As the winter months roll around, there are plenty of holidays and feasts to partake in. And as each party requires something fun to brighten the festive atmosphere, it’s a welcome idea to bring a bottle or two of wine. But when the sun sinks lower in the winter months, the thought that a bottle of wine could freeze starts to creep in your head. If you bring a couple of bottles of red to a party but one stays in the backseat of your car, what are the odds that it will be damaged by sitting in sub-zero temperatures? And what would even happen in that situation? The thoughts start to pile into your head whether if it is even possible, and two, what to do when such a situation shows itself.
In this article, we will highlight the possibilities of a bottle of wine freezing as well as the repercussions on both flavor and the strength of the cork, and the bottle’s integrity. Additionally, we will look at the process of cold stabilization that vineyards do before shipping out their bottles, and the creative ways you can consume a half-finished bottle. So without further adieu, let’s start the article by addressing the largest looming question of the day, will wine freeze?
Does wine freeze?
If you’re wondering if wine is going to freeze, the short answer is yes and no. Apologies if you were expecting a more concrete answer to come out of this initial inquiry, but it’s not such a simple answer. Because of the alcohol content within the bottle of booze, the freezing point is going to be a bit lower than a normal bottle of water. For your standard bottle of wine, hovering around a 12.5% alcohol concentration, the freezing point should be near negative six degrees Fahrenheit.
That being said, there are a lot of additional points of emphasis to plan for when trying to freeze a bottle of wine. When factoring in the additional sugars and salts which comprise a bottle of vino, the freezing point will be a bit lower as well. It’s not like a bottle of wine is strictly made of two parts that quickly result in a simple formula of freezing. And in each bottle and style of wine, there will be different additives, tannins, and sugars that alter the specific freezing point
That being said, while the freezing process is occurring, the crystallization of the wine is a super slow process. During the freeze of the wine bottle, ice starts to form, and that initial freeze contains nothing but pure water. So, once you have the two parts in the bottle of pure frozen ice water and the still liquid wine section, the alcohol concentration of that area will be higher to offset the loss to freeze.
And that trickle-down effect means the part of the wine bottle with a now condensed concentration of alcohol, will have a lower freezing point than the previous 750 ml unit of wine. Are you following along? So the freezer will have to be even cooler if you hope to freeze down the wine to the point where the entire thing is 100% solid. However, if you’re hellbent on completely freezing a bottle of wine, continue to read on as we explain the process further.
What’s the freezing point of wine?
If you’re somehow hoping to empty out the ice rink in your backyard and replace the water with wine for a party, know that the freezing point you’re hoping for will probably never come. For a bottle of wine to turn completely solid, you will need to have a really powerful freezer, something better suited for a lab experiment that keeping the frozen bag of peas cool.
Pure ethanol (the alcohol used in a bottle of wine), with a 100% alcohol concentration, has a freezing point of around negative 117 degrees celsius. Obviously far cooler than the interior of your kitchen appliances, so you’ll never have to worry about coming home to a frozen tundra within your green bottles from California or France.
What Happens to a bottle of wine when it is frozen?
Nevertheless, a good bottle of wine shouldn’t be kept in such damaging environments for the sake of the wine’s quality. In the same way, as excess heat can cause unfortunate damages to the bottle and the wine’s flavor, an excess freeze will cause a change in the bottle’s pressure, and the cork’s relationship to the inside and outside of the bottle.
When ice is frozen, its volume is temporarily larger than that of liquid water. This expansion of volume could alter the pressure enough for the cork to slip out and damage the seal. The last thing you’ll hope to have happened is to come home to a damaged wine bottle with an unpreserved cork. The oxidation process will have already begun, rendering the final quality of the bottle a far inferior product than if the cork were to have stayed in its original state.
An even worse degradation could be is the ice damage the neck to the point where there is a crack in the bottle. You’ll be left with a frozen purple lake on the underside of your previously pristine surface, and worse, nothing to accompany your flavorful meal.
At what temperature should I store my wine?
Obviously, it’s bad to freeze your wine, and it’s bad to keep it in conditions too hot for the wine to handle. But that still leaves a lot of leeway regarding the best possible temperature for a bottle of red or white, so let’s try and resolve this question simply and assuredly.
Obviously, no one wants to damage their wine and expose it to extreme temperatures. Sometimes from the mid-’50s to mid-’60s Fahrenheit is the best for the wine’s quality and preservation. You also want to keep it out of direct sunlight and in a cool, dry place. The sunlight will seep through and negatively impact the bottle’s interior. This is the reason most red wines come in a darker shade of glass, to better preserve and protect the bottle’s insides from damaging outside forces.
The chemistry of freezing alcohol
If you’re still interested in how to freeze a bottle of wine completely, well we have you covered. Perhaps better suited for a scientist of any other white lab coat wearing brethren of the vineyard community, we find the science behind this process fascinating and wanted to expand on the prospects a bit more. Essentially, Ethanol, which is the alcohol concentration you find in all your booze bottles, where it be beer, wine or liquor, has a melange point of -114 degrees celsius, or negative 173 Fahrenheit.
This melting point means the official temperature status from when your ethanol passes from the frozen concentration to the liquid point or vice versus. As the bridge between the two forms of matter, it’s a critical temperature point that completely changes the style of liquid we’re addressing.
That being said, most home freezers aren’t going to be able to keep food so cold. The standard home freezer maintains temperatures between negative 23 degrees Celcius and negative 18 degrees celsius, in order to properly store food. Any colder and your freezer could unintentionally damage your food products. Freezer burn is a common symptom of an item that has been left too long in a freezer too cold, and it would be ludicrous for a home and kitchen appliance company to provide this option. Not to mention the added costs of keeping something so cold it could snap it could snap in half!
So your kitchen freezer won’t be able to get your wine that frozen solid, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty darn cold. Normally between negative nine degrees F and zero degrees, Fahrenheit is where a normal kitchen appliance should keep. Anything less and it would defeat the purpose of the product, and anything too strong would overpower the items of your freezer.
What are the alcohol percentages of wine and its closest comparisons?
While we’ve already addressed that wine hovers around 12.5 percent, that doesn’t mean that all alcoholic beverages follow the same standards.
For example, beer hovers between four and six percent but it can go as high as 12 percent. To find a bottle of beer with the same percentage as a glass of wine would be something really dark and filling, so proceed with caution. When a bottle of beer is three times the standard serving expectation, you should be consuming in quadrants a third the size of a normal glass of beer, essentially sipping on it as you would a glass of wine.
And while we’re mentioning wine, there is still some decent variety. Wine is usually around 12 to 15 percent, but a marsala or other fortified wine has a higher concentration. These fortified wines often serve dual purposes as a cooking wine as well, and the higher alcohol concentration allows it to preserve better and respond in a more cohesive way to the flame of a cooked meal. Cooking with wine is a great way to draw our flavorful fruity varieties of a grapevine, and are accompanied well with all sorts of meats and mushroom-like vegetables.
And at the strongest end of the spectrum are distilled liquors. The big three we can rattle off of our head are the classics like gin, vodka, and whiskey, which. hover around 40 percent. But sometimes go higher as well, so be sure to read your labels before you pour that cocktail, or if at a bar, be sure to communicate with the bartender beforehand. It’s important to stay safe and cogent before driving home or scooting off to the next bar.
Winemakers and the cold stabilization process
Often a vineyard will cold-stabilize their wine between negative 5 and 5 degrees celsius before shipping it out. Basically, this is to filter it, taking out the colloids that would settle if the wine were to reach that temperature again.
Cold stabilizing a wine means to remove the unstable potassium bitartrate from the bottle. Now, you may be asking yourself, what on earth does that even mean? The potassium bitartrate is a naturally occurring salt of the grape’s tartaric acid. This acid is the key contributor to a wine’s tartness, a major factor in its overall flavor. Okay, now that we’ve established the definitions, we can move onto the process.
As we mentioned before, often your bottles of red wines will go through a process called cold stabilization before hitting the market. Essentially the winemaking process includes a step where they bring the temperature down to a near freezing point to precipitate the tasteless crystals that potassium tartrate can leave.
There are two main reasons this is done. One, It’s a way to improve the flavor and range of the wine as it is shipped and travels through extreme temperature swings. Like in the back of a huge UPS truck passing through Tulsa Oklahoma on a brisk winter evening.
It also helps preserve the consistency of the flavor through the various years that it sits on the shelf. By ensuring the wine will stay healthy in dire conditions and be able to stay flavorful for many years, it’s a worthwhile step that most vineyards take apart in.
When moving through the process, it generally takes about 14 days for the process to complete. A temperature of about 28 degrees Fahrenheit is the best for the cold stabilization process. This way, unwanted water is removed from the wine and the alcohol concentration is slightly raised. Lower temperatures will cause colloids to precipitate from wine, the most common one being these tartrates. This will impact the wine’s flavor, texture, and pH levels.
While it is a beneficial program, it still takes some time. Unless the tartrate crystals have been seeded, it will take them about two weeks to sink and be able to be removed. In this time, the planning and marketing of the wine start to develop, because this is one of the last steps a bottle of the wine undergoes before it is shipped out across the country and the world.
If you’re wondering what kind of wine works better within this freezing process, know that freezing a white wine versus a red would perhaps bring out a better balance of the hard edges. The tartaric acid reduction is more noticeable in a bottle of red wine than a white, but because a bottle of white wine is often served cooler than a bottle of red, they both benefit from the process.
The only style of wine that wouldn’t benefit would be a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne because it would damage the bubbles and carbon dioxide process.
Once your wine has been frozen and returned from the thaw, the quality has been slightly impacted. Once the thawing has occurred you will see that mainly the acids drop, but also something from the water content of wine is stripped some of the body-heft from our subjective perception.
When would I want to freeze my wine?
Just because you aren’t going to be able to freeze your bottle of wine doesn’t mean it doesn’t sometimes have its benefits. Freezing wine can be beneficial as a way to slow down the oxidation process of an already opened bottle of wine.
But that’s not to mean that you always need to drink your wine properly and at the exactly correct temperatures. Wine cubes are a fun way to spruce up an old red that’s been sitting on the counter for a bit too long. Obviously, at room temperature and a few days flat, the wine has probably lost some of its initial spark and its time to turn it into a new system. Just take your leftover wine can put it into an ice cube tray, and notch your freezer to its coldest setting. The freezing temperature within should be enough to hit the freezing point of wine.
The different kinds of wine correlate to a different frozen wine. Sometimes you may want to make a slushy from champagne, and that will require more than an ice cube or two. So have fun out there and try some fun recipes out.
And as we reviewed in the cold stabilization process, If you try to recreate the same conditions as the wine manufacturer does in the development stage, well you will see some tartrates again, I’m sure. And then the wine may become a bit hazy, the color impacted a bit. But it will still be perfectly drinkable
Wine is not going to freeze completely 100 percent, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be impacted by extreme temperatures. So keep your bottles inside when you can, and outside of direct sunlight, and enjoy your wine any day of the year, from freezing winter days to gorgeous summer highs.
Bonus tip: While you’re at it, check out this video on how to freeze leftover wine!