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So you left your bottle of white or red in your car overnight and it froze? Many people would assume the wine is ruined and there is no salvaging it. The truth is you do need to be cautious when it comes to freezing wine as a lot can go wrong but more often than not, you should be perfectly fine.
Will leaving wine in a cold car cause issues? Leaving wine in a car overnight when temperatures can drop below freezing is never a good idea, but it unlikely the bottle will explode if the wine completely freezes and most wines can be thawed with no real noticeable effects to the wine’s integrity and flavor. That said, if the seal is broken, you may run into some issues when you haw your wine.
In this article, we will dive deeper into the possibilities that come with forgetting wine overnight in freezing temperatures and the things to look out for. We will also cover how to thaw your wine the right way to have the greatest chance for a 100% salvaged wine as good as new.
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At What Temperature does Wine Freeze?
Most wines will freeze when its liquid temperature reaches 15-18° F but it largely is dictated by the alcohol content of the wine. Wine with higher levels of the alcohol content will have a lower, or colder, freezing point. This is the case with both red and white wines.
For a more complete breakdown of the temperatures and factors needed for wine to freeze, check out this article I wrote. Wine has a lower freezing point than water but since wine is mostly made of water, as the water molecules in the wine freeze, they expand causing the wine as a whole to freeze.
Even though champagne is typically stored in colder temperatures than reds and even most whites, champagne will also start to freeze when its liquid temperature achieves about that 15° F level.
What all this means is if the air temperature consistently remains below 20° F overnight, there is a pretty good chance your wine will at least partially freeze.
If the air temps are beneath 5° F all night, you ill probably have a bottle frozen solid come morning. The car will insulate the wine some from the cold but I would assume you’ll have a frozen bottle in the morning.
How Long Will it Take to Freeze?
This is a hard question to answer because it all depends on a variety of factors. As I mentioned above, the freezing point for most wines will be around 15° F. If air temperatures outside the car remain around 15° F all night, there is a good chance the car will insulate the wine enough to prevent it from freezing.
However, if the nighttime air temperatures stay below 0° F, not even the car’s insulation can protect it from turning solid. Another factor to consider is the alcohol content of the wine. The higher the alcohol content of the wine, the colder it needs to be to start freezing.
This means wine with a stronger alcohol content-level will freeze slower than ones with a lower or more-normal alcohol content level. I would say if the air temperature is at 10° F all night, there is about a 50/50 chance your normal alcohol-level wine will be frozen in the morning.
This was a quick highlight of the topic, to learn just how long wine will take to freeze, check out this article.
Is It OK to Leave Wine in a Cold Car Overnight?
Although I would not recommend leaving wine in a car overnight during freezing temperatures because some bad things can happen, chances are nothing will go wrong and you should be fine as so should your wine. I wouldn’t advise you to leave your wine in the car overnight if the air temperatures are going to be very cold.
There are too many variables at play that can potentially damage your wine or cause a massive mess if the bottle explodes. There are few if any benefits to leaving wine overnight in your car during the winter.
In most cases, your car should be fine and mess-free and the wine, even if it does freeze through, it can usually be usable.
I also wouldn’t recommend you leave wine in the car overnight if it is warm out and air temps won’t drop below 50° all night as warm temperatures can cause a whole new set of issues for good wine.
Will the Bottle Explode?
There is a concern that your bottle of wine can explode once it freezes solid. Glass bottles full of liquid do exploded or shatter all the time when left in the freezer by accident.
But from every account I could find, the worst that happened when someone left the bottle overnight in the car was the seal broke, perhaps the cork loosened a tad, and the wine froze solid.
I wasn’t able to find any supporting evidence of a bottle of wine exploding in someone’s car. Some people were able to make a bottle of wine freeze and exploded in their freezer but they had to purposely leave it there longer than just 8 hours.
I’m not saying a bottle of wine wouldn’t explode in your car because it is certainly possible. Wine bottles are made with very strong glass and there is a much better chance your cork will pop off relieving pressure than your bottle will explode.
Even if the wine bottle does fail, it will likely shatter into a few large chunks but the frozen wine will remain largely intact.
This means as long as you can clean it up before the frozen wine melts, the mess should be marginal. I just couldn’t find any actual proof of a wine bottle exploding in someone’s car.
Will Frozen Wine be Ruined?
Both red and white wine can be negatively affected by freezing. While frozen wine can be ruined, the more likely scenario is the wine will still maintain all of its notes, flavor, color, and body as long as it is thawed responsibly.
You can try this experiment yourself. Go to the store and buy the cheapest bottles of wine you can find. There’s no need to potentially ruin good wine for the sake of a science experiment. Buy two bottles of the same wine. Freeze one solid and the other leave alone.
After you let the frozen bottle thaw responsibly, pour them into their glasses, and see if you can tell a difference. There is a possibility the frozen wine can smell differently and have more bitter notes but I would bet you that you notice little if any noticeable difference between the two glasses.
This is a scenario where the fear of ruining wine is greater than the actual net result of a frozen bottle of wine. Is it good for wine to freeze? No, of course not but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of evidence it is detrimental to wine either.
How to Properly Thaw Frozen Wine
The proper way to thaw wine that is frozen is by simply letting the frozen bottle rest at room temperature for about 2-3 hours until completely thawed.
This method works for wine bottles frozen in the car or forgotten in the freezer. This should be plenty of time for the frozen wine to transform back to its liquid state.
By not adding any heat to it, you are doing your best to preserve its chemical integrity as you can. Where people can get into trouble is when they try to speed up the process by adding heat. Heat is what is damaging to wine.
Do not try microwaving the bottle of wine. Glass doesn’t do great in the microwave and any exposure to microwave radiation for more than a couple seconds can cause severe chemical damage to the wine.
Likewise, don’t think the defrosting option on your microwave is much better. Separate studies by Scrimgeour & colleagues (2015) and by Butzke & colleagues (2012) showed that exposure to heat is damaging to the color and flavor of the wine.
Some people have reported solid results using a warm blow dryer to slowly warm up the bottle. I don’t think this is the worst approach but heat is the biggest enemy to wine in my opinion so be very cautious. The only technique I would recommend trying is running luke-warm water over the bottom.
Make sure the water is not hot to the touch though. At the end of the day, just wait 2-3 hours for the wine t thaw at room temperature. If you can’t wait that long, you shouldn’t have frozen it in the first place.
Will Red Wine Go Bad if it Gets Cold?
Red wine typically will not go bad if it gets very cold. Red wine usually maintains its flavors, notes, colors, and integrity as long as it is thawed responsibly if frozen or let to rest if merely just very cold but not quite frozen. Do a side-by-side comparison of two bottles of the same red wine with one frozen and the other not.
I will be you as long as you thaw it responsibly, as I showed you how earlier, you probably be able to tell which glass is which in the blind taste test. At the very worst, the red wine may have a very faint tang to it if it loses some fruitiness.
In that event, use it as your cooking wine and you won’t notice the difference. I believe that red wine, as long as it thawed or warmed to its appropriate resting temperature properly, will not be ruined. There are exceptions to every rule, however.
Will White Wine Go Bad if it Gets Cold?
White wine, generally speaking, will not go bad if it gets very cold or freezes as long as it thaws properly. White wines are usually stored at colder temperatures than red wines so they are even more tolerant of cold temperatures.
The real threat to white wine comes not from the cold but rather from any heat applied to speed up the thawing or warming process. Heat is what damages wine on most occasions, not the cold.
Far too many people are concerned about the cold but they really should worry more about how they handle a frozen bottle of wine. As long as you let the bottle of very cold or frozen white wine rest in room temperatures or a wine fridge, you should be fine.
Yes, this will require patience but if that bothers, you shouldn’t have let it freeze in the first place. All else fails and you don’t want to wait, go by a replacement white wine while your current bottle slowly thaws.
General Car Storage Info for Wine
I really wouldn’t recommend ever storing wine in your car unless you don’t have another viable option. I suppose if the air temperatures will be in the 40-50° F-range overnight, you could probably leave your wine in your car until the morning.
This is especially if the car will be cooler than any place you can store it inside a building. I would be concerned more about humidity than temperature though. If it is humid out, I would not keep your wine in a car as this can cause the cork to be damaged and possibly affect your wine.
Scientific Literature Referenced:
Butzke, C. E., Vogt, E. E., & Chacón-Rodríguez, L. (2012). Effects of heat exposure on wine quality during transport and storage. Journal of Wine Research, 23(1), 15-25. DOI:10.1080/09571264.2011.646254 (via: Taylor & Francis)
Scrimgeour, N., Nordestgaard, S., Lloyd, N., & Wilkes, E. (2015). Exploring the effect of elevated storage temperature on wine composition. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research, 21, 713-722. DOI:10.1111/ajgw.12196 (via Wiley)