Why chilled red wine is the hottest thing to drink this summer

As a dedicated red wine drinker, summer is my least favourite season. It's the time of year when I order a glass of Shiraz or Tempranillo at my favourite local and, picking it up for that first heady sip, am greeted by hot waves of alcohol evaporating off its crimson surface.

All the complexity is gone, and I'm left with a sweaty fruit-bomb that only adds to my inevitable heat-addled irritation. Even worse, people start trying to get me to drink rosé!

Sure, we've all read the articles about the correct temperature to serve red wine, but try explaining that to my local barman. It's enough to make me consider moving to one of those northern countries where they make great crime shows and the temperature never peaks above 25 degrees.

Heated conditions

Ironically, the very heat that makes drinking big, complex reds unappetising produces the perfect conditions for growing them and we are blessed in Australia to have access to some of the best red wines in the world.

Fortunately, we are also a country of irreverent opportunists, and a new batch of innovative and adventurous winemakers have begun producing reds specifically designed to drink chilled, ushering in a new era of glorious summer drinking. These are not all your super-light Pinots and Grenaches either, but full-bodied single varieties and blends that even your grandpa would be happy to smash a glass of.

A new philosophy

Fledgling label Konpira Maru epitomises the philosophy behind the new culture of chilled reds. They produce a small selection of carefully considered, minimal intervention wines, and have deliberately set out to ensure that every one of their red wines can be enjoyed equally well at traditional temperatures or chilled.

Their offering includes a Cab Sav Merlot blend, a Syrah, and a Saperavi (a grape variety native to Georgia but recently making its way into Australian vineyards) all of which are terrific chilled.

I asked Alastair Reed of Konpira Maru why it's important to him to make chillable red wines and what he thinks makes a good chilled red.

"We just like people to drink it however they want," he says, displaying the good-humoured irreverence typical of the new crop of Australian winemakers. "We like it chilled ourselves so we encourage it!"


Global warming

He sobers slightly when discussing the technical aspects of perfecting such a product.

"There can be little to no American oak, becomes too sickly," he says. "I'm not against American oak as a general rule, it just doesn't work chilled in my opinion. French oak you can get away with in some cases. Whole bunch isn't great chilled as it often overpowers the other flavours that are muted by the chilling. Despite what I said about oak tannin, grape tannin is a must in a chilled red otherwise the acid can become to sour especially if early picked… This is why Saperavi is a ripper wine chilled."

I ask him what he thinks has led to the recent rise of chilled reds.

"A few things have come together," he explains. "Grapes are being harvested earlier as everyone is chasing natural acid which gives the wines a more racy profile resembling the traditional balance of a white or rose… Wines are also being released earlier which accentuates primary fruit characters which gives a juiciness that refrigeration works nicely with." "Also," he continues, "it's bloody hot! Some research I did in a previous life showed rapid substitution of white wine in place of red wine for every degree above 19C.

"The average temperature is increasing quicker than we thought so people are after chilled wine alternatives and not everyone wants to drink white."