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Chilling whites in the freezer- the science please

Most wine drinkers know that chilling whites in the freezer is a big no-no. It drastically changes the properties of the wine (if you did not know, take two bottles of the same label, chill one in the refrigerator and the other in the freezer down to the same temperature and you should definitely notice a difference in taste between the two.

What I want to know is what is the science behind this phenomenon: the chemistry behind the fact that chilling the wine fast (or in the freezer) causes, among other things, the fruit to tighten up.

And if chilling the wine (slower) in the refrigerator produces such a remarkable difference in flavor, is there a more optimum method that can yield an even better result, however unrealistic, for chilling white wine (ex: bringing it down to 47 extremely slowly in a controlled fridge...and taking all day and night to do it.)

Thanks in advance to all the geeks who have an answer.

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  1. >>Most wine drinkers know that chilling whites in the freezer is a big no-no.<<

    Says who? A quick glance through several wine appreciation and science books (Johnson, Robinson, Parker, Goode, etc.) finds no injunction against sticking wines in the freezer other than the warning that you risk forgetting the bottle, in which case it will freeze. A web search turns up little except unsubstantiated claims, such as About.com's "Also remember that wine and freezers are not friends. No matter how tempting it is to just pop a bottle in the freezer for 'just a few,' resist the temptation and save your wine!" Of course, the same author also comes out with one of the biggest bloopers I've run across in a while: "You can also chill wine in the refrigerator, but it will take a good three hours to chill to an appropriate serving temperature. If left in the refrigerator too long (a few days), you risk producing a corked wine." http://wine.about.com/od/storingwines...

    The claim is also countered by the fact that the most frequently recommended method for chilling wine, the ice bucket, actually chills wine faster than a freezer, since a bottle loses heat more quickly in an ice water bath than it does when surrounded by subfreezing air.

    1 Reply
    1. re: carswell

      Actually, Carswell's last graf is the definitive science on chilling.

      Chilling wine in an ice bath is the most rapid method because it uses conduction -- direct contact with cold water, rather than convection from freezer air. In the freezer, the time to chill a wine is about 30 minutes, which is why a timer is necessary so the wine doesn't freeze. Ice water (not just ice) takes approx. 15 minutes, or less than half the time.

      Does more-rapid chilling cause a fall-off in flavor? I've seen no science on that.

      Is the fall-off in flavor due to a wine that's too cold (often causes the fruit to go dead) rather than the speed of the chilling?

    2. Another data point: although I haven't done side-by-side comparisons as you suggest, I have done back-to-back ones (two bottles of the same wine; the first went into the freezer for a quick chill and was consumed while the second cooled in the fridge) and haven't noticed a difference in the wine from the different bottles.

      1. I have never seen any difference either, except once . . . I forgot about the bottle, and the next morning, the cork had pushed out as the wine turned to ice, and I had frozen wine all over the insed of the freezer.

        The only problem with the freezer is that people *assume* it's the fastest way of chilling a wine, and it isn't. Wines will chill down much more rapidly when placed in an ice-and-water bath (i.e.: ice bucket).

        1. I've chilled different bottles from the same case in the fridge, freezer, and with gel sleeves and haven't found that it affects the taste.

          Any perceived difference in taste presumably reflects a difference in temperature.

          1. An even faster way of chilling wines—according to MythBusters, I think. I know, huge geek—is to add salt to the ice-and-water bath. Maybe the same principal as using rock salt in an old-fashioned ice cream maker?

            I always get annoyed when I ask for an ice bucket at a restaurant, and they bring a bucket filled with six inches of ice, no water, and the bottle resting on top of the iceberg. I usually re-purpose my glass of tap water at that point.

            5 Replies
              1. re: Tartinet

                In most restaurants in the US, I am more likely to request a bucket of ice water for my reds, than for my whites. I find that too many whites are served too cool, and that reds are served at US "room temp," which can be quite high. The old adage of reds at "room temp" stems from Europe, where room temp is ~ 55F - cellar temp! In the US, it's likely to be ~ 70F, which focuses the alcohol content.

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I'm SO glad you mentioned that. I get the strangest looks when I ask for an ice bucket for a bottle of red.

                  My at-home rule of thumb with regard to serving temp. is to take whites out of the fridge 20-30 minutes before serving and to put reds INTO the fridge 20-30 minutes before serving.

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    In my case, the whites are handled as you state. With reds, I bring them up from the cellar at 55F and by the time that they are poured, or decanted, the temp has come up a bit - especially, since I'm in AZ! Lately, however, I've had to cup my hands on the bowl for my reds, when on the lower patio, because it's been co-o-ol here. Some of my whites have needed a little hand-warmth too!

                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Way to go Bill and Cindy. Let's start a revolution that causes restaurants to start serving wine at the right temperature!

                      People think I'm crazy when I chill reds or order whites long before drinking them so that they can get to proper temp!