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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.


                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!


                    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!

              2. Looks like there might be some folks here who can answer a question I've long had.....

                Let's say your bottle of white wine has been in the fridge for several hours and is at the temperature of the fridge. Now let's say that you want to drink your wine at 55-60 F, which seems to be a generally accepted temperature.

                Question: after you take the bottle out of the fridge, how long until it's at 55-60 F?

                5 Replies
                1. re: ambrose

                  Now, I'm in AZ, so warming up a white is not really a problem. If I take it out of the 'fridge, and want it NOW, I just cup my hands around the bowl and very soon, it is warmer. That said, I'm of the mind that my whites should be ~ 55F and my reds ~ 60F. Somethimes the problem is with reds that get too warm after I bring them up from my 55F cellar. However, if you are not in AZ, it should be less of a problem. This, of course, depends on the wine, white, or red, that you are serving. There are exceptions abounding, and it's also some personal taste.


                  1. re: ambrose

                    Depends on how cold your fridge is and how warm the room is. With my 40-degree fridge and 65-degree house, about 30 minutes.

                    I mostly use chiller sleeves, faster and more flexible.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I knew someone would bring up the subject of fridge temperature and house temperature! LOL.

                      My fridge is also around 40 F while the house is usually at 68 F. Thanks for the info.

                      PS What board do I go to to find out why there is a "d" in fridge but not in refrigerator? (Just kiddin).

                      1. re: ambrose

                        For what it's worth, the OED suggests that "fridge" came from Frigidaire and that into the 50s (Graham Greene is their example!) people were using "Frig" as an abbreviation (although as early as the 30s people were also using "fridge"). I guess it's pretty frigging obvious why "fridge" won the day.

                  2. As others have said, if you chill to temp, the vehicle is irrelevant. If you chill too low (regardless of the vehicle - a freezer can obviously hit lows below a 'fridge), you can percipitate out tartaric acid into crystals, that are harmless, tasteless, but do provide a different "mouth-feel," if you ingest them. Oh, and as some have said, you can freeze the wine and are likely to have a mess. Depending on the white wine, I'd hesitate to do all that much chilling, regardless of what you use, i.e freezer, 'fridge, bucket of ice water. Few wines are at their best, red, or white, when chilled too much. They become rather tasteless. This is one of the reasons, that "house wines" are often served ~ 45F - so you will NOT taste much.


                    1. Returning to the OP for a moment . . .

                      Agordo? Why -- what in your personal experience -- has led you to conclude that *how* a wine is colled makes a difference? I'm very curious -- clearly you think there is, and even go so far as to say, "Most wine drinkers know that chilling whites in the freezer is a big no-no."

                      What I didn't say in my initial reply was that I've spent 35 years in the California wine trade, and this is something I have *never* heard of or experienced this.

                      What makes you believe this, and what makes you think it's a commonly held belief?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: zin1953

                        OK, having read all of this - and we don't chill wines in the freezer - I would think that the bigger potential problem would relate not to the wine, but to the cork/bottle neck.

                        One thing that we DO all know is that glass expands and contracts with temperature. And if left in the freezer too long, any moisture that may have crept along the cork in an older bottle could freeze long before the rest of the bottle would.

                        So, an over-chilled bottle neck could make removing the cork a more interesting exercise.

                      2. Steve K. d'accord...there is a reason an ice bucket for chilling wine is of a certain depth - to keep the bottle neck and cork area out of the cold to facilitate cork removal. Below 45°F cork gets real stiff...and if there is paraffin or wax coating, it stops being a lubricant and acting like an adhesive. Running a cold neck under luckwater water will ease this issue.

                        I believe the caveat is not to leave the wine in the freezer for more than the time it takes to reach "drinking temperature" - subject to the freezer temp, initial wine tem, and all that.
                        Many bars and restaurants (and wine hospitality centers) keep wines in refrigerators as a "ready to serve" inventory...and they have to balance the stock to avoid prolonged exposure to low temperatures.
                        Of course I keep a few bottles of bubbly, and other wines, in a refrigerator, but the problem is keeping an inventory....

                        1. If the speed at which you cool a wine to temperature affects the wine, with the assumption in the OP being that fast is bad, then why have I seen high end wine stores advertise services like "we'll chill any bottle of wine for you in 5 minutes"? Presumably they're not proposing to ruin the wine for you before it even leaves the store.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ballulah

                            The speed per se does not affect the wine.

                            The only problem with a fast chill is that you might get distracted and let it freeze, ruining the wine, or end up much colder than it should be.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              It was more of a rhetorical question for the OP. My point being I can't believe that this would be a service offered in a high end wine store that would negatively affect the wine. The 5 minute blast chill isn't something I could accomplish at home, but I've seen it offered. If I'm doing this at home (obviously not in 5 minutes) I usually set a kitchen timer.

                              1. re: ballulah

                                I'm sorry the OP hasn't returned to the thread to answer the questions made to him, or comment on the thread generally.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  It happens all too often. Like restaurant recs., the OPs seldom give any feedback. It was still an "interesting" thread. However, I do disagree with assertions made in the original.


                          2. This may not be entirely on point with the current discussion of methods of chilling wine, but I found a neat little device on the Brookstone website that digitally reads the temperature on a bottle of wine, and has a little guide indicating the optimal temperature for different varietels. I don't know how accurate it is, but it was only $30.


                            1. You're right, I've worked in the alcohol industry for a long time and there a lot of myths relating to alcohol like wine and beer and the affect that rapid changes in temperature have on them. Rapid changes do not affect either greatly. However, in the same way that an apple will rot faster in a hot car than a fridge, wine and beer will spoil faster the higher the ambient temp.

                              As far as the temperature that white and red wine are served at, I agree that whites are often served too cold. I believe this practice came about as a masking tactic to hide less than perfect wine- a terrible white will be bearable if it's cold enough, and also from attempting to adapt big and heavily oaked whites to hot climates. I have to agree one hundred percent that to properly appreciate the subtlety and complexity of a nice white it should be served at room temperature .

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: usediv

                                While I disagree on the rapid fluctuations in temp, not affecting wines, I agree with the rest.

                                Too many restaurants do serve too cold, so as to hide any defects. These tend to come out full-force with "house wines."

                                Now, serving reds at 90F is as much of a problem. Hence, my insistance on chilling so very many reds in the restaurant situation, but that is fodder for another thread.


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  "While I disagree on the rapid fluctuations in temp, not affecting wines, I agree with the rest."

                                  Bill, does that mean what it appears to mean?................ that you agree with the OP that reducing the temp of a white in the freezer vs. fridge WILL affect it? Seems you're the only one, if you do, so some elaboration would be of interest.

                                  1. re: Midlife

                                    Let go at it from the other direction. I do not like any rapid fluctuations in temp. The fewer, the better for me. This goes from the bottling to the serving. I do not like rapid fluctuations in temp.

                                    All of the winemakers, with whom I have spoken, espouse the same feeling. Gentle is what they like, all of the way around.

                                    Now, have I ever stuck a "welcome wine" into the freezer, when guest arrived an hour early? Yes. I will admit it. Was I happy to do so? No. Will it happen again? Probably, but I hope no time soon.

                                    Sorry if I was not clear.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      I use quick-chill sleeves all the time (faster than sticking the bottle in the freezer, plus if you forget you slipped on a sleeve it won't ruin the wine) and don't find that they affect the flavor. I"ve used them on wines I've bought 5+ cases of and know very well.