Prolong the taste and freshness of your open wine bottle with these simple tricks from a sommelier.
Just because wine glasses are getting bigger than ever before doesn’t mean you have to finish an entire bottle of wine in one sitting.
Sometimes you just want to savor a glass or two and save the rest for later, especially if it’s a really good wine.
So, how can you preserve the opened bottle to keep the wine fresh and delicious for as long as possible?
According to Christopher Hoel, sommelier and founder of Harper’s Club and Luckysomm, and expert wine curator for Wine Insiders and Martha Stewart Wine Co., there are a few easy tricks to extend the life of an open bottle of wine.
After all, ‘life is too short to drink bad wine.’
But before we learn how to preserve an open bottle of wine, let’s understand why wine goes ‘bad’ in the first place.
Mostly, it comes down to oxygen levels that come in contact with the wine, according to Hoel.
He explains that wine requires a delicate balance of oxygen exposure. This is because oxygen is crucial in the fermentation process and can boost the flavors and aromas of wine once opened.
However, too much exposure will turn your wine into vinegar.
“Therefore, almost every wine preservation tip you’ll find is based on minimizing your wine’s exposure to oxygen.”
While that might sound almost impossible once you open the bottle, here are five easy tips that’ll keep your wine fresher for longer.
#1 Always Re-Cork Your Wine
If you’re sure you won’t finish that bottle of wine, keep it closed.
It’s common to leave the cork off until you are ready to put the bottle away. But according to Hoel, re-corking the bottle immediately after every glass is your first defense to maintaining your wine’s freshness.
“It limits the amount of oxygen that’s in contact with your wine and helps keep its flavor fresh for longer.”
#2 Keep Wine Upright
As a general rule of thumb, avoid storing your leftover wine sideways.
According to Hoel:
“An upright position helps minimize the surface area that’s exposed to oxygen, slowing the oxidation process.”
#3 Keep the Wine Cold and in Dim Light
Oxygen isn’t the only factor that ruins a wine’s integrity. Too much light and high temperature also play a part.
So, try to store the wine bottle in a dark place, free from natural light.
Natural light, such as the sun, causes a build-up of heat inside the bottle, speeding up the oxidation process.
“Try to keep your open wine bottle out of light and store it below room temperature.”
“The refrigerator is often the best place and can go a long way to keeping your wine fresh.”
“This slows down the process of wine oxidizing since the molecules are now moving very slowly.”
This trick works for both reds and whites. However, this method only works best for opened bottles. Don’t store your wine in the fridge if it’s for long term use.
#4 Keep Half-Sized Bottles on Hand
“I like to keep a few empty half-sized bottles (375 mL) on hand for rare occasions. I can’t finish more than half a bottle of wine.”
“Even if it’s not filled all the way, a half-sized bottle will reduce the amount of oxygen stored with your wine.”
#5 Use a Wine Preservation System
If you don’t mind paying, a professional wine preserver can help you keep your wine fresh for even longer.
Though there are many gadgets and devices you can choose from, two wine preservation systems work the best—the vacuum pump and an inert gas preservation system.
Vacuum pumps suck the air out of an opened bottle so it can be re-sealed hermetically without the oxygen affecting the wine.
This is an affordable option commonly used in restaurants and bars.
“You can easily get a quality vacuum pump for $10 to $20. While not perfect, it can add a few days to the life of your wine.”
Inert wine gas preservation systems, on the other hand, keeps your opened wine fresh for even longer. But this is more of an enthusiast option since they can be quite expensive.
The system works by inserting an inert gas—typically nitrogen or argon—into the bottle.
The gas afterward—being heavier than oxygen—creates a protective layer on the surface of the wine.
There are also two options for Inert wine gas preservation systems: Gas canisters with a thin hose and fancy Coravin preservation systems.
“Argon canisters are simple, effective, and inexpensive. For around $10, you can order a can of Argon gas on Amazon and spray a half-second blast of gas in your bottle to displace a layer of oxygen at the surface of your wine.”
Coravin preservation systems take this concept to a whole different level.
It involves using a device with a needle that punctures a hole in the cork to extract wine without pulling the cork out, thus avoiding any contact with oxygen.
The wine is then replaced with argon gas, and the cork re-seals as if you had never opened the bottle.
How Can You Tell Your Leftover Wine Has Gone Bad
Sometimes it’s hard to tell your wine has gone bad.
According to Hoel, oxidation often changes the wine’s color and taste. But that doesn’t always mean your wine has gone bad.
“In fact, this process is the reason we decant wines before drinking, as [oxygen often enhances] the flavors.”
“However, there is a point that it stops enhancing the wine and starts turning it into vinegar.”
So, how can you tell the wine is bad?
First, check the color!
Reds wines will begin to darken to brown and brick tones, while white wines will deepen and become yellow.
Secondly, give the wine a taste test.
For red wines that have gone ‘off,’ the flavors and aromas will flatten, replacing fresh flavors with nutty, sherry-like notes.
White wines will start to develop a sour, vinegary taste.
“This process is also useful for checking the integrity of your wine when dining out.”
“If you order wine by the glass at a restaurant, remember to take notice of the color and the flavor profile.”
“If you discover the wine you ordered in a restaurant has gone ‘off,’ it’s well within your rights to ask for a fresh glass.”
Don’t Toss Your Wine Just Yet, Even if It Has Gone Bad
The sweet spot for an opened wine bottle is three to five days.
However, if you notice your wine has gone off, don’t just toss it. There are other smart ways to use it.
According to Hoel:
“I find they work best in recipes with long cook times, like stews, sauces, or marinades, which allow the alcohol to cook off and the flavors to meld seamlessly.”
You can also turn your leftover wine into vinegar.
“All you need is raw vinegar, a clean jar, an old bottle of wine, and voila.”
“Simply combine all of those ingredients and store the concoction in your pantry.”
“In about a month, you’ll have delicious vinegar to cook with. Plus, you can keep contributing your leftover wine to the container to continue making vinegar.”