I walked through Target, marveling at China’s manufacturing prowess, then something caught my eye. Beneath a red clearance sign was a humble mound of black plastic: a wine chiller.
Customers at my wine shop had asked me if we have a rapid chiller. My answer sent them to the freezer and twenty minutes of patience. But I had little clue what they meant. Curiosity made me pick it up.
The brand was Waring Pro. Everything seemed in order. The LCD screen and buttons were straightforward. The metal enclosure adequate for any 750 ml bottle. The detached cloth collar insulated and doubled as a silly hat. The plug looked fine. There was even a pointless foil cutter. But the chiller had no box.
Originally $99.99, orange stickers had slashed it to $25. Someone had probably returned what was once a gift. But why? Was it broken? Impractical? Misunderstood? I decided to do the charitable thing and give the poor, abandoned retch a second life.
Once home and hungry, I grabbed a bottle, plugged in the chiller and pressed power. The LCD beeped to life with a blue glow. I selected “WINE LIBRARY”, then “WHITE WINE”, and rolled through the options. Fourteen choices of “whites”, from “ZINFANDEL 59F” (*shudder*) to “SOAVE 41F”, followed (I assume “POLYFUISSE” is a type of fabric). Then I selected CHARDONNAY, and a loud whirring kicked in.
Over the following hour, my wife and I tried to ignore the constant hum. The bottle temperature shed one degree every few minutes. Dinner was cold, but the wine still wasn’t.
With ample time to spare, I searched for reviews. Amazon.com slighted Waring’s chiller with 2.5 stars. Most reviewers raged at it wasting their lives. Some turned to science. With thermometers and multiple bottles, one tested Waring Pro against their fridge. The fridge won. But they had asked the wrong question. The chiller brings wine to the ideal temp. It’s not meant to be fast, just accurate. But then is it?
Another review put an already cycled bottle back into the chiller. Before, the machine claimed to have taken the bottle from 77 to 46 degrees, but once back in, it said the bottle was still only 61F. Even the room temp reading was off by seven degrees. Clearly its air-temp thermometer is a bit numb.
Then, an odd silence came. The fan had stopped. A ding sounded, with “CHEERS!” exclaimed on the LCD. I checked the bottle. The base that touched the chiller’s inside was cold, but the rest of the glass was warm. I poured it anyway. Also warm. Ew.
Basically, without a thermometer inside the bottle, Waring’s chiller only knows the bottle’s exterior temperature. Maybe if it was calibrated with an equation that factored the bottle-to-liquid time of change it could work. But air chills slowly and unevenly. There’s simply too much space between the metal interior and the bottle. If you could immerse the bottle in something more conductive like water, then maybe it might manage more consistently.
But why chill it in the first place?
Temperature alters how we experience wine. The colder a wine, the fewer volatile flavor compounds evaporate. That means you smell and taste less stuff: from sweetness and acidity to alcohol and faults. Cold retains fizz longer. Whites seem more refreshing. But chilling will emphasize tannins and bitterness, while masking the bouquet. So serve tannic reds warm (59-64F), complex whites slightly colder (54-61F), soft, light reds below that (50-55F), generic whites, rosé, fizz and desserts coldest (43-50F). Either way, we often drink reds too warm and whites too cold.
Cold enough, little more than a red’s color would give it away. It’s body would seem lighter, it’s intensity quieter. Conversely, a warm white would appear richer and heavier. If both a white and red were made the same way (with the same yeast, ferment time, oaking, et cetera) and drunk at the same temperature, blindfolded and with no prior knowledge of what they were, it would be very hard to tell them apart. Try it. The difference disturbs the heck out of assumptions.
Using the Waring Pro Chiller is better than doing nothing. Even at its worst, this toy…I mean tool, brings and keeps a wine vaguely closer to the correct temp. Sure it’s loud and imperfect. But it’s better than guessing. For whites and rosé, I keep them in the fridge, and when ready, let the chiller tweak their temp.
It asks us to think about serving at temperatures. There’s more to life than warmed reds and cold whites. There’s a whole range of temperature traditions to explore.
At least I didn’t buy the pink one…