How do you effectively chill wines to the optimal temperature in order to expose the finest quality? Is the freezer an acceptable method?
The freezer is totally acceptable. But if you are as forgetful as yours truly, you might want to consider alternatives.
Wine is mainly water. When it freezes, it expands. That pressure can shatter glass, resulting in blobs of red slush all over your stash of Hungry-Man Dinners (well, at least my boxes of Hungry-Man Dinner).
If you’re willing to risk it, power to you, though I recommend setting an egg timer for approximately 20 minutes (that time will vary depending on your freezer’s temperature, which typically may be anywhere between minus-15 and minus-30).
Given the wording of your question, I suspect you are curious about whether rapid freezer chilling would somehow chemically shock the wine, leading to unpleasant flavours. I’m pretty confident there is no shock involved, though you might find a few people with unscientific opinions to the contrary. I have never found wine to suffer from a quick chill, and even frozen wine, once thawed, tends to taste just fine. So, fridge or freezer, it doesn’t matter.
One environmentally friendly alternative at this time of year in Canada is simply to set the bottle outside your door – assuming a moderate wind, no curious wildlife and trustworthy neighbours. I’ve been doing this for the past few weeks during the obscene cold spell where I live. If the temperature’s not lower than minus-8, the outdoors is safer than your freezer. Between zero and roughly minus-8 (depending on alcohol content), your wine’s safe (and it will get colder faster than in the freezer thanks to the wind chill – without dropping below the true, non-wind-chill temperature).
Another popular option is the bottle-in-ice-bucket trick. No danger of freezing. You can also invest in a variety of chilling accessories (the wine market is fertile for gadget inventors). My favourite at the moment is the Trudeau Wine Cooling Sleeve, $14.99 at kitchenware stores. It’s filled with gel and stores in the freezer. Strap it around a bottle like a straitjacket and it gets the job done in five to 10 minutes.
The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook and drinks compendium by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, is in bookstores everywhere. Published by HarperCollins.