Most wine consumers don’t stop buying wine in the summer simply because it is hot outside, right? Let’s face it, driving the 20 minutes home after leaving the grocery store isn’t that big a deal after all. However, when tasting and purchasing wines while out tasting in wine country, or even if you have plans between purchasing wine from the store and getting it home to a cool place, steps should be taken to minimize the risk of damage to the bottles of wine. Excessive heat can ruin wine in a matter of minutes, and could even cause damage to your vehicle if the cork pushes all the way out of the bottle. Red wine painted all over your new car’s interior? No one wants that!
First, let’s discuss heat damage and how it affects wine. When a bottle of wine is exposed to elevated temperatures over a period of time, it begins a degradation process. Tannins and acidity become harsh, flavors turn to a baked, prune character, and your closure may easily find its way out of the bottle leaving you with a potentially permanent and unsightly mess. It does not take too warm a temperature to cause such problems. Studies have shown that temperatures over the 70 degree range over a long period of time can have a negative effect on wine. For our discussion purposes today, we are talking about leaving wine in your car in which temperatures can reach well beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even with the windows cracked.
The good news is there is an easy solution to the problem, a cooler! Although I photographed my Yeti cooler for this post, you obviously don’t have to spend a ton of money on a decent cooler to protect your valuable liquid assets. A soft sided cooler with a reusable plastic ice block works just fine. The goal is to keep your wines at a cool temperature long enough to get you back home and get them in a suitable environment.
Leaving wine in your car for ANY length of time in hot temperatures is a bad idea. Once you get into the upper 80s and lower 90s, you can kiss that newly purchased wine goodbye. This is where a cooler really comes in handy. You have the option of using the re-freezable plastic ice blocks, or you can use regular ice as well. With ice, it is a good idea to wrap the bottles in something like a plastic bag, or use some sort of divider to keep them from having direct contact with the ice. It won’t hurt to set your wines on ice for a short period of time either though. Labels would be a main concern with direct ice contact, as moisture is a foe of wine labels.
Another great option if you don’t have a cooler is to simply bring your purchased wines inside with you to the winery, restaurant, or shop you happen to be visiting. Most businesses (especially wineries) are okay with this because no one wants to see ruined wine from being left in a hot car. The downfall with this option is the fact you have to lug your bags or boxes of wine with you wherever you go, not to mention the temperature swings from the winery, to the car, to the next place, and so on.
No matter which method you choose, please do yourself a favor and keep those wines cool! You will be happy you put in the extra effort once you pop the happy cork at a later date.
Sip, savor, and enjoy my fellow aficionados.