Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Frozen wine?

~Someone recently called my attention to an online wine columnist who makes the claim that freezing a wine makes it “better.”
~I normally discount the subjective opinion of words like “better, worse, good, bad” etc. Subjectivity is a personal opinion and not a technical one that can be reproduced, and so you must take its value with a grain of salt…
~Yet, I know that freezing wine doesn’t really hurt it, which means the possibility exists that it may help the wine, and so I decided to do an experiment, to freeze a wine and then to see what the process had done to the wine in comparison to it in its natural, out-of-the-bottle state. Here’s what I did.
I took a Spanish red wine from the La Mancha district, which happens to be Europe’s largest wine region demarcation. This is a mainly arid region south of Madrid; its name interprets into “parched earth.” The wine I selected was produced from 100% tempranillo grapes, the so-called spine grape of Spain.
I opened the bottle, poured a one-ounce taste into a glass and then split the bottle into three 8-ounce portions, each into its own sealed jar, and placed all three jars into the freezer to rest for eight days.
I smelled and tasted the sample pour from the bottle and made notes.
When the eight days were up I took the three jars out of the freezer. I put one jar in a convection oven, which I set on “defrost” for an hour. I put a second jar on the kitchen counter and let it sit for an hour. I left the third jar in the freezer. I also took a second bottle of the wine, set it on the kitchen counter—unopened—and let it wait for an hour.
Four minutes before the hour was up, I took the third jar out of the freezer and defrosted it on a four minute setting in the microwave. Then, into three separate glasses I poured the wine that had defrosted in the jars—one glass for each jar—at about two ounces each. I opened the bottle and poured two ounces of wine into a fourth glass. I let all four glasses sit for 45 minutes, to get them all at the temperature of the room.
~I called my friend. He was responsible for serving the four glasses to me—blind—so that I would not know which wine in which glass I was evaluating. My evaluations of the frozen wines and the second bottle of wine were to be compared with my original notes on the first bottle that I had opened eight days prior.
~Here are my results.
Impressions from the first bottle.
Appearance: deep, ruby, with transparent clarity.
Nose: dark, lush fruit and cedar wood.
Taste: tart black cherry, tannic, bitter finish, wood on the edges—great middle palate or spine.
Impressions from the four glasses.
Glass 1—deep, ruby, opaque.
Glass 2—deep, ruby, transparent.
Glass 3—deep, ruby, opaque.
Glass 4—deep, ruby, opaque.
The glasses were switched around.
Glass 1—flat, hardly any nose.
Glass 2—flat, hardly any nose.
Glass 3—hint of fruit.
Glass 4—fine, lush fruit and cedar.
The glasses were switched around again.
Glass 1—soft, almost sweet sensation, vacant middle.
Glass 2—sweet cherries, soft tannin, prominent wood, vacant middle.
Glass 3—tart cherries, tannic, wood, biting middle palate.
Glass 4—soft, almost sweet sensation, vacant middle.
For Appearance, glass 1 was the microwave defrost, glass 2 was the fresh bottle, glass 3 was the convection defrost, glass 4 was the countertop defrost.
For Nose, glass 1 was the convection defrost, glass 2 was the countertop defrost, glass 3 was the microwave defrost, glass 4 was the fresh bottle.
For Taste, glass 1 was the convection defrost, glass 2 was the microwave defrost, glass 3 was the fresh bottle, glass 4 was the countertop defrost.
~My interpretation of the results:
Certainly, freezing wine changes it. In this test, the freezing indicated that acidity was lowered significantly, which I already knew would happen, and which accounts for the opaqueness of the wine, with tartaric acid crystals floating in the wine as they dropped out from the cold. The lower acidity made the wine taste softer and even made it seem sweeter.
More striking, to me, is that each frozen sample seemed to lose its middle—its spine—making the mouthfeel of the wine rather thin and uninteresting to me.

~If I had to make a subjective remark about the wines that had been frozen I certainly would not use the word “better” to describe them, mainly because I don’t care for flabby wines that are empty in the middle.
~All I can say is that freezing doesn’t necessarily ruin the wine, but it certainly makes it different, which is what I suspected all along.
~Whenever someone tells me that a wine he or she had stored in a particular manner tasted a week later just as it had when the bottle was first open I say that you can’t be sure about that unless you compare the stored wine with a fresh bottle—but most people don’t do that, and so the information is rather meaningless to me. The wine guy who says that freezing makes wine better has issued an opinion, but he doesn't seem to know what he is talking about.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
March, 2007. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Thanks,
    My wine cooler went haywire and froze 50 bottles of red wine. My question is should I drink the wines that did not loose the cork ASAP, or will they still shelve ok? Your test had the same results that I tasted with my frozen wine.

    Thanks Again,

  2. They may shelve ok, but they are also likely to lose something in their acidity and taste; maybe not enough to notice.

  3. thank you so much for the info.
    our class is currently learning about wines and spirits and i have some questions which you have answered. thanx again.- ferdz