You may be wondering about that case of wine you left in the trunk of your car as temperatures are dropping outside. How cold can it get before you should go rescue your wine? And if your wine does freeze, will it still be drinkable once it thaws, or is it ruined?
The freezing point of wine
Unlike water, there is not a universal temperature at which wine freezes. The freezing point of wine is dependent on its alcohol and sugar content, but as a rule of thumb most wine will freeze between 15-20° F (-9.4 to -6.7° C). Since the freezing point of alcohol is lower than that of water, wine with a higher alcohol content will have a lower freezing point. Sugar will also depress the freezing point of wine, so sweeter wines with more sugar will have a lower freezing point. Here’s a handy chart you can use to determine the approximate freezing point for your specific bottle of wine.
What happens when wine freezes?
While extreme cold temperatures are less damaging to wine than extreme heat, there will still be consequences if you forget that bottle in the freezer overnight or in the trunk on a very cold day.
The immediate threat, though unlikely, is a cracked bottle. As wine freezes it expands and puts pressure on the bottle containing it. If the glass is particularly weak it may start to break. More likely, however, is that the pressure will be directed towards the cork, which is the weakest point of the bottle. The cork will start to move outward as the wine expands and may be damaged in the process. Air can start to creep in through the cracks, and your wine will start to oxidize. This damage may be imperceptible, so it’s safest to drink your wine within a few days after it freezes.
The second thing that will happen when your wine freezes is that tartrate crystals will begin to form. This can alter the flavor profile of the wine, though it may be a subtle change. You may also see these crystals floating in the bottle, but don’t worry, they’re safe to drink (or can be easily filtered out).
What about sparkling wine or champagne?
While it’s fairly safe for both you and your wine to freeze a red or white bottle, you need to be especially careful when it comes to sparkling wine. Sparkling wine is already pressurized, and as it freezes additional pressure will be placed on the bottle and cork as the water inside it expands. This means your sparkling wine is even more likely to explode than a regular bottle when frozen.
If you accidentally find yourself with a frozen bottle of champagne, don’t open it immediately. Let it thaw in a safe location, then once it’s warmed up a little you can enjoy it as normal.
Your wine can probably survive a freezing without too much detriment to the quality, especially if you’re planning to drink it within a few days. Be careful with those bottles that you want to age, however, since a damaged cork could prematurely oxidize your wine.
You may also be concerned about ordering wine online when it’s below freezing out—you don’t want it freezing on the way over. Don’t worry, when ordering directly from a winery or through Sip Wines, they want to protect your wine as much as you do. Wineries will monitor the weather and will hold your shipment for you if an extreme cold front is hitting. Your wine may come a few days later, but you (and your wine) will be thankful when it comes time to drink it.