Tools and tricks to bring out wines' best flavor during hot summer months

Tools and tricks to bring out wines' best flavor during hot summer months
Navarro Vineyards winemaker Ted Bennett holds a glass of his white wine against the setting sun at his estate in Philo. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Heat wave, with more scorching days coming our way. Time to put those whites and rosés and, yes, reds in the fridge at the ready. But if you didn't plan ahead, no worries. There's more than one way to get that bottle cold.

To chill down a wine, anything from a galvanized metal bucket to a hand-hammered copper beauty will do the trick. What's important is to make sure you have both water and ice in the bucket, and to have the water and ice come up as high as possible -- the better to chill down the entire bottle of wine.


Don't be afraid to improvise: in hotels, the bathroom sink filled with ice and water will do nicely. I've even been known to employ a plastic trash can lined with a plastic bag for the purpose.

Remember that not just whites need a cool down. In warm weather, or in overheated houses, even reds are often too warm. Bringing their temperature down a few degrees so that they register as cool (but not cold) can make a huge difference in the way a wine tastes. When too warm, a red wine tends to seem too alcoholic and flabby, or flat. Cooling the red slightly will subdue the alcohol and bring flavors into focus.

In the world of wine coolers, here are some options:

Three wine coolers from Italy: The Italian design firm Alessi can be counted on for exceptionally stylish wine accessories. For something classic, yet sleek, check the stainless steel wine bucket from renowned designer Ettore Sottsass. This one, in a mirror-polished finish, holds two bottles and is deep enough to immerse them up to the neck. A taller version will chill two tall German bottles or a magnum. And if you really want to get fancy, add a wine cooler stand and play restaurant. Stainless steel wine bucket, $262 and $367; wine cooler stand, $525. From Alessi online and at the Alessi store in West Hollywood.

For something edgier, check out the curves of Alessi's very contemporary wine cooler in matte or mirror-polished finish, designed by Luigi Massoni and Carolo Mazzeri, $227.

And for something fun, Ron Arad designed the Alessi Chiringuito Cooler, which looks something like a high-end plastic tote bag (actually, it's thermoplastic resin) with room enough for two bottles and a handle so you can hang it on the back of a chair, $63 from Alessi in red or white and from in white only. The Alessi store is at 313 N Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 276-7096.

Stainless steel Champagne bucket with stand: Want to make like a restaurant in your own home? Or maybe you just have a very small table and this space-saving device would make life easier — and just a little more sophisticated. For $80 at Wine Enthusiast, you can chill that bottle of Dom in a stainless steel Champagne bucket atop a sleek stand.

A French hammered copper bucket: Williams-Sonoma has long carried super-covetable Mauviel hammered copper pots and pans from a French firm that dates to 1830. Who knew Mauviel also made a copper wine bucket that's going straight on my wish list? The inside is tinned, just like those traditional copper saucepans. The bronze handles are riveted on, the better for heavy lifting. And it comes with a lifetime warranty, $345.

A Japanese wooden wine bucket: The ever-fascinating Japanese cookware store Hitachiya in Torrance sells a handsome wine bucket made of sawara wood, a kind of cypress. It holds one bottle, $148. Hitachiya, Rolling Hills Plaza (near BevMo), 2509 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Torrance, (310) 534-3136,

Crystal Champagne and wine bucket: To show off that bottle of rosé Champagne while it's chilling down, go with the handmade crystal Champagne and wine ice bucket, available online from Kaufmann Mercantile. The edges of the clear crystal bucket are curved, the better for pouring off melted ice water. Made in England, $129.

Vintage porcelain baby bathtub on a stand: At HomeState, the Tex-Mex breakfast and lunch spot in Los Feliz, owner Briana Valdez chills down soda and her delicious aquas frescas in a vintage white porcelain baby bathtub filled with ice. It sits on a stand, and I've seen it at parties filled with Champagne bottles snuggled down in ice. I seem to remember seeing some at the flea market and just found one online at Williams-Sonoma, with stand, for $250. They're touting the baby bathtub as a place for growing herbs. We know better.

To keep pre-chilled bottles cool try ...

A wine cooler sleeve: These work best for keeping already chilled wines cool. I keep a few in my freezer at all times, ready to slip on a bottle on its way to a restaurant or a friend's house. Some are fat puffy things with wine-themed graphics. Some are merely utilitarian. I like the tailored good looks of one from cookware company Le Creuset. It's shaped like a bottle, with shoulders so it's less bulky, which also means more bottle contact. And its black elastic sides hold the bottle close. Best of all, it comes in red, blue, burgundy, black — and a cheerful orange. About $22. Available online from Le Creuset and from Williams-Sonoma (black only).

Crate & Barrel has a simple black nylon and resin cotton wine cooler sleeve at $19.95, too. But clearly, in terms of style, Le Creuset's fitted sleeve wins.


The budget alternative is the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller in chrome. No vineyard scene or frolicking Belle Epoque crowd, just a simple silver jacket with six pockets that contain a liquid that freezes solid. Slip over your bottle and voila, that Chardonnay will stay cool for hours. From Amazon, $11.99.

Ice bottle chiller mold: A wacky new item that's essentially a double-walled mold. Pour water into it, freeze for 24 hours, then unmold the column of ice, place in its stainless steel stand and insert bottle of wine. It should last for six hours, but if you're drinking you white wine or Champagne that slowly, maybe you should switch to another beverage. And if you want to get creative, you can add flowers, leaves or citrus slices, tiny plastic dinosaurs -- whatever -- in the freezing process. From Williams-Sonoma, $29.95.

Double-walled Iceless Wine Bottle Chiller: Thermal-insulated walls keep a pre-chilled bottle of white cool for up to three hours, which should give you plenty of time to drink that Sancerre or Riesling. The walls on this baby are clear acrylic, the better to muse over the label and design. From Wine Enthusiast, $19.95.


OXO Steel Wine Sleeve: The brushed stainless steel wine sleeve is simple and sleek, and its double-walled construction does the trick in holding that wine at the same temperature for an hour or two. A soft internal "moat" catches any drips. With this gizmo, the bottle can go straight from the fridge onto the table, eliminating  the wine bucket and all its attendant fuss. You can find it in stores and online for $25. Pay attention, though: There's also a bulbous OXO Good Grips version that's much less attractive. Stick with this one.

Corkcicle Classic Chiller: I haven't tried this one, but it makes sense that dropping a long slender frozen "corkcicle" down the center of a bottle of wine would work to maintain a chilled white wine's temperature. It might be perfect, too, for chilling a red down just that little bit on a warm day. After pouring out the first chilled glass of white, insert the corkcicle into your white wine bottle to maintain the temperature for up to an hour. For reds, pour out a small taste to make room for the corkcicle. Fifteen minutes later, your red should be good to go. Made from BPA-free plastic and non-toxic freeze gel. Available in natural cork color, or white, blue, green, yellow, orange — or purple. That's the one that Hank's wife, Marie, in "Breaking Bad" would snap up to go with her purple-themed decor. Available from Corkcicle, $15.92.