It’s January. There’s snow on the ground and the temperature dipped into the high teens last night. What’s a wine enthusiast to do? Why, try to freeze some wine, of course.
I wasn’t intent on making a wine Slurpee. In fact, my motivations were more in the name of science. Or pseudo-science. But what I wanted to know is whether wine would freeze if left out in a variety of circumstances that simulate delivery or shipping conditions in January for much of the country. Somewhere in this frigid zone, a distributor might load their trucks the night before for delivery, leaving them outside loaded with wine. And what about ground shipping that many retailers rely on for fulfilling orders? Maybe UPS or FedEx trucks preload their delivery trucks or drive 18-wheelers across the frozen tundra by night.
So last night, I took three bottles (about 55 degrees each) with me and backed the car out of the garage. I left two bottles in the car body, one loose to simulate a delivery truck and another in a styrofoam shipper. For good measure, I placed a third bottle directly in a snow bank. Then I went back inside to get warm.
I selected wines with about 13% alcohol. Of course, that means that they are 87 percent water, which freezes at 32ºF. Ethanol, as we all know from days of keeping a bottle of vodka in the freezer, freezes at -178ºF. That means the freezing temperature of wine should be lower than that of water. All bottles had corks.
In the morning, none of the bottles was frozen, even the one in the snow bank. By contrast, the water in a water bottle in the car was frozen solid. So the alcohol does afford a degree of protection against making your own version of ice wine through shipping.
I haven’t done any control tests with how the wines taste compared wines that did not dip below freezing. Nor have I done any tests on the subsequent maturation of the wines. But these wines, all white, had presumably undergone a process called “cold stabilization” where the winemaker brought the temperature down near freezing to precipitate the tasteless “crystals” that potassium tartrate can leave. (There were no visible tartrate crystals in the wines I left out.)
What is your experience with winter shipping? Or extreme cold storage during aging? Any effects on taste?