I wish I could say it was a science experiment but it was really just an accident. I’d done what many of us do when a guest asks for a glass of white wine and you have none chilled: throw it in the freezer for a few minutes.
When I went to retrieve it, the wine had pretty much solidified, and thawing it out was going to take some time. Winesicles, anyone??
So what happens to the wine if, say, it’s left in the freezer for a few hours? Or worse. Overnight?!
During the process of winemaking, a phenomenon takes place called tartrate or cold stabilization ~ where the wine is purposefully chilled down freezing for a short amount of time during fermentation. This is done to prevent the formation of tartaric acid crystals – wine ‘diamonds’ – after bottling. If cold stabilization doesn’t happen, the chances increase that crystals will form as soon as you place the bottle in the refrigerator or if it’s stored for long periods of time. Sometimes the crystals can look like tiny shards of glass in the bottle or when your pour it in your glass. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with the wine if you notice these crystals in the bottle or on the cork; tartaric acid is a naturally occurring function in wine making. After fermentation, some wines have an excess saturation of tartaric acid which solidifies and forms crystals. Chilling it out prevents this from occurring.
Better Safe Than Sorry
So if wine in the bottle freezes does it go bad? Before we talk about the wine inside, there are some safety issues to consider:
• If your bottle has a cork, freezing might push it out. As the water content of the wine begins to freeze, it can expand and push out the cork especially if there isn’t much space in the bottle.
• Your bottle may burst. As the air surrounding the bottle rapidly cools, the liquid inside rapidly expands and Ka-BOOM! A bottle rocket in your freezer.
• NEVER, ever freeze any sparkling wine! The contents are under pressure as it is and freezing will increase the odds of it exploding.
Spin the Bottle
If you want to quick-chill any wine quickly, Somm Brian Smith recommends: “filling a bucket with 50 | 50 mix of ice and water, a little salt, and then take a spoon and spin it around and around the bottle.” The centrifugal force will move the rapidly chilling water around the bottle allowing more of the contents to come in contact with the cold glass. Cool!
Keep in mind that wine that has been frozen doesn’t miraculously become… Ice Wine. Sorry, I know you’re thinking, “It’s iced up, and it’s wine so…” but nope. And honestly, it’s really not worth the risk of popped corks or exploding bottles.
The good news is: for the most part, the wine inside will not be damaged. While freezing can separate the water from other components of the wine, and this has the potential alter the flavor somewhat, it’s generally so subtle that no one will notice.
So chill! That frozen bottle you forgot about might be a little crunchy at first, but as it thaws, it should taste the same as it ever was. Just really, really cold.