How to serve chilled red wine

The varying climates around the world make serving wine at room temperature complicated.
The varying climates around the world make serving wine at room temperature complicated. Photo: Jennifer Soo

I have always observed the rule of serving white wines cold and reds at room temperature but now I'm told some reds should be refrigerated too. What kinds of red wines should be chilled? I'm happy to give it a go but I don't want to do it with the wrong wines and damage them.

It takes years to acquire the wisdom handed down by our elders and I'm not talking about the dance-like-no-one's-looking kind of homily. I come from more prosaic stock than that, so the advice imprinted on my brain is more in the school of ''Don't get toast crumbs in the butter'', ''You're not tall enough to wear horizontal stripes'' and ''Wear nice underpants in case you get run over''. (No, I'm not sure how that works, either.)

These timeless slices of advice reside in the same corner of my consciousness that houses the stuff about only serving white wine with white meat and red wine with red; right next to the adage about chilling whites and serving reds at room temperature. And then - it's a cruel world - someone comes along and tells us we're Doing It All Wrong. It turns out you can serve pinot noir with salmon without having the wine police come and lock you up.

Fear not: you haven't been doing it wrong. The rule you've been observing all this time is generally right, but the key word is ''generally''. There's a key phrase, too, and it is ''room temperature''. Back in the Jurassic era, when people started getting all picky about what temperature wines were served at, there wasn't much by way of central heating. And mostly (although not always), wines were being made and drunk in climates that are typically cooler than Australian summers. Depending on where you are, and the season, room temperature can vary enormously.

Wine ''cooks'' when it's exposed to heat and that can happen quite rapidly - not just in transit or storage, but at your house. Think of a red left on the table in the sun at a summer barbecue, and of how quickly it starts to smell more of alcohol fumes than of anything else. There's a tactile element, too - only some flavours are good tasted tepid, and shiraz or pinot noir are not among them.

Rather than giving you a long, prescriptive list of what wines should be served at what temperatures, I'm going to take the Dr Benjamin Spock approach and tell you - as he told new parents - ''Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do''. If you're in a hot place or season, or if your house is artificially heated to semi-tropical levels, feel free to stick that bottle of red in the fridge for 20 minutes or half an hour before you serve it. If anyone questions you, ask if they're wearing nice undies. That should change the subject for long enough to take the heat off the wine.