Ah, Valentine’s Day. The food is prepared (as well as looking and smelling delicious), the table is set, candles are lit, the wine is chilled….wait, the wine! Oh no, and your date will arrive in less than half an hour! What do you do?! Have no fear. Science is here.
Chances are that most of you have experienced the method I am about to describe. If you have ever made homemade ice cream, you have. If the highway department in your areas has ever salted an icy road, you have. If you have ever poured rock salt on a frozen sidewalk, you have. Neither the method, nor the science behind it, is new. This is just another application of chemistry in the real world.
The recommended (and sources vary) serving temperature for a white wine is somewhere in the range of 45-50°F. If you watch the video accompanying this article, you will see me demonstrating chilling a bottle of wine from room temperature (74°F) to 50°F in right around 15 minutes. This is done with four things: Cold water, ice, table salt, and patience. Most of the time it would take 30 minutes or more to chill a full bottle of wine to serving temperature, so how did I do it in 15 minutes? That’s where chemistry comes in.
Salt, or sodium chloride, actually lowers the freezing point of water so it can become colder than 32 degrees before freezing. When salt is introduced into an ice bath, the salt contacts the thin layer of water on the melting ice, dissolves, and creates salt water. Salt water has a lower freezing point, so the temperature of the ice bath gets even colder. Since ice is colder than water, when the two come into contact with one another molecules from the ice start moving to the water. Without going into a lesson on thermodynamics, at equilibrium the heat lost by the water as it freezes is equal to the heat gained by the ice as it melts. Think of it as a trading of heat. The sodium and chlorine split into charged ions, resulting in a salty compound that has a freezing point of around -6°F. The colder the ice bath becomes, the faster it will chill your beverage of choice.
I have personally performed this experiment with a 6-pack of beverages, and chilled them in around 6 minutes using the same principal, but a larger container (ice chest) and different amounts of ice and salt. I did not measure the temperature, or the amounts of the ingredients, but it was cold enough to be refreshing in those short minutes, so I didn’t care. In the video, I have measured amounts of each ingredient. I suggest if you choose to try this yourself, experiment with different amounts of each ingredient. I also suggest stirring your ice-water-salt mixture for longer than I do in the video to dissolve the salt faster. This may increase the speed of chilling your beverage. Also, removing the stopper while chilling may add an avenue for the heat to leave the liquid. Lots of variables at play here, so play with them.
So, if this Valentine’s day you find yourself in hot water because of a mistake such as not chilling the wine, get some cold water, ice, and salt, and chill. This can also be a fun party trick to show those who don’t already know about the method, or a good way to chill your favorite beverage at a campsite. Whatever you do, remember, science is your friend. Happy experimenting!