Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny



Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I left a case of wine in my car for a day when the temperature was in the upper 80s F. The bottles were very warm when I removed them, and the tops looked like Champagne bottles. Did I kill them in the heat?

—Jeanne L., Hudson, Fla.

Dear Jeanne,

I’m cringing as I type this, because it doesn’t sound good. When a wine gets hot, the liquid inside expands, and the only place it can go is out, placing pressure on the cork or seeping past it. And your wine likely got much hotter than the upper 80s: According the Centers for Disease Control, when it's more than 80° F outside, the temperature inside a car can easily reach more than 150° F. If your corks have pushed out—which is what I’m guessing you’re describing by saying they look like Champagne corks—your wine almost certainly got too hot. A sticky residue of wine on the outside of the cork is another sign of heat damage.

This is bad for two reasons. First, if a wine is exposed to that much heat, the flavors can become “cooked,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: The wine’s fresh fruit flavors are replaced by stewed or baked notes. There’s no formula for how long it takes for this to happen, but that long a time in that much heat is probably enough to do it. Second, if the cork expands and contracts, that process can let oxygen into the bottle, and that means the wines will start aging prematurely, taking on nutty and bruised apple notes.

There’s not much good news, except that it won’t make you ill to try the wines, and that sometimes a wine can still be drinkable or even enjoyable despite all of these signs. The only way to know for sure is to pop some corks and taste for yourself. Good luck!

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers


WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.