Wine and the deep freeze
I don't much like the look of this week's weather forecast, with arctic air flowing in over the next couple of days to bring the temperature down close to zero F.
With similar weather prevailing over much of the Northern Hemisphere in January, the coldest month of the year, I've been getting a lot of E-mail questions about freezing and its effect on wine.
Reader Peter C.'s question was typical. Writing from the Northeastern U.S., where it gets even colder than here in the Ohio Valley, he said, "Lots of times I'll buy a bottle of wine at lunch time and leave it in the car until I get home at night, but lately I'm a little worried about freezing. Just what is the freezing temperature of a bottle of wine?"
Actually, the freezing point of wine depends on its percent of alcohol (and a few other minor variables). But it is typically around 15F (10 below 0C) for most table wines, lower still for fortified wines. In my experience, it takes both a hard freeze and a long time to freeze wine solid - but left in a car for hours in sub-freezing temperatures, it certainly could happen.
But does it matter? This may be the more important question. Chances are that freezing and thawing won't seriously damage the wine itself, although on general principles I wouldn't try it with a treasured rarity. Near-freezing temperatures may precipitate out some of the wine's natural acidity in the form of insoluble tartrate crystals, but most authorities argue that this doesn't perceptibly affect the flavor of the wine. (In fact, although the practice is controversial, some people actually put a half-finished bottle in the refrigerator freezer to preserve it.)
But a more realistic concern is that freezing wine might force the cork out or even break the bottle, and that's not good news. Accordingly, my advice to Peter C. and other correspondents was this: Unless your workplace forbids bringing even unopened alcoholic beverages onto the premises, I'd follow the "better safe than sorry" principle and bring the wine in for the afternoon. Or if you can't do that, schedule your wine shopping after work.
Have you had a personal experience with freezing wine, whether intentionally or by accident? I would like to gather more real-world data on this, so if you have a tale to tell, I'll be in your debt if you take a moment to tell me about it, via E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
WEB LINKS: The photo of an ice-covered thermometer featured in today's HTML/graphics edition was borrowed from Roger Edwards' StormEyes.org Website, which features a gallery of weather-related images:
Finally, if you've got extra time on your hands for Web-surfing, you might be interested in reading this high-school assignment from Michigan, in which a creative teacher invites his class to explore First Century history by feezing wine:
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Our friends at French Wine Explorers, who I joined last June for a tour of the Southern Rhone and Provence and with whom I'll link up again this coming May for a trip around Bordeaux, have come up with a special offer that sounds almost too good to believe:
If you can get together a group of 10 friends, relatives or colleagues to take a customized, private wine tour together with French Wine Explorers in 2003, you can come for FREE! Or just persuade SIX other people to sign up with you for one of French Wine Explorers' regularly scheduled tours, and once again, you come for FREE! This offer is good through June 2003 for all the organization's 2003 tours.
For details about this special offer, send E-mail to email@example.com. To read about French Wine Explorers and its tours, visit
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2003