Good wine gone bad: Traveling with wine, car edition

As many of you set out on drives for this holiday weekend, consider this conundrum from our recent trip.

As wine geeks are wont to do, we brought a case plus a few bottles on our Adirondack adventure. The wines were from different producers and I bought them from different retailers. We had enjoyed several of the wines in the preceding two weeks and decided to share them with our relatives.

Yet several of the wines tasted too advanced. And we’re talking some 06s and 07s, which shouldn’t be advanced at all.

So what happened? I’m not sure. We did stop for a three-hour lunch with some friends on the way. I parked the car in the shade but when we returned, it was in the summer sun. I’m tempted to say this stint was the cause of our wine woes. But I’ve received so many wines via UPS that must have had even more exposure to the heat of summer than that. Do you have a theory?

Fortunately, the wines were diminished but not destroyed and some seemed unaffected. But as a precaution, I might bring a cooler next time we are going to make a stop on a trip like that. Assuming I can fit it in the car with all the kids’ gear etc!

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11 Responses to “Good wine gone bad: Traveling with wine, car edition”

  1. If you can fit a cooler, use it. If not, and you are parked in a ‘safe’ area, defenitly leave the car and AC on. Don’t know if the heat damage was that effective in so short of a time, but the inside of a car (esp trunk) can heat up real quick. As for USPS, there is more air and space in the truck so I would think that naturally it would be a little cooler than in your cars trunk

  2. You mentioned the 06 and 07 wines tasted a bit advanced. By “advanced” do you mean it tasted as though the age of the wines had accelerated?

    It’s interesting, because I’ve heard of the phenomenon of “cooked wines” from high-heat scenarios taking on a flashed-aging taste to their quality.

    I guarantee your trunk was the culprit here and Stu hit it on the head with air space. If you can’t fit the cooler, definitely pick a spot which you can tell will be shaded for a long time–or take a shorter lunch. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the suggestions. The wines weren’t in the trunk; they were in the body of the vehicle benefiting from the mild AC that made it to the back.

    A UPS truck, by contrast, is not air conditioned in the storage area. And my guy always comes at about 5:30 so the wines may have been driving around all day. And I’ve had some wines arrive just fine via UPS. It’s weird that the wines were advanced (yes, their age seemed accelerated, sometimes beyond where I wanted them). A puzzle.

  4. You mention the wines were from different producers…were some more natural than others. A hunch, but lower sulphur levels, minimal filtration, etc could all result in a wine that’s less stable and more likely to have a fast reaction to heat.

  5. I remember driving from DC to Pittsburgh one summer in an un-airconditioned car, and by the time I arrived, a cork had pushed its capsule a full quarter inch out and red wine was bleeding down the neck. The lesson I took was that a car heats up very fast becuase of the relatively little airspace in it, compared to a large truck. Also, these were in an pen-top box. Maybe that let the heat get to them faster… However, I should note that it only happened to ONE of about 6 bottles, and it was the OLDEST wine by at least 5 years. Maybe the cork wasn’t holding tight?…

  6. A few things about receiving wine through UPS- as Stu pointed out, more air space, and open doors equal more airflow, and those guys seem to always be moving, therefore no time to really cook the wines. Also, any wine that I have had shipped to me is always packed in that extra thick styrofoam. I’m not an expert on heat transfer, but I’m sure that the styrofoam, as well as the sealed box provides a little bit of insulation from extreme heat.

    Definitely use a cooler or insulated wine bag.

  7. Christy – GREAT point! One of the wines that wasn’t showing well was, in fact, a no-sulfur-added wine. As you say, those are delicate and particularly sensitive to excessive heat. Some of the others were “natural” wines so they may have had a low does of SO2 as well.

    And, yes, I’m willing to buy the theory that parked cars are hotter than UPS trucks. I’ll have to ask my very nice UPS driver how hot he thinks it back there…

  8. A few hints based on my driving in Europe with a trunk filled with wines:
    All bottles should be separately wrapped in a few sheets of a newspaper (paper is a good insulator!).
    All wrapped bottls should be packed in a cardboard boxes, which then should be sealed.
    Taking these steps I was almost alvays happy with the wines I brought home, even after a few days they spent in the trunk. On several occasions I unpacked a bottle in the afternoon after a whole day of driving in the strong Mediterranean sunlight and it was still cool, even without an AC (yes, we still sometimes drive such cars)! I agree though that unsulfured wines might pose a problem.

    Greetings from Poland!

  9. Bottle shock. I was always skeptical of the concept but I’ve seen it in action. Long car rides have had this affect on many wines I’ve brought to my brother’s lake house. They simply don’t show well after the ride. Knowing this, I don’t drink any wines that I receive vie mail for a few weeks to allow them to shake it off. I doubt it was the heat. I suspect it was the motion/vibration.

  10. Dan –

    An interesting theory, to be sure. But our ride was not all that bumpy on the interstate.

    If bottle shock applies then what about when you pick up a couple of bottles on the way home from work, hope in the subway, climb some stairs, etc, before pulling the cork? Wouldn’t most of the wine poured in the US then be in a state of bottle shock?

    If so, then it’s a bigger problem than TCA!

  11. […] daily email, or free monthly updates by email (right sidebar). Thanks for visiting!After two bad wine travel experiences this summer, I finally got it right about ten days ago. Returning by plane from a […]


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