Freezing wine: harder than you might think

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?

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18 Responses to “Freezing wine: harder than you might think”


  1. Great topic. I shipped a bottle of wine from wine.com last year when the temperature was around 10F-25F. I missed a couple of the delivery attempts. When it arrived the 3rd day, I opened the wine and stuck a thermometer in it: 41F. I let it come to room temperature that day and tasted it later that evening. It was fine. Quite good actually! My conclusion is that wine is more resilient than I thought and hot temps are much worse for shipping wine than cold.


  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Robert. I wanted to take the temperature of my wines too but didn’t have a thermometer that went low enough. So it was a frozen solid/not frozen experiment.

    I agree that heat is more damaging as it accelerates maturation. Exposure to cold temperature may be a shock and quick cycling may not be great for wine quality. But, as I mentioned in the post, these wines had presumably all been exposed to freezing temps for a longer time during cold stabilization.


  3. I work in the retail side of the biz, and this is a question I am often asked.
    How cold did it get the night you left the wine out? Obviously below freezing, but how much? I also get a lot of questions on what happens to the wine when it freezes. Does this cause a separation of the water and wine? Perhaps I have my own experimentation to do…


  4. Hi Robin –

    I think it got to 20F overnight.

    Here’s an article suggesting the water portion might freeze before the alcohol: http://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1640

    Keep us posted on your “research”! ;-)


  5. For wine to freeze, in a styro shipper, going out Fedex/UPS, it has to be near 0 degrees.

    Too many folks are paranoid once temps drop below 30. Heck, 30 is pretty optimum for shipping, as the trucks are probably 45 degrees inside!


  6. Generally cold stabilization takes place at about 28 F degrees over the course of 14 days, a temperature at which, while below freezing does not risk solidifying the liquid due to the alcohol in solution. It does however, take some time for the bitartrate crystals to fall unless they have been seeded.

    While one might think the bottle in the snowbank would freeze, snow is a pretty good insulator as most Eskimos and winter campers would attest.

    That said, yesterday morning I had to do an emergency extraction of wines I’ve have cold stabilizing for less than 48 hours in the mud-room leading into the house. While the larger demijohns were OK, carboys were showing crystallization of water at the surface, and a small half-gallon jug for topping up turned to an actual slushy…granted it was -17F outside, and maybe 10 degrees higher in the room. Will have to wait until this cold snap moderates before I can put them out there again.

    I have also frozen partially consumed wines in the past as a test, then thawed them for sensory analysis, and have determined that while it can strip the nuances from a finer wine, it can also relieve a less well made or balanced wine of hard edges, more so with reds, likely due to the tartaric acid reduction. A second freezing of the same wine does not have any positive effect.


  7. As long as it doesn’t get so cold that the wine actually freezes and pushes the cork, the wine should be fine. That’s my experience. I’ve occasionally been known to stick an open wine in the freezer to keep it for a while. It certainly works for cooking wine, and if it affects the actual taste of the wine, it is slight. You will end up with more crystals, though.


  8. On ski weekends, the wine ends up in the snow bank to free up refrigerator space. As has been pointed out, the snow acts as an insulator so even if the temperatures get close to (or even below) zero degrees, the wine doesn’t freeze. Usually some wine is in the snow from Friday night thru Sunday or Monday but we have found the wayward bottle come spring thaw. Still good drinking!


  9. As a distributor, I can’t imagine loading trucks the night before delivery, but not for temperature reasons. The burden on the shocks extended for 8-12 hours longer than otherwise required means that your truck would die an earlier death than it might. Trucks and vans loaded with hundreds and thousands of pounds of wine each day live short enough lives as is…

    The same profit motive that might have someone ship in bad weather without a reefer comes into play here in the consumer’s favor.


  10. I’ve done a few wine freezing experiments. It doesn’t matter what the temperature outside is–until the temperature of the wine hits below about 20 degrees F. At that point, most wines will start to freeze (it does depend on alcohol content). When a wine reaches its freezing point depends on so many variables that it’s not easy to predict: snow insulates, as would any carpeting or other materials in the trunk of a car, and son. Styro-shippers do insulate wine, but not forever and not under every outside temperature circumstance.

    As for quality: generally, the quality of a wine that has frozen and then thawed–once–is minimally, but noticeably affected. Mainly acids drop, but also something happens that I believe is connected with the water content of wine and it strips some of the body-heft from our perception, ever so slightly.

    Generally, it’s not so easy for wine to freeze during shipping–but because the stuff is in glass and corked, it’s also not such a great risk to take.


  11. I’d like to try it with champagne, but I’m afraid I’d end up with a Darwin Award.


  12. Freezing wine can have unexpected benefits. I have a friend who just loves a really awful brand of sweet fizzy wine that rhymes with “nasty.” He likes it freezing cold, which kills the taste a bit I suppose, and puts it in the freezer just before guests arrive. On one instance he let the time get away and when he tried to serve it the ice in the neck stopped any liquid from coming out. Best ever!


  13. i’ve often suggested to people who ask how to STORE or SAVE partially filled bottles that freezing staves off oxidation and can adequately keep half-full btls etc; the only issue is one of space, few people having large freezers in which to stash many btls; no matter, it doesn’t harm the wine all that much – have tasted thawed samples afterward – and is preferable to other ways of keeping, for a long-term, partially filled btls


  14. Our experience after 25+ years of wine via UPS shipping coast to coast is that, yep, wine does freeze below 20 degrees F. As noted above, the cork gets pushed up a bit and when the wine defrosts, some leaks out. This is usually where the conversation with the customer starts: “Your cheapo corks leak!” Well, no. So we hold shipments where the low temps along the route are much below 20. Gets pretty scary in the mid plains (Omaha) in January and February. Try -3 sometimes. Picture your two pack smack up against the outside of the container while the train is parked at a siding for 5 hours or so…By being very firm with our customers we have whittled down our losses to about 1 or none shipments per year now. Then there is the story of the helpful neighbor who took in a lonely wine shipment and left it in their New Hampshire unheated garage over night in late January. Yep Winesicles.


  15. Lively thread — thanks for the contributions!

    Daniel – good to know you don’t have a problem unless it’s really cold.

    Todd – Vermont to the rescue! Thanks for your observations and good luck with your wine. Btw, why do you cold stabilize if it’s not a commercial wine? If you don’t overly chill a bottle of your wine, then you won’t precipitate the crystals, no?

    Sally – good trick to know!

    Damien – funny you are looking out for the distributors’ shock absorbers!

    Thomas – thanks for stopping by and drawing on your Finger Lakes experience.

    R Sonoma – Thanks too. Interesting that you actually did have some corks push via shipping. That must have really been cold.

    Robin C – yes, try it and report back to us…if you are still able!

    Mike V – funny! Sounds like that was an instance of a good system blockage.

    Bill – is that a sort of cryogenic wine cellar?


  16. sorry to be late to the comment thread, but I am taking a class on wine stabilization, and we just covered temperature today.

    lower temperature will cause colloids to precipitate from wine, the most common one being tartrates. As some people have already mentioned, this can cause the wine to change flavor, texture, and pH.

    the temperature for this reaction is dependent on a variety of factors; an average winery will usually cold-stabilize their wines between 5 and -5 celcius – basically freezing the wine then filtering it, so there are no colloids to settle out if the wine reaches that temperature again. once you go below that temperature, you will start to see tartrates, and your wine might become hazy, but i’m sure it will still be perfectly drinkable.

    thanks for letting me ramble about me recent new knowledge! hope that was slightly relevant to your blog


  17. Jeremy Seysses of Domaine Dujac tweeted this earlier today:: “Cold stabilizing the Morey St Denis Blanc is easy enough at this time of year.”

    pic.twitter.com/zsko5pg8


  18. The freezer just before guests arrive. On one instance he let the time get away and when he tried to serve it the ice in the neck stopped any liquid from coming out. Best ever!


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