Tools of the Trade: Chillers

My second posting on wine accessories and gift ideas – also check out Tools of the Trade: Corks, Corkscrews, and Stoppers.

Serving Temperature Guide

Serving your wine at the right temperature is crucial to maximizing your enjoyment. So here’s a quick guide to the correct serving temperature, based on variety and alcohol level. Your individual tastes may vary, but this is what I’ve found works best for the majority of people.

  • Sparkling wines: ice cold
  • Light-bodied whites (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, dry and off-dry Riesling) and rosés: 42º to 48º F (6º to 9º C)
  • Fuller, richer whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, White Rhone): 46º to 50º F (8º to 10º C)
  • Dessert wines: 36º to 44º F (2º to 7º C)
  • Light-bodied reds (Pinot Noir, Chianti, Barolo, Merlot): 54º to 60º F (12º to 16º C)
  • Full-bodied reds (Cabernet, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Red Rhone, Spanish): 59º to 65º F (15º to 18º C)

Really, really good Chardonnay can be drunk at almost room temperature – if you drink those straight from the refrigerator, you’re losing out on most of the aroma. Pay attention to alcohol level, too – a red that has more than 14% alcohol should be drunk a few degrees colder.

Types of Chillers

There are two reasons to use a chiller. The first is to keep the wine at the right temperature once it’s been brought to the table. The second is to bring a bottle down to serving temperature if it’s been sitting at room temp all day. I highly advise planning ahead, and getting the wines to the correct temperature in advance. Stock the refrigerator with whites in the morning, then bring them out just before the festivities. Keep your reds in a cool, dark spot in the house, and they will almost always be at the right serving temperature; if need be, put them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving to take the edge off.

The good old-fashioned ice bucket can always be put into play. But have a care that you don’t put in too much ice! If the wine starts at the right temperature for service, you don’t want it getting colder and colder as the evening wears on. Often, a simple bucket of water from the tap is enough to do the trick. In the summer – especially if you’re drinking outside – throw in enough ice so that it all melts during the hour or so that the bottle is open.

There are a variety of chillers that are stored in the freezer or refrigerator, which you then use to hold the bottle on the table. These are made from marble, stainless steel, ceramic, or plastic, and may include some freezer gel or other material to help hold the cold better. You can find these at retail for anywhere from $10 to $80, depending on the material and workmanship. My favorite style is shown below – it’s a plastic sleeve with pockets of freezer gel, it lies flat in the freezer, it has some fun decorative art, and it fits around a standard bottle of wine nicely. Just the thing for taking out on the deck.

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You can also find electric chillers. These have a sealed water bath to help conduct the heat away from the wine, and they are powered by a small solid-state chilling device called a Peltier Junction. They can do a great job of bringing a bottle of room-temp Champagne down to serving temperature in 15 minutes, but they are very wasteful of electricity. Not to mention you need to find countertop space to use it, and a spot in the pantry to store it. And they cost $50 or more.

And there’s one way to cheat, as long as it’s not a top-tier bottle of wine. Sneak into the kitchen, open the bottle, and pour it into a zipper-seal baggie – make sure you get all the air out. Then hold the baggie under cold running water from the tap, and when it’s cooled off in 5 minutes, pour it through a funnel back into the bottle.

 

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