of ice when I go to a restaurant with friends and order red wine.’

When red wine is cooler, the fruity flavours of red berries and fresh fruits that are present, like cherry, redcurrant and blackcurrant, come to the fore

It’s a careful balance to strike, however, as Côtes du Rhône reds can become closed and inexpressive if they are served too cold. The tannins will seem firmer and aromatics can become undetectable. This can happen to white wines too, which is often overlooked by drinkers who might assume that whites should be served as cold as possible. ‘There are various styles of Côtes du Rhône in each colour,’ says Quiot. ‘The ideal serving temperature is different for each one in order to have full expression of the aromas.’ Côtes du Rhône white wines fall into three main categories: fruity and lively, fruity and round, and rich and complex. The generosity of many of them is easily lost when served below 10°C, so aim for between 10-12°C and even up to 13°C for the more structured examples. That 20 minutes out of the fridge or ice bucket helps the white wines open and express their range of aromas and depth of flavour.

Côtes du Rhône whites
The ideal serving temperature of Côtes du Rhône white wines may well be higher than many drinkers would instinctively expect

So many factors are involved in the making of a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, from the number of days the Mistral wind blows, keeping the grapes clean and concentrating the sugar and acidity inside them, to the depths reached by the vines’ roots in the soil, achieving a mineral complexity in the final wine. Alary explains that the quality of wine made in the Côtes du Rhône has improved year on year due to changes made in the vineyard and in the winery. ‘Vinification in the Côtes du Rhône has come a long way in the last 20 years. We’ve worked a lot on the aromas, with lower and more controlled vinification temperatures. This gives the wines more red fruit aromas, freshness and suppleness.’

The final stage of a wine’s journey is when it fills our glasses and we take a sip. The grape growers and the winemakers have played their parts by this point; we can play ours by refreshing their wines using the cool of the fridge or ice. That small step means experiencing the finesse, aromatic elegance and balance of wines from the Côtes du Rhône exactly as intended.