The Wine Blog

What Cold Weather Means For Wine

January 30, 2014

Winecicles Are Not So Cool

Find out what happens to wine when it gets too cold


With this winter’s “Polar Vortex” enveloping the nation, we thought we’d take a moment to discuss the little understood issue of what happens to wine when it gets too cold.

Risk 1: What’s that stuff in my glass?

Ever noticed crystals in your wine or a powder-like sediment at the bottom of your bottle or glass? Those are called tartrate crystals sediment-in-wine_thumband they are caused by exposure to extreme cold.

Tartaric acid is one of the three main acids found in wine grapes, along with malic acid and citric acid. This Trifecta is responsible for that tartness in your wine. When a wine gets really cold, some of the tartaric acid isn’t absorbed, and falls as a fine white powder or crystals. These crystals, often referred to as “wine diamonds,” are largely potassium bitartrate (science quiz, everyone!), commonly known as cream of tartar – yes, the very same one in your spice collection!

Some people get freaked out by them, but you really don’t need to throw away the bottle if you see crystals in your wine; they are harmless and all-natural. However, it does feel and taste a bit like sand…

Fun fact: Most commercial cream of tartar is harvested from wineries.

Risk 2: Come delivery day, you might get a nasty surprise

The most obvious side effect of extreme cold is freezing. Although the alcohol in the wine lowers its freezing temperature, it will eventually freeze if it gets cold enough. Wine popsicles, anyone?

Frozen wine is actually the best scenario. Anyone know what happens to liquid when it freezes? That’s right, it expands! And what happens to glass under pressure? That’s right, it breaks! Total bummer for vino traveling in sub-arctic temperatures.

We find wine tastes much better out of the bottle, rather than pooled at the bottom of a box with shards of glass.

What should you take from all of this?  Keeping wine away from extreme cold is rather important.  So when the weather outside is frightful, trust the vintners and retailers who suggest holding off on sending you your wine for a few days until it gets warmer…you’ll be grateful you did.