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Freezing Red Wine for Cooking

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2000

Will frozen wine produce different results when used in cooking?

So many readers have suggested freezing red wine for cooking that we had to try it. Using a relatively inexpensive, mass-market French red table wine, we made side-by-side pan sauces with wine that had been frozen in ice cube trays for two weeks and wine from a freshly opened bottle. We made each sauce by reducing one-half cup wine to half of its volume over high heat and then swirling in three tablespoons of butter, one at a time, until the sauce was emulsified. Visually, the two sauces differed. The sauce made with frozen wine was lighter in color because many of the dark wine solids had been left behind in the ice cube tray when we turned out the wine cubes. As for flavor, though, not one of our tasters was able to detect any significant difference between the two. Both were delicious.

Sandy Block, a Master of Wine (certified by the Institute of Masters of Wine in London) based in Norwood, Massachusetts, said that chilling a red wine will indeed alter its flavor, probably more so in a complex, delicately balanced wine with many nuances of flavor. The fruit flavors in wine, Block explained, occur at the "middle" of the palate--that is, they are preceded and followed by other flavor sensations. He went on to say that when "red wines are brought to the freezing point, many of the organic compounds which are in solution, principally tannins, pigments, and other polyphenols, precipitate out as solids...causing the wine to lose flavor as well as balance. If a wine's flavors are multidimensional, with full body and strong tannins, they are sure to be flattened out a great deal by freezing, whereas those which are light and simple might not be harmed as much only because they have less to lose."

Thus, in making the decision whether or not to freeze wine for cooking, consider the specific wine. With our simple red table wine, freezing to help reduce waste and introduce more spontaneity seems like a fine idea, but you won't catch us freezing cubes of Château Lafite-Rothschild.