10 best chilled red wines: Pair them with summer dishes from pasta to picnics

·11-min read
Light chilling helps to freshen and sharpen the flavours (iStock/The Independent)
Light chilling helps to freshen and sharpen the flavours (iStock/The Independent)

Let’s get our terms right here: chilling in this context definitely does not mean relaxing. It means red wines that can take a light cooling down in the fridge and which are just perfect for summer drinking.

Those who wonder why you might want to chill a red wine – particularly when there are zillions of white and rose wines out there – may never have experienced the joy of a chilled light or medium-bodied red on a warm day.

Don’t misunderstand though, we are not talking freezer cold rosé here. Just an hour in the fridge door should be enough to freshen and sharpen the flavours, lifting them delightfully on the palate. Pair them, perhaps, with some paté, charcuterie, tomato-based Mediterranean dishes or grilled fish or chicken, and you’re in for what is, quite frankly, a revelation.

On warm muggy evenings, such as those that much of the UK experienced earlier in July, most substantial red wines can taste flabby and tired, particularly if they have been in a warm room or exposed to sunshine. The weightiest of these – think aged rioja, claret, many Rhone wines and chunky new world reds made from cabernet sauvignon and syrah – don’t really take to chilling. Though they are probably not the kind of wines you want in mid-summer anyway.

But many young wines – made from grapes such as gamay, pinot noir, cabernet franc – do respond very well. Also look out for more obscure grapes, such as Sicily’s frappato, Chilean pais or Austrian zweigelt, which all produce juicy, refreshing wines.

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How we tested

We chilled each of the wines in our selection and enjoyed drinking them out of small tumblers on warm nights in the garden. We rated these wines on how they tasted and took care to include bottles that wouldn’t break the bank.

You could take your coolbox and reusable cups to the beach or riverside or serve some of them at your next summer dinner party. You and your guests will be pleasantly surprised.

The best chilled reds for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Cave Co-operative Saumur rouge, 2018, 14%, 75cl: £11.50, Yapp.co.uk

  • Best organic and vegan wine – Santa Tresa frappato rina russa terre siciliano IGP, 2019, 75cl: £8.95, Thewinesociety.com

  • Best for pairing with fish – Donnafugata frappato di vittoria bell’assai, 2019, 12.5%, 75cl: £18.16, Vinissimus.co.uk

  • Best for simple garden meals – Pigassou, 2020, 14%, 75cl: £9.99, Averys.com

  • Best for chicken dishes – Henry Fessy fleurie le pavillon, 2018, 12.5%, 75cl: £15.49, Waitrosecellar.com

  • Best for red meats – Bardos Roble ribero del duero, 2018/19, 14%, 75cl: £12.99, Majestic.co.uk

  • Best for pasta – Pfaffl Wien 2 Vienna zweigelt pinot noir, 2020, 13.5%, 75cl: £13.95, Cheerswinemerchants.co.uk

  • Best for picnics – Morande One to One pais, 2019, 13%, 75cl: £8.99, Majestic.co.uk

  • Best bargain buy – Buenas Vides criolla grande, 2020, 13.5%, 75cl: £5.99, Aldi.co.uk

  • Best dinner party wine – Balfour Hush Heath Estate the suitcase, 2018, 12%, 75cl: £35, Hushheath.com

Cave Co-operative Saumur rouge, 2018, 14%, 75cl

Best: Overall

Cabernet Franc is a grape used on many Bordeaux blends to give a certain aromatic freshness to cabernet sauvignon and merlot. In the Loire region of France, where temperatures are a bit lower, it is given solo billing in both medium weight and light wines, as well as sparkling versions, all distinguished by a succulent, juicy, fresh quality.

Chilling this lighter-bodied version – which is from a local co-operative using grapes grown on the chalky soils of the Saumur area of the Loire, from where wines have been shipped to the UK since the 12th century – brings out the distinctive fruit and nut chocolate flavours. A combination of red fruit and slight savouriness that is utterly beguiling and instantly appealing. It’s perfect with all kinds of summer dishes, softer goats cheeses, salads and vegetable tarts as well as grilled white meats.

Buy now £11.50, Yapp.co.uk

Santa Tresa frappato rina russa terre siciliano IGP, 2019, 750ml

Best: Organic and vegan wine

From the south-east corner of Sicily, this very light bodied wine is organic and vegan-friendly. It’s made from ancient clones grown on fertile volcanic soils, of one of the indigenous grapes of the island, which has been a melting pot of cultures since ancient times.

An absolute delight with a vibrant aroma of strawberries and raspberries, this wine can take a lengthy chilling – you could almost think of it as a dark rose, so it sings and dances on the palate with fresh cherry fruit flavours. It’s great with all types of Mediterranean dishes and mezze, and in Sicily the locals love it with sardines with breadcrumbs and pasta.

(Available from 9 August)

Buy now £8.95, Thewinesociety.com

Donnafugata frappato di vittoria bell’assai, 2019, 12.5%, 750ml

Best: For pairing with fish

Donnafugata means “fleeing woman” and is a reference to Queen Maria Carolina, who took refuge in Sicily in the early 19th century when Napoleon’s troops arrived in Naples. This is a slightly fuller and more elegant take on frappato than the Santa Tresa (£8.95, Thewinesociety.com) offering and perhaps needs chilling for about half an hour.

Also from the southeast of the island and produced by the long-established Rallo family – originally makers of sweet Marsala on the opposite side of the island – this is sweetly perfumed with floral and red aromas and more soft fruit flavours on the refreshing palate. It’s perhaps one for the dinner table rather than the beach picnic and, if anyone is unconvinced about the merits of chilled red wine with fish, this is the one to change minds. It's glorious with peppered rare tuna or grilled mackerel.

Buy now £18.16, Vinissimus.co.uk

Pigassou, 2020, 14%, 750ml

Best: For simple garden meals

Made in the heart of the Languedoc region of southern France, where summers are hot and long, this is the kind of unpretentious medium-bodied red wine normally drunk locally by small growers. This is made by producers which make up the many “cave co-operatives” that line the roads of the area, and from local indigenous grapes caladoc and marselan. So relish the fact that some of it can reach our shore to remind us, when travel is still questionable, of the joys of southern France.

It is just crying out to be drunk very lightly chilled – from tumblers, in the shade, with a plate of saucisson and cheeses, and a fresh baguette to be torn apart. It is full of flavour – marselan gives raspberry and cassis and caladoc spice and plum notes – and the whole package is fresh, fruity, refreshing and incredibly moreish.

Buy now £9.99, Averys.com

Henry Fessy fleurie le pavillon, 2018, 12.5%, 750ml

Best: For chicken dishes

Beaujolais is known as one of the lighter red wines of France, but it arrives on our shores in mid-November, when a young, light, chilled red is not really what we want to drink, is it? By now it has lost most of its freshness, so better to shop around the excellent Beaujolais village cru wines, where styles range from the lighter, cherry flavoured to the chunkier wines less suited to summer foods. All are made from the gamay grapes but individual variations determined by soils and topography.

This is from a village where wines are traditionally lighter and more floral and therefore more suitable for chilling. It comes from the reliable stable of one of the best producers in the region, delivering sweetish, spicy, succulent red fruit flavours. Chill for about half an hour and sip with any charcuiterie or that French favourite, a rotisserie chicken.

Buy now £15.49, Waitrosecellar.com

Bardos Roble ribero del duero, 2018/19, 14%, 750ml

Best: For red meats

Traditionally, the wines of Ribero del Duero, from central northern Spain, are robust, medium to full-bodied reds made, like most of those in nearby Rioja, from the tempranillo grape and often capable of long ageing. But despite being aged in oak with a fullish nature, this is still remarkably fresh and youthful – Roble being the designation for the youngest wines – and takes extremely well to chilling. Some time spent in the fridge beautifully highlights and intensifies the succulent, lush, black and brambly fruits and sweet spice flavours, with plenty of wild herb notes. This is an ideal robust red to chill for barbecued or grilled red meats such as lamb kebabs, pork or, probably ideally, with spicy chorizo sausages.

Buy now £12.99, Majestic.co.uk

Pfaffl Wien 2 Vienna zweigelt pinot noir, 2020, 13.5, 750ml

Best: For pasta

Austrian zweigelt is something of a one off – a grape created in just 1922 from a cross between two central European varieties, st laurent and another Austrian grape, blaufrankisch. Zweigelt produces medium to light-bodied wines, with punchy, spicy, dark cherry fruit flavours, leavened by an appealing freshness and vitality.

This wine, made in the Vienna region is a blend with pinot noir, so gets an injection of aromatic, raspberry earthiness – the result being a truly middle European wine that combines rich fruit and spice intensity with palate freshening levity. It’s ideal for lightly chilling, perhaps in an Alpine stream, if you have one nearby, otherwise a fridge will do, and to be eaten with tomato-based pasta and lighter meat dishes, such as an Austrian wiener schnitzel with buttered noodles.

Buy now £13.95, Cheerswinemerchants.co.uk

Morande One to One pais, 2019, 13%, 750ml

Best: For picnics

If you want an alternative to the gamay or frappato wines here, try this equally light and cherry flavoured gem from Chile. It is made from the recently revived pais grape, a descendent of the Spanish grapes bought to South America by the conquistadors in the 16th century. Pais was once an all-purpose grape for blending and for making cheap wines for local consumption, not considered worthy of serious thought or even export. But better late than never, thanks to more careful production techniques, it now is seen to make terrific little wines, that vary from very light, cherry flavoured to more juicy, medium bodied variants – as well as lovely pink sparklers.

This is brimming with fresh fruit flavours but has a lovely, spicy kick as well. With its convenient screw top, it is almost the ideal picnic or barbecue wine, versatile enough for all kinds of lighter meats, salads and even grilled oily fish.

Buy now £8.99, Majestic.co.uk

Buenas Vides criolla grande, 2020, 13.5%, 750ml

Best: Bargain buy

The Argentine criolla grande grape is believed to be distantly related to Chilean pais and served a similar function as an all-purpose grape for bulk box and jug wines, overshadowed by its more glamorous domestic competitor malbec. So well done to Aldi for unearthing this delightful gem, which seriously punches above its price point and, like a lot of Aldi bargains, may well sell out soon, so grab it while you can.

Packed with fragrant but ripe, juicy cherry and strawberry flavours, it’s great just for sipping on a warm, midweek night in the garden, preferably out of a tumbler. And it is perfect with lightly spiced Middle Eastern dishes, so get some merguez sausages on the barbecue and lets see more criolla wines hit these shores.

Buy now £5.99, Aldi.co.uk

Balfour Hush Heath Estate the suitcase, 2018, 12%, 750ml

Best: Dinner party wine

England’s potential to make great pinot noir is slowly being realised and this from Hush Heath, an estate in Kent originally founded to make great pink sparkling, is setting another benchmark. Using two clones of the grape renowned in France for their ability to produce high quality wine – the suitcase name derives from how they were originally smuggled into the United States – this special edition of only 5,000 bottles is simply fabulous.

In true youthful Burgundian style, its powerful, gamey, earthy aromas lead to complex flavours of victoria plums, raspberries mushrooms, thyme and a long, savoury finish. Its elegance is highlighted and enhanced by just a short chill or cool cellar temperature and we think this wine would be perfect for top notch rare tuna, an organic roast chicken or some lighter game, once the season starts on 12 August.

Buy now £35.00, Hushheath.com

The verdict: Red wines for chilling

These wines for chilling serve a variety of different purposes this summer and are all worthy of your consideration. For a casual glass or two somewhere outdoors, there are a number of choices to suit different budgets and foods, with the Santa Tresa, criolla and pais wines terrific options.

Meanwhile the more expensive wines, including the brilliant English pinot noir are fabulous for more special sit-down occasions, whether you are indoors or out. However, if you’re looking for a wine that covers all bases, suitable for all kinds of summer eating that won’t disgrace the dinner table or break the bank, then the Cave Co-operative’s saumur rouge, is our best buy for chilled red wines this summer.

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