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Q & A: freezing wine

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Q:
If i have a bottle of wine in my car trunk. It is 12.5% alcohol at what temp would it freeze? Thank you
- ron (age 58)
burnsville mn
A:
The freezing point would be lowered from 0 C to about -6 C by the alcohol alone. In addition, there are some sugars, salts, etc. which will lower the freezing point a little more.

It's important to realize, however, that the wine will not all freeze if cooled down to that freezing point. When some ice starts to form, it contains almost pure water, leaving the remaining liquid with an increased concentration of alcohol etc, and hence a lower freezing point. Pure ethanol has a freezing point of around -117 C. So even if your car gets cold, you'll get wine slush, not solid wine ice.

Nonetheless, if it's good wine, you shouldn't be carrying it around in the trunk because it might be damaged by heat. Also, if some does freeze, the increased volume of the ice (water is weird that way) might increase the pressure enough to slide the cork out some, and degrade the seal. If you were more unlucky, perhaps the ice could plug the neck and the bottle might crack.

Mike W.

(republished on 07/25/06)

Follow-Up #1: freezing wine

Q:
While I understand wine shouldnt be left in a car trunk - my car is quite interesting. I could live comfortably on the contents for several weeks. So that would include wine. I lost 3 bottles of red wine when the freezing water in the wine pushed the cork out. It left quite the nasty stain (red wine) on my carpet and I was afraid to be pulled over by the police, because in effect, my entire car was an open container. So, at what temperature does the water in wine freeze? Adding in the variant of the car being closed, so it is slightly warmer than the outside. Does wind chill affect it?
- Jane (age 47)
Frostburg, MD, USA
A:
Hi Jane- Sorry we had to spoil your spelling, but a glitch in our program rejects apostrophes in questions.

The precise initial freezing point of wine will depend mainly on the alcohol concentration but also on the amount of sugar and other solutes. A typical red wine should run about -6C or 22F.  Since the wine left behind when a little has frozen will be more concentrated, the amount frozen will increase steadily below that initial freezing point.

Of course the car takes a while to cool down, so that gives you a little leeway. The time it takes to cool is shorter if the wind is blowing.

Mike W.

(published on 12/04/07)

Follow-Up #2: making brandy

Q:
I make my own wine and the alcohol content is about 16%. By lowering the temperature enough to start freezing the water , do you think I can produce a brandy.
- scotty (age 77)
Seeley Lake, Montana
A:
It should work. My great-grandfather used to do that with hard cider,

Mike W.

(published on 12/08/07)

Follow-Up #3: Freezing point of Everclear alcohol-water mix

Q:
Why is the freezing temperature of everclear lower than the freezing temperature of water?
- Olin and Cash Middleton (age 32)
Unionville, Missouri
A:
Hi Olin and Cash;  welcome to the Physics Van.

As you probably know, Everclear is a potent mixture of ethyl alcohol and creekwater.  It's alcoholic content is from 75 to 95 percent (150 to 190 proof).  Here is a table that shows the freezing point of various mixtures of alcohol and water: the more alcohol, the lower the freezing point. 

Freezing Point
Ethanol Concentration
(% by volume)
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Temperature (oF) 32 25 15 5 -10 -25 -35 -55 -75 -110 -175
(oC) 0 -4 -9 -15 -23 -32 -37 -48 -59 -73 -115

Now for an explanation of why different substances freeze at different temperatures.  It's because the molecules that make them up are different. Some kinds of molecules have stronger forces holding molecules to each other than other kinds of molecules. In water, for example, the positively charged hydrogen end of the molecule electrostatically attracts the negatively charged part of neighboring water molecules to form "hydrogen bonds". These are responsible for the cohesion of water molecules in the liquid and the arrangement of water molecules in ice.  Ethyl alcohol doesn't have that attractive end that form bonds. 

Other kinds of substances have different freezing points. For example, nitrogen molecules have only very weak attractive forces between each other (although the bond between the two nitrogen atoms in an N2 molecule is very very strong). Consequently, nitrogen freezes at a much lower temperature than water. It even liquifies at a much lower temperature than water: -195.8 Celsius. It freezes solid at -209.86 C.

LeeH

(published on 09/08/11)

Follow-Up #4: making brandy

Q:
I'm trying to make brandy. I'm fermenting the mixture. When complete can I freeze the wine and invert the container to let the water melt and drain out. Would i than have brandy.
- Gil Linderman (age 67)
Mundelein, IL USA
A:
This sounds backwards. The ice should be almost pure water. It's the liquid that will have all the alcohol and sugar, etc.

Mike W.

(published on 02/05/12)

Follow-Up #5: frozen wine

Q:
Yes, I am waiting for it to thaw, and yes, I will sample it! But, was more curious as to the theoretical answer. My forgotten Pinot Gris in the freezer over night is now a solid popsicle. Given that the H2o will freeze first, and the ethanol pure at -117C, Im assuming that that which has leaked out around the wine seal is the goodness? So, if alcoholic content is 13% and volume 750ml, should there be any frozen wine (and therefore h2o) spilt out, that would be an indicator that the frozen H2o volume exceeded the vessel and that there could be no room for the ethanol, correct? Or, could there be some ethanol 'trapped' in the wine? Can't actually see any liquid ethanol in the freezer, which I would have expected. Ideas? Cheers!
- Dan (age 31)
Queenstown, New Zealand
A:
This is an interesting and obviously important question.The volume of the water + ethanol solution is a little lower, about 2%, than the sum of their separate volumes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Excess_Volume_Mixture_of_Ethanol_and_Water.png) So separating them by freezing the water would cause 2% growth in volume in addition to the about 7% overall growth from the ~8% growth of the ice compared to liquid water. So you should get a net volume of ice +liquid around 820 ml or so. At most about 70 ml would be pushed out, less if you allow for a little air space to start with. There should have been about 97 ml of ethanol for starters, so as you say it seems like there should be some ethanol left. My guess is that it's more likely trapped in little cracks in the ice, with very little as individual molecules stuck in the ice.

Mike W.

(published on 01/24/13)

Follow-Up #6: concentrating alcohol by freezing

Q:
I am intrested in using fractional crystallization to increase the alcohol content of home brewed alcohol, I know that the higher test beverages will require temperatures near -80 F range or lower but don't know where I need to be to get to 80% or 40 proof results, using a pot still or especially a reflux still will strip any flavor from the beverage while f/c will only intensify the flavor, your thoughts please.
- D. Sherman (age 53)
puerto rico
A:

I've put this in a thread that discusses the same issue. Notice the table Lee included above.

It's unclear what you're aiming for, since 80% is 160 proof and 40% is 80 proof. If you're aiming for 40% alcohol, normal for a hard drink, that corresponds to a -10°F freezing point. Since there are other solutes in there (sugar, etc.) you'll need a slightly lower temperature.

If you're really aiming for 80% then you will need near -80°F, not as easy to reach.

Mike W.


(published on 01/27/14)

Follow-up on this answer.