Warm wine? Don't panic. F&W's resident wine guru, Ray Isle, experiments with everything from an ice cube to a gadget that will cool your bottle in five minutes flat. 

How to Chill Wine Fast
Credit: © Ben Wiseman

There are a few things in the world that will make wine experts flip out. I once saw a model at a party mix Diet Coke with Château Léoville Las Cases, a famed Bordeaux that runs $175 or so a bottle; I felt like hurling myself between her and the wine, the way you might throw yourself between a baby in a stroller and an oncoming truck. A more common occurrence that causes a lot of sommeliers I know to shudder: watching someone drop a few ice cubes into a glass of wine.

I get it. Warm wine is gross. And if you dump a handful of ice into your Chardonnay, yes, it will get cold, and fast. It will also get watery and weak, but plenty of people don’t mind that trade-off. Last year Diane Keaton released a red wine, The Keaton, specifically meant to be served over lots of ice. I tried it; the wine was big and ripe and perfectly tasty. Served over a fistful of ice, it was thinner and less flavorful, though not unrefreshing.

So what’s the best solution for the warm-wine problem? Planning ahead is one answer, but that’s not always an option. A refrigerator takes about two hours to bring a white wine to an ideal temperature, about 45 degrees. And while people often serve reds at room temperature—around 72 degrees—the truth is that any red wine will taste better at five to 10 degrees below that. Some lighter reds are even good at a brisk 55 degrees.

For a single glass of red, here’s my advice: Drop a normal-size ice cube into your wine, swirl it around with a spoon for five seconds, then remove it. I’ve been doing this for years, but recently I tested it out a bit more scientifically. I stirred a one-ounce ice cube for five seconds in a five-ounce glass of 76-degree wine. When I took out the cube, the wine was 68 degrees and the cube had shed only a quarter ounce of water, a twentieth of the liquid in the glass. Was the wine diluted? Marginally. Did it taste better? Definitely.

Unfortunately, chilling a glass of white from room temperature down to 45 degrees pretty much requires Keaton-level use of ice, thus resulting in Keaton-level dilution (in fact, I’m going to suggest that wine dilution be measured from now on in Keatons). Even if you chuck the whole bottle in the freezer, you’re looking at 45 minutes.

With speed in mind, I tested several wine-chilling gadgets. Most were useless. I did like Le Creuset’s Wine Cooler Sleeve ($25; lecreuset.com), a gel sleeve with a colorful nylon sheath that you store in the freezer. Slide it over a bottle, and the wine will reach 50 degrees in about 25 minutes; however, I suspect its real value lies in keeping already frosty bottles chilled at summer picnics. The Cooper Cooler ($80; coopercooler.com), an appliance that looks like a toaster with a sunroof, was lightning fast, producing a glacially cold bottle in five minutes. It works, however, by spinning the wine rapidly in a water-and-ice bath, which makes a racket reminiscent of a rock tumbler. Perhaps best to keep it in the garage.

The ideal method, to my mind, is still just a bucket of water and ice. Fifteen minutes, and your grand cru Chablis will be crisp, chilled and ready for the party—or for some dingbat to come along and mix it 50/50 with Sprite. For some crimes, there truly is no forgiveness.

Five picnic reds to drink cold

Serve these low-tannin, light-bodied wines at 55˚ or so.

2014 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguié ($10)J. Lohr grows some of the only Valdiguié grapes in existence.

2014 Joan d’Anguera Altaroses ($20) Pure Grenache flavor from Spain.

2015 Valle dell’Acate Frappato ($20) This Sicilian red tastes of strawberries.

2014 Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly ($25) Beaujolais from a top producer.

2015 Wind Gap Soif ($29) Star winemaker Pax Mahle makes this bright old-vine red.