Ensure your wine is never too cold, never too hot, but just right every time with these ice buckets and wine coolers
It’s true that ice buckets for wine are often associated with fairly indifferent settings: receptions where tooth-chillingly frigid prosecco is on free-flow or picnics paired with icy bottles of Pinot Grigio and rosé. They’re also often used sloppily: how many times have you had to beg your server not to return your bottle of Grand Cru Chablis to the ice bucket just as it’s approaching the right temperature?
But equally how many times have you been served a highly anticipated bottle of red only to have it fall flat in the mouth because it’s too warm? How often have you shown up at a party with a bottle of champagne only to lose half of it as it froths all over the host having warmed up too much while in transit?
Used well, the ice bucket can be a tool to correct (some of) the errors of inappropriate storage temperature or to maintain a good bottle temperature in a sultry climate. Even as we are well into the mild season in Asia, a handsome ice bucket or cooler that helps keep your bottle at a comfortable 10-16ºC is always a useful thing to have on hand and deserves its place in every wine lover’s accessory cabinet. While a spell in the freezer can stand in for an ice bucket, I find it can be harder to time and the consequences of leaving a bottle chilling too long can be disastrous.
However, an ice bucket is only as effective as the person using it––shoving a bottle halfway into a pile of hard frozen ice and expecting it to have an effect suggests you may want to revisit your high school physics. What you need instead is an “ice bath” (a roughly equal mix of ice and water), which will hover around 0ºC and completely envelope the bottle. In these conditions, a room temperature bottle of champagne will reach a good serving temperature in just under 10 minutes, white will need between 5-10 and lighter reds will need no more than 5. A big, chewy red––which should still not be served any warmer than 18ºC––can benefit from a minute or two in the bucket. A double-walled bucket will keep the bath cool for longer and won’t “sweat” as much.
Since the neck of the bottle will invariably remain above the water line, it’s important to remember that the first serving you pour out of the bottle will be warmer than the wine lower down. Gently inverting the bottle to redistribute the heat can help, but I emphasise the word “gentle” (particularly if you’re dealing with champagne or wine that’s at all aged).
Meanwhile, for maintaining a constant temperature once the bottle is open, I prefer a cooler––a narrow container typically made of steel or stone that just fits a bottle of wine––over an ice bucket. Remember that as your bottle empties out, the ice bath will have less liquid to cool and so even a short spell will drop the wine’s temperature too low, leaving it seeming harsh-textured and inexpressive. This is why I tend not to like decanter-chiller combos with an ice bath or pocket, though they work well for beverages like sake. A cooler meanwhile will just slow your wine’s rate of warming enough to keep it pleasant through the course of an evening.
Below, a list of ice buckets and coolers to ensure your wine is never too cold, never too hot, but just right every time:
The single-bottle ice bucket
The ideal shape hugs your bottle, minimising the amount of liquid needed to keep it fully blanketed. The Ercuis “Attraction” Champagne cooler, with its teardrop shape, handily keeps the bottle upright as well as requiring less water and ice to keep your bottle cool. However, for those who like a clear bucket so the label can remain visible something like the Ercuis “Latitude” Champagne bucket, with its helpful handles and stabilising silver plate frame, might be the one for you.
The multi-bottle ice bucket
A key feature of a multi bottle-bucket is the ability to keep bottles upright even when there are only a few bottles left (because you will, eventually, run out). The Georg Jensen Indulgence Champagne Cooler, evoking the fin of some exotic sea creature, has a narrow top opening that keeps bottles from tipping and can double for a piece of modern sculpture when empty. The curvilinear Robert Welch Drift Double Walled Wine Bucket, which can also come with a stand to get that restaurant vibe at home, likewise has sensitively placed contours to help hold bottles in place.
The casual ice bucket / cooler
A more casual setting doesn’t mean you should suddenly accept too hot or too cold wine, and there are several smart options available. A cooling or insulating jacket design like the Huski keeps individual bottles at the right temperature without any slippery condensation and is great if you only plan to drink a bottle or two. For a larger gathering, the Trium XL Ice Bucket from wine industry favourite Pulltex is made of insulating acrylic and has a flared shape to hold the bottles at a good angle for efficient chilling. For a non-breakable option that will still make a striking impression, try the Mario Luca Giusti Antarctica acrylic ice bucket in gorgeous shades of deep blue, amber or, my favourite, frost (a colourless frosted finish).
The options here are myriad, from double-walled stainless-steel designs like the Georg Jensen Wine and Bar Cooler to marble options (available from many US brands like Crate + Barrel, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn, or else generically from Amazon), which work well if kept in the refrigerator beforehand. Less highbrow but delightfully quirky is the EPP black Hat design from Puik, a pair of Dutch homeware designers whose other fun re-imaginings include a paper pulp piggy bank and mind-bending isometric perspective rugs.