For when the weather outside is frightful: tips for transporting wine in cold weather.
Over the summer Europe was hit with record heatwaves. Back then we did a blog post on Tips for Transporting Wine in Heat to help circumvent cooked wine. Of course we are now entering the timeframe that is the antithesis - transporting wine in cold weather.
So close to Christmas and New Year’s a lot of people transport wine for their holiday festivities. Whether your planning airline travel, road trips, or shipping wine, it’s important to know how to make sure you don’t freeze your wine. It can have just as much of a negative affect on your juice as cooking it.
Understanding wine temperatures
We know that water freezes at 0 °C / 32 °F. Wine is primarily water, made up of somewhere between 12 and 15 percent alcohol. That said, wine freezes at temperatures between -9 to -6 °C / 15° to 20° F. What’s the big deal, you ask? Wine exposed to extreme cold conditions can have muted scents and flavor. In addition, the bottle itself can crack, and the cork may be comprised, both leading to oxidation.
So, how do you ensure the health of your bottles when transporting wine in cold weather?
1. Take wine inside. The easiest way to safeguard your wine is to make sure they are not exposed to cold conditions. Temperatures drop dramatically from night to morning, and without the protection of your warmed up car, they are sure to be affected in freezing conditions.
2. If you are on a road trip and don’t want to lug your bottles into an overnight stop, package them in a styrofoam wine packing container. Studies have shown that these boxes are insulated enough to deter significant temperature fluctuation. On trips we pack our wine in the Lazenne Wine Check. They come with a styrofoam shipping container that protects the bottles, and the wheeled bottom makes it easy to get them from the car, inside, and back again.
3. If you are shipping your wine, use a shipper that uses heated vehicles so the bottles aren’t left in the cold overnight or during an extended stop. If you can’t be sure of either, hold the wine until temperatures increase.
There is nothing better than opening a nice red in front of a fire on a cold night, so keep that wine at its best with these tips. If you have other tips for traveling with wine in cold weather, please leave them in a comment below.
We recently learned about this issue first hand when shipping some wine and Champagne, from France to Poland. With the temperature well into the negatives, some of our bottles simply froze, pushed up the cork, and leaked. Our decision to ship the bottles, instead of taking them with us on the airplane (shipping was more expensive, but less luggage to and from the airport), was regretful and we have learned our lesson. We will be using our wine luggage from now on.
If you look around the world of wine today, you'll notice that most wine is made with the same grape varieties. Pretty much every 'New World' country produces wines made from grapes native to France; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot... the list goes on. This is no bad thing as stylistically, all the above varieties can be drastically different depending upon climate, soil, viticulture and vinification. The vast majority of glossy, bold Shiraz from Australia is, literally and figuratively, a world away from the savoury, peppery wines of the Northern Rhone, for example. However, in the last 10 years the fashion has been to move away from seeking out the 'best' examples of these well known varieties and instead to look for unique expressions, typically from grapes native to specific countries and regions. This has seen the emergence of some new stars in the world of wine, from the austere, mineral wines of Mount Etna in Sicily to the powerful, racy Assyrtiko of Santorini in Greece. Austria has re-modelled its vinous reputation with the versatile Grüner Veltliner and even as afar as South America, Bonarda and Pais are resurging on both sides of the Andes, in Argentina and Chile respectively.
However, no country has been rediscovered in quite the same way as Spain. There are somewhere in the region of 600 grape varieties on the Iberian Peninsula, the vast majority of them indigenous and regionally specific in production. Despite this, Spain was for decades synonymous with oaky, extracted wines from Rioja, and to a lesser extent Ribera del Duero, with Tempranillo the only celebrated indigenous grape hailing from the country. Short-sighted producers ripped up their old, unfashionable vineyards and replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and anything that was currently selling, not realising that in doing so they were giving up their major point of difference on the international market-place. However, this wasn't true for all producers and quietly, many went about their business as they had done for centuries; cultivating their families vineyards and producing wines of distinction and style, as their vines slowly became older, sturdier and produced better quality fruit. To look at the market now compared to 20 years ago is staggering. Shops in Barcelona are awash with local Catalan wines, Galician field-blends are appearing in top restaurants across the world and even Sherry is making a come-back! To cover the entirety of this resurgence would take a strong liver and a lot of time, but I'd like to share a few exciting varieties from my own little corner of Spain, the fiercely independent Catalunya:
Wine is a fussy product. Starting from its very beginnings as embryonic genetic material located on the buds of vines, to its moment of glory in your glass, there are countless chemical reactions, pitfalls and opportunities to be navigated and controlled in order to create a good bottle of wine. The vast majority of these is, fortunately, taken care of by the time we actually buy a bottle of wine, as the vigneron has spent the entire year wrestling against nature, ensuring the right balance of sugars, acids and flavour compounds, before handing over the baton to the wine-maker. This is where the grapes will be converted into wine through the magical process of fermentation, possibly aged and then bottled with care being taken to ensure biological stability. Then depending on where the wine is to be sold, it will go through a long or short supply route, potentially crossing oceans, continents and all sorts of checks before it finally appears on a shop shelf or restaurant list somewhere in the world.
Enter us; the consumer. We purchase the wine with the intention of one day drinking it, whether that be within minutes of the purchase, or 20 years down the line, after extended storage to allow for it to evolve within the bottle. Assuming the bottle has been purchased close to home and you intend to drink it in the near future, this is all well and good as any issues of storage are very much the responsibility of the retailer/restaurant and bottles can be returned for a refund. However, if you're buying the wine far from home, possibly, abroad, we run into some potential issues quite quickly.
Having just come back from a two week trip to the Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily we thought we'd share some of the best wine stores we came across travelling in the region. I must say I love the "enoteca" concept in Italy, where you can come for an aperitivo, taste local wines by the glass with some food, and then purchase bottles that you've tasted and liked. We loved visiting and tasting wines directly at the wineries of course, but the experience of tasting different producers side by side, and the ability to try older vintages can only be done at an enoteca.