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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Everyone knows high temperatures can damage wine, but has anyone ever determined how quickly damage occurs? For example, if you buy some wine on a hot day, can you make a stop or two on the way home? If so, how long do you have? At what temperature does heat start to damage wine?
—Brian C., Laguna Niguel, Calif.
As awesome as it would be to come up with a formula to find the tipping point when a wine is good one moment and bad the next, it’s not that simple. First off, all wines are different—some are more fragile than others, and if the wine is bottled with a cork, each cork is also a unique snowflake and can react differently to the same conditions. You can have multiple bottles exposed to the same elements, and some might be fine while others are cooked. You’d also have to factor in barometric pressure, whether or not the wines are exposed to UV rays, and how warm or cool the bottles were before they were exposed to extreme temperatures.
You’re right that high temperature is bad for wine—it can create cooked flavors or compromise the cork—so it’s best to avoid extended heat. If you can’t avoid a hot car, consider traveling with a cooler and/or ice packs. My trunk is hotter than the cabin of my car, so on warm days I’ll keep wine up front with me and keep the air conditioner on. An hour or two should probably be OK for younger wines, but I wouldn’t tempt fate beyond that.
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