The Fastest Way To Chill A Bottle Of Wine

Posted: Aug 16, 2019

We tested nine methods for cooling wine, and landed on one that will chill your bottle in just five minutes.

If you think time moves slowly when you’re waiting for water to boil, try counting the minutes until that bottle of crushable summer wine you picked off the wine shop shelf chills down to the proper serving temperature in your refrigerator, or even the freezer.

Sure, on a good day I’ve planned ahead, and I return home from work to a perfectly chilled bottle—or two—of crisp, dry white wine. But more often than not, I make plans at the eleventh hour and drag an impulse-bought wine up to my fourth-floor apartment along with all my other groceries (snacks, really), with the goal of popping it open ASAP. It’s on those days that I think to myself, There has got to be a quicker way for me to cool this wine (read: start unwinding sooner) than just tossing it in the freezer and tapping my foot impatiently.

To find out if this is indeed true, I bought nine bottles of wine on my way to work one day and embarked on an online deep dive into the world of accelerated beverage cooling.

The internet had a lot of suggestions. Some people vow that pouring a bottle of wine into a plastic zipper-lock bag before chilling it in the freezer is the absolute fastest way to bring it down to temp—but, if that means serving the wine out of a plastic bag, is it really worth your (post-college) dignity? Others advise wrapping the bottle in a damp cloth before chilling, or plopping it in a fancy ice bucket.

I'm no scientist, and I don't pretend to have an exhaustive knowledge of wine, but with the help of my many experienced Serious Eats colleagues, I decided to put these (and more) methods to the test to find the most efficient way of chilling a bottle of wine, stat.

The Testing
To test which of these techniques was worth the effort, I cooled nine identical screw-top bottles of white wine using various methods suggested to me by colleagues, plus others that I found online, along with one or two that I came up with myself.

Here are the nine methods that we tested:

  1. Bottle in metal ice bucket with salt, agitated constantly
  2. Bottle in metal ice bucket with salt, not agitated
  3. Bottle in metal ice bucket without salt, not agitated
  4. Bottle in metal ice bucket fitted with an immersion circulator set to 45°F (7°C)
  5. Wine poured into a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag, in freezer
  6. Bottle lying horizontally, in freezer
  7. Bottle standing upright, in freezer
  8. Bottle wrapped in a damp cloth, standing upright, in freezer
  9. Bottle standing upright, in refrigerator
  10. I labeled each bottle with the cooling method I'd be testing. Ideally, we would have used a thermometer to take a reading of each bottle's temperature every five seconds, then graphed the results—but alas, we don't have nine of the same thermometer at the Serious Eats test kitchen, and we couldn't engineer a way to place a thermometer in a horizontal bottle of wine, or a zipper-lock bag, without making an enormous mess.

Though it didn't produce absolutely perfect results, I settled for taking the temperature of the wine every five minutes, with Niki's assistance. From a room-temperature measure of 71°F (22°C), we checked to see how long it took each bottle to reach a desired serving temperature of 45°F (7°C).

Whenever the timer went off, we dashed around the kitchen, taking all of the temperature measurements as quickly as possible. While we were able to take measurements of the bottles chilling in the ice buckets without removing them from the buckets, we had to open the fridge and freezer a number of times to take measurements of the bottles there—and, just as repeatedly opening the oven will bring down its temperature, opening and closing the fridge and freezer lets warm air in and cold air out. We know the wine in both the refrigerator and the freezer would have chilled slightly faster had we been able to take measurements without opening the doors.

Though some methods produced equally slow results, the ideal method stood head and shoulders above the rest.

The Results

  1. Bottle in metal ice bucket with salt, agitated constantly: 5 minutes
  2. Bottle in metal ice bucket with salt, not agitated: 11 minutes
  3. Bottle in metal ice bucket without salt, not agitated: 15 minutes (tied for third-fastest)
  4. Bottle in metal ice bucket fitted with an immersion circulator set to 45°F (7°C): 15 minutes (tied for third-fastest)
  5. Wine poured into a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag, in freezer: 50 minutes
  6. Bottle lying horizontally, in freezer: 60 minutes
  7. Bottle standing upright, in freezer: 85 minutes
  8. Bottle wrapped in a damp cloth, standing upright, in freezer: We stopped recording temperature readings after 85 minutes, at which point the wine was still 49°F (9°C).
  9. Bottle standing upright, in refrigerator: We stopped recording temperature readings after 85 minutes, at which point the wine was still 59°F (15°C).
  10. There's a good reason sommeliers put your bottle of white wine in an ice bucket after they pour your first glass: If you've got a big enough container and enough ice, you can surround your wine with icy-cold water, which is always going to cool it faster than cold air.

If you don't have an ice bucket (or a similarly large container), put your wine in the freezer. And, unless you really can’t find a single square inch of extra space in there, place your wine on its side: The additional surface area that comes in contact with the cold surface of your freezer shelf results in much faster cooling than placing a bottle upright to chill. While the horizontal bottle was ready to drink in 60 minutes, the standing one took an extra 25 minutes to get there.

We also tried wrapping a bottle of wine in a damp cloth before standing it upright in the freezer, but this method actually seemed to insulate the bottle; it cooled more slowly than the bottle with no cloth wrapped around it.

The Absolute Best Way to Chill Wine: Spin the Bottle, in a Salted Ice Bath
While the bottles of wine that I popped in the freezer took an hour or more to reach the target serving temperature, the bottle chilled in a salted, agitated ice bath was ready to drink in less than five minutes.

I filled an ice bucket—well, actually, the bowl of a stand mixer; work with what you’ve got, people—with four pounds of ice, two cups of salt, and enough water to reach the neck of the bottle of wine. Water is a good conductor of heat, and creates more points of contact between the bottle and the cooling solution than a bucket of ice with no water could provide.

While taking a constant temperature reading, using a probe thermometer inserted into the open wine bottle, I continuously twisted the bottle's neck, so that it spun in place. Every several minutes, I lifted the bottle slightly out of the water and used it to stir the mixture before setting it back in the bowl.

Doing this, I watched the wine's temperature plummet. The temperature dropped 10°F in the first minute, then nearly 10 degrees every subsequent minute, until it was ready to drink. In five minutes, the bottle was at the desired 45°F.

Like your wine colder? The wine—which chilled at a slightly slower rate as it got colder—reached 36°F (2°C) in eight minutes.

By Elazar Sontag
August 15, 2019
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