Once chilled, must a wine stay chilled? Is it ruined if it warms up again?
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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Once chilled, must a wine stay chilled? And what’s the best way to keep a wine chilled when you’re serving it?
—Dan, Saugerties, N.Y.
While a cool, constant storage temperature is ideal for wine, it won't be damaged if it’s chilled and then returns to room temperature (and is then chilled again, etc.), at least as long as those temperatures don’t exceed the threshold for heat damage.
Some folks worry that chilled wines will be ruined if they return to room temperature, but that's just not so. They might be thinking of “light-struck” or “skunked” beers. In some scenarios, sunlight can cause a photochemical reaction that forms hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans in beer, which can cause cooked cabbage or struck-match notes. While there is some risk of light damage with wines in clear glass bottles, it’s not going to happen while you’re serving a bottle of wine over the course of a sunny afternoon.
If I open a chilled bottle of wine on a warm day, I’m probably going to try to keep the bottle cool either in the refrigerator, or in an ice bucket (at my house, that’s just a salad bowl) partially filled with water and ice. I've also been eyeing insulated or double-walled ice buckets that limit the mess of condensation. (Keep in mind, however, that “ice cold” isn’t really an ideal serving temperature, either.)
Sometimes, a damp cloth napkin or tea towel draped around the neck of a bottle is all you need to keep it from getting too warm. And in a pinch, I’m not opposed to dropping an ice cube or two in a glass of too-warm wine; yes, it will ever-so-slightly dilute the flavor, but I’d prefer that to a glass of hot wine.