Tried & Tested: Dressed to chill: Cover-ups are the latest way to keep your bottles cold during a picnic. Our panel tries six wine coolers

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The Independent Culture
AIR pollution, ultraviolet and high pollen counts may put some people off venturing outside in the sweltering weather - but if you're undeterred it's time to put your mind to the vexed question of how to keep your wine cool. We've tested a number of devices which do so by insulating the bottle, either in a wrap or in a container. The more effective ones incorporate some kind of freezer element, which you must remember to put in the ice compartment some hours beforehand. These insulate the bottle more thoroughly. If you leave your wine cooler at home by mistake, there's always the more traditional method - tying a piece of string round the neck of the bottle and trailing it in a cool stream. This works surprisingly well - and it's cheap.

THE PANEL

Kathryn McWhirter, Independent on

Sunday wine writer: Caspar Bowes, wine merchant; Louise Vallee, front-of-

house manager, Chewton Glen Hotel, Hampshire; Jane Oakfield, consumer

affairs journalist.

THE TEST

The panel timed how long wine stayed cool in each device, and also gave star ratings for convenience of use, portability, looks style, and value for money.

***VACU-VIN RAPID ICE

pounds 6.99

This product, a foil-coated sleeve, was launched last year and has become very popular. It was certainly a favourite with our panel. The Rapid Ice can cool a bottle down as well as just keeping it cold, and the panel found that it worked well for up to two hours. You must remember, however, to put it in the freezer six hours before you want to use it. Kathryn McWhirter liked it: 'Light and squishy, easy to put in the freezer, easy to carry to a picnic. Does a good job of cooling a warm wine down, as well as keeping cold wine cold. In fact our champagne was painfully cold at first.' Caspar Bowes agreed: 'Very quick and convenient, gets a wine bottle cold in five minutes as claimed.' They both found it a tight squeeze to fit it over a champagne bottle. Good value for money, though.

C'EST CA 'WINE WAITER'

KEEP COOL BOTTLE COVER

pounds 11.95

Most of the panel did not take to the black 'dinner jacket and bow-tie' design of this fabric cover, which is slipped over the bottle. Despite an inner insulating material, it was one of the least effective, keeping the bottle cool for only an hour at most. Only Louise Vallee liked its looks, describing it as 'very stylish' - but she admitted it was 'totally useless as a wine cooler, and expensive too.' Caspar Bowes was particularly critical: 'A truly horrible experience even to look at this one. Should come free with three flying ducks.' If you are a fan of kitsch, you'll like Charlie the tartan-clad Highlander, another version of this product.

**FLECTALON ICE WRAP

pounds 7.99

A simple device: a piece of insulating material which you wrap around the bottle, with an inner pocket into which you slip a pre-frozen gel pack. The panel found that it kept the wine at an acceptable degree of chill for about an hour and a half - so it might not last throughout a long picnic on a hot summer's day. 'The ice-pack has a multitude of other uses,' Louise Vallee pointed out - 'headaches, first aid and so on. You could put it to good use if you have drunk the whole bottle and are feeling the worse for wear.' Jane Oakfield said: 'Similar to the Vacu- Vin, but in stripes like men's pyjamas.' *FLECTALON BOTTLE WRAP

pounds 4.99

Similar in appearance to the Flectalon Ice Wrap, but without the gel. Without any frozen element, it didn't keep the wine cool for long at all - an hour at the most. 'Better than nothing, but it is only insulating material,' said Kathryn McWhirter. Louise Vallee thought the Bottle Wrap was easier to handle than some of the more bulky devices, but Jane Oakfield warned: 'Hold the bottle by the neck or the base. When I grasped the wrap, I found that the bottle slid out alarmingly, spilling wine over the floor.'

***DECOR TWO-BOTTLE

BYO WINE COOLER

pounds 30

Our panel thought this was the aristocrat of wine coolers, suitable for Henley, Ascot and Glyndebourne. But in fact it orginates in more down-to-earth Australia, where BYO - Bring Your Own booze - is part of the way of life. The BYO is a cleverly designed plastic container which takes two bottles, with a curved freeze flask between them. This kept the bottles cool for more than four hours. Louise Vallee had a few reservations: 'Quite bulky to handle, but fine for the back of the car. It is also heavy, so you wouldn't want to carry it far.' Caspar Bowes liked it: 'This is a bench mark, ideal for long- distance picnics. Looks like a nice, if slightly futuristic, handbag.' Its main disadvantage was its price.

**** DECOR TWO-BOTTLE .TX.- SOFT BAG

pounds 15

Not as elegant as the Decor BYO Wine Cooler, but better value for money as it can be used for food as well. It kept wine cool for up to three hours. 'Not quite as efficient as the BYO,' said Kathryn McWhirter, 'but perfectly adequate and better value.' Caspar Bowes foresaw one problem: 'A very good idea but would be better if the bag was slightly deeper. I suspect keeping German or Alsatian wines cold could be a task. Quite natty looking, though.'

*ICTC COMBINATION WINE

AND ICE CHILLER

pounds 14.99

Not so much for transporting your wine, as chilling it when you get to your picnic. The bucket has elements which you freeze for six hours beforehand and then slot into an inner lining. An ingenious idea in theory, but our panel thought it was fiddly to put together. 'Fussy and difficult to assemble and transport,' said Louise Vallee, 'but looked good and worked quite well.' Kathryn McWhirter disagreed: 'The wine is not in direct contact with the freezer elements, so chilling it across the air-space is slower than with wraparound models. Works OK if the bottle is really well chilled to start with.' Once chilled, the wine stayed cold for a maximum of two hours. It can also be used as an ice-bucket.

Stockists: Decor 0534 47817; C'est Ca 0603 630 250; ICTC 0603 488019; Flectalon 0443 843717; Vacu-Vin Rapid Ice available from most department stores, supermarkets, off-licences, wine shops and cook shops.

NEXT WEEK: BLUE JEANS

(Photograph omitted)

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