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How long does it take wine to overheat in a car on a hot day?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


"How long? Not long. Because what you reap is what you sow."
-Rage Against the Machine
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
-Galatians 6:7

Friends, I've got good news and bad news.

Good news first


The good news is Blanchards in West Roxbury, MA has 1.5L bottles of 2007 Donjon CdP for $100 and they're eligible for 15% if part of a mixed 12 bottle case. That's a great price for a great wine from a great vintage.

Donjon is one of my favorite Chateauneuf producers year in and year out. It's like they can't make a bad wine. Even in challenging vintages the wine is tremendous, and the 2007 in particular is spectacular. All juicy, brambly and earthy. If you're able to find 750ml bottles clanging around they typically sell for $55-$60. And magnums of CdP usually sell for more than double the 750ml (for some strange reason).

So $85 for effectively 2 bottles of '07 Donjon and no tax on wine in Massachusetts!

What's the bad news?


The bad news is I bought one of the magnums (last I checked online they had 5 bottles remaining) and did a very dumb thing with it. I accidentally left it in my car during the day and we're experiencing a summer heat wave here in Boston.

Here's how it happened...

Last night I met with a couple of great friends who are into wine for a BYOB night at a restaurant in West Roxbury. Blanchards is in also West Roxbury so we stopped there prior to dinner since I hadn't been there in a while. They had some nice deals especially on daily drinkers! The 2011 Castano Monastrell for $7.99 before discount. The 2011 Juan Gil Comoloco for $7.97 - not eligible for discount but it does qualify towards 12 bottles for the 15% off. With those and a few others I was able to get to 12 bottles no problem.

But then we were going to dinner and had a bunch of wine we didn't know what to do with. It was evening so the sun was going down yet it was still pretty warm - probably in the mid 80Fs. We brought a bunch of bottles into the restaurant with us especially the more expensive ones like the Donjon.

After dinner we brought the wines back to my car and headed home. When I got home I brought in what I thought was all of the wine - a cardboard 12-pack box and a 6-pack carrier.

The next morning I went off to work and visited a customer site. It was toasty out, but I figured I would be inside in air conditioning all day so no biggie, right?

However, when I went out to lunch at noon I heard a couple of bottles clanging around behind the back seat of my car. I got a sinking feeling I'd left some wine in the car from the night before. In fact, I had.

I thought "Good thing I realized this before it got too hot in the car!" However, when I stopped the car and had a look at which bottles were behind my seat I discovered two very bad things:

  1. One of them was the magnum of Donjon!
  2. One of the bottles was already leaking red wine!
Oh dear. It was hot out (91F by noon and headed for a high of 96F) but the car was parked in the shade so I was really surprised the bottles warmed up enough to leak so quickly.

What happens when wine gets hot?


Here's a good article from Jancis Robinson on the subject:

Heat is a quiet killer of fine wine. At just 28 °C, the cork seal breaks, pumping fresh oxygen into the headspace. 
Above 30 °C, in less than 18 hours, the aroma oxidises and loses its brightness, the colour browns, the sulphur dioxide drops, and there is permanent chemical damage to the wine. At 39 °C this damage occurs in just six hours! 
Much of this damage occurs silently, well before the wine seeps out of the cork as a telltale sign. The only indication of this damage is that when the consumer drinks it she says, 'I cannot believe Parker gave this 95 points and my supplier highly recommended it! I trusted him!' The brand loses value, and you lose a customer. 

What now?


It got hot enough for my wine to seep out by noon. Although, I'm not sure whether it was the Donjon -or- the other 750ml bottle I had next to it. I just saw that it leaked on the brown paper bag and the Donjon label. I might get lucky - it might have been the 750ml bottle that leaked first. It would seem logical that a larger bottle would take longer to heat up. But according to the article quoted above even if the wine hasn't seeped out the damage could already be done.

What should I do? Should I drink the wine right away to see if it's bad? Should I devote it to science and drink it alongside a (hopefully) known good other bottle of the same wine as a control? Should I taste it blind to see if I can guess which one is cooked if it's not obvious? I could learn from this situation!

What does "cooked" wine taste like?


Unfortunately I've got some experience with what cooked wine tastes like. When we were moving back to Massachusetts from Arizona I had a couple cases of wine. I didn't want to fly back with it so I took a chance and had the moving company move it along with the rest of our stuff. Bad idea - especially in the middle of summer in Arizona where temps regularly crack 110F.

Every one of the bottles was cooked. I could see red wine remnants on each of the capsules and after tasting one bottle after another I thirsted for something - anything - fresh. Every one of the wines was just dead. Stewy. Non-fresh. Not good.

So I have a sense for what cooked wine smells and tastes like. So I think I'll be able to detect what state this Donjon is in.

Lessons Learned


Obviously the lesson learned is that wine can heat up very quickly in a car - even in New England. A common occurrence in Napa in the summer is for someone to love a wine at a winery, put it in their car, let it roast then wonder why it's not as good at home as it was at the winery. I knew not to leave my wine in the car in the heat, but even when I realized my mistake I thought for sure I'd be okay if the car was in the shade and it was the earlier part of the day for a few hours.

That's not the case and this will make me more conservative when I have wine shipped here - even from in-state retailers and wineries. The back of those FedEx trucks can get warm I bet! Better to be safe than sorry.

The unfortunate irony is I was razzing my friend about being too paranoid about provenance. And I was careless and got burned.

It could be $85 down the drain. Not the end of the world but obviously not the desired state.

How long does it take wine to overheat?


How long? Not long.

I accidentally left the wine in the car for 3 hours and it leaked.
Like Tow Mater says in Cars 2 "I never leak! I never leak!"

What you reap is what you sow.

Be careful with your wines and eliminate owner-inflicted exposure to heat to give yourself the best chance of enjoying your wines at their peak.

It seems like just yesterday we were talking about it being too cold to ship wine. Now it's way too hot. Best to stick to spring and fall shipping schedules and avoid iffy situations in extreme temperatures.

I'll try to find an occasion to pop the Donjon soon. I'll let you know how it goes when I do. Subscribe to the WWP and you'll never miss an update.

Question of the Day: What would you do now if you were in my shoes? Pop the bottle open as soon as possible? Get another bottle as a control to compare this potentially cooked bottle to? Relax and try to enjoy it - it might be fine?

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