Let Cooler Reds Prevail: The Best Temperature for Drinking Red Wine

The scourge of the whites-only wine fridge.


Illustration by Steven Stankiewicz

The Butcher Shop, the South End’s wine bar/meatery, sells a beautiful burgundy by the glass. High-toned and moderately tannic, with gorgeous cranberry notes, the 2011 Domaine Rion drinks like a wine twice the price. It’s such an inspired option for a glass-pour list—typically relegated to crowd-pleasers—that I’m unfazed by the steep markup ($16). It’s also served almost 10 degrees too warm. Which does faze me.

Red wines taste best at “cellar temperature,” about 60 degrees Fahrenheit—a good 15 degrees below your average thermostat. The coolness keeps the acids and fruit in balance while muting the tannins, which give structure and longevity but have an astringent quality that, when too pronounced, wicks the tongue like an unripe pear. So reds are kept in temperature-controlled storage—unless they’re on the glass list, in which case they while away the day on the counter, becoming one with the ambient balminess.

A notable few programs have figured out a solution. Bin 26, in Beacon Hill, uses a snazzy dispenser system that keeps its glass pours at 58 degrees. Kendall Square’s Belly goes old-school with a double sink, storing whites on the ice-filled side and reds along the chilly partition on the other. Then there’s a fix I wonder why everyone doesn’t adopt: Alden & Harlow, the forthcoming Harvard Square eatery, plans to install two fridges on the bar, one per color. But that’s pretty much it.

Is it unfair to single out the Butcher Shop for hot Médocs in a town of balmy Beaujolais? Maybe so. Then again, who better to lead the chilled-red charge than beverage director Cat Silirie, whose inimitable palate, meticulously trained staff, and quirkball dream of a wine list have earned the spot well-deserved cred as an oenophile haven?

Not to mention that, chances are, anyone willing to cough up 16 bucks for a single serving of fermented grape juice cares about a 10-degree difference in its temperature.