The Absolute Best Way To Chill Wine

If you poke around certain corners of the Internet, you’ll find all sorts of tricks for speeding up the wine-chilling process. One theory prescribes wrapping a bottle of wine in a wet towel before popping it in the freezer. Another postulates that bottles will chill more quickly stored horizontally than vertically—because “thermodynamics.”

Wrapping the Bottle in a Wet Dish Towel

A bottle of room temperature (70°F) wine will take about 30 minutes to cool to 50°F in a -15°F freezer. The thinking behind wrapping it in a wet towel is that cooling may be sped up by water evaporation, like how sweating helps us humans cool down. Blonder, who explores cooking science questions for his blog Genuine Ideas, actually tested the method a few years ago. As it turns out, wrapping a bottle with a wet towel only works in ideal circumstances, like in a commercial blast freezer with brisk circulating air. In a home freezer—stuffed with three kinds of ice cream, half-filled ice trays, and a bunch of other mysterious foil-wrapped things—the wet towel wrapped around a bottle of wine will actually insulate it because the air is stagnant. Meaning that the towel-wrapped bottle will take even longer to cool than that regular ol’ dry bottle of wine in the freezer.

Science Says: Skip this one.

Chilling a Bottle of Wine Horizontally Instead of Vertically

“It’s a challenging problem for senior college-level physics,” said Halpin-Healy about the theory that you can chill a bottle on its side more quickly than one standing up. He dug up a single theoretical engineering paper—surprisingly not many scientists have devoted themselves to the age-old conundrum of “shit, we forgot to chill the wine”—that ran an experiment with cooling wine bottles at different orientations and calculated that a horizontal bottle would chill 50% faster than a vertical one.

However, those results depend on a number of factors, including a controlled environment aka not your home kitchen. Halpin-Healy explained the underlying science, including the wine bottle’s aspect ratio and something called the Rayleigh Number, to me. Bottom line is that “horizontal wins out over vertical,” but it may not make a huge difference in the real world. Plus, most freezers can only fit horizontal bottles anyway. “Best to use a supercomputer to do the calculation and enjoy a fine Burgundy while it’s chewing on the numbers,” said Halpin-Healy. Fair enough.

Science says: It can’t hurt.