No Ice, No Fridge: Five Ways to Cool Wine

Some of these challenges are less serious than others, but that does not mean they are always easy to solve. A modern-day stumper is how to chill a bottle of wine without any ice.

Maybe you are camping. Maybe you are stranded on a desert island, or just in a hotel room with few amenities. Maybe you have the perfect ice maker for a party but the power is out. Everyone has been in situations where the modern conveniences we take for granted go missing so here are five solutions to chill your wine.

Moving Water

In Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, there is a long passage describing the joys of cooling wine in a mountain stream. Most of us do not have a handy mountain stream in our cupboard, but cold moving water is still an exceptionally good coolant. It absorbs a lot of heat quickly, and it carries the heat away. Ideally, you should stand the bottle upright under a cold water tap and run just enough water so that it is flowing over the entire surface of the glass. More will not help, you'll just waste water.

But maybe you don't have a nice deep sink handy. If you can take a few minutes, and keep turning the bottle so you get good coverage, you could also use a shallow bathroom sink, a hose bib, or a public drinking fountain. (If you aren't squeamish—and you can hide out from anyone who is—you can immerse the bottle in the tank reservoir of a toilet, and then flush it a few times. It's perfectly hygienic, and people aren't likely to ask questions about an ice-cold Chablis, but still....)

The Ocean Breeze

If you don't have water on tap, but you still have water, you can create an ersatz ocean breeze. Place the bottle of wine in a tub of water...this time you want to lay it sideways, because you want to create a tub with the largest possible surface area of water. Then run a fan on the tub, or leave it somewhere in the breeze. Evaporative cooling will chill the water, which will chill the wine. Note that a classic trick for cooling drinks relies on ice water, a pinch of salt, and some high school chemistry. Unfortunately, people are often a little rusty on their high school chemistry and think that it is possible to skip the ice. You can't. Salt water, by itself, will not cool a drink down any faster than regular water. The only thing that speeds up the cooling in a water bath is evaporation.

Your Car

Even on a swelteringly hot day, you can use a car to cool things. Run the AC full blast out of the floor vents, and crack the windows. This gives you the best patch of pure cold air, down in the foot well. Please do this while you are commuting, not idling, or you will melt the icecaps...and that counts as using ice, doesn't it?

Propane Grill Method

This is not only one of the most effective methods of cooling a wine bottle, it is one of...ah...the coolest. If you are using a propane grill, you may notice that the bottom half of the tank gets very cold while the grill is running. (This is, by the way, a matter of evaporative cooling inside the tank, where the propane is mostly in liquid form.) If you wrap your wine bottle in a wet towel and jam it against the side of the propane tank—again, the lower half—it will get very cold within a few minutes.

Pouring in the Shade

Even on a hot day, some parts of your house are sure to be a little colder than others. Perhaps you have a basement or just the shaded side of the garage. If you planned ahead, you've been storing the wine in the coolest place you have. But even if you weren't, you can shave a few degrees off by pouring the wine somewhere cool. You also want to pour it from fairly high up, depending on how good your aim is. Wine being poured through cool air will dump heat much more quickly than wine sitting in a bottle. (Don't use this technique with sparkling wine, as you will lose most of the bubbles).

Another version of the same technique: take your bottle and two-quart pitchers, go somewhere cold, and pour the wine back and forth between the two pitchers a few times. Now it is both cold and aerated, and you can go back and serve it.

Bonus Tip:

All of the methods above work a little more quickly if you swirl the wine in the bottle beforehand. Otherwise, you are mainly cooling the wine that is right next to the glass. Shaking a bottle gets the wine moving around, but it stops quickly: swirling can last for several minutes after you put the wine under the tap or into the tub. Again, do not do this with sparkling wines, since the time you save in cooling them you will lose again as you wait for the carbonation to settle down.

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