How to Store an Open Bottle of Wine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have all been there before – you have a nice (or not so nice) bottle of wine, and you want a glass. Just a glass! (Ok, maybe two). You don’t have anybody to share it with, and you don’t want to get incredibly crunk on a weeknight because you have to work/exercise/be productive tomorrow. Believe me, I know how you feel. The good news is you can still have a glass, and if you decide to have another one tomorrow, it just might be better than the first!

The truth is, a lot of wines will be fine – if not better – the following day. This mostly applies to red wine, but can also apply to white. You see, wine begins to oxidize quickly after the bottle is opened and the contents are exposed to air. The rate at which it oxidizes will vary from bottle to bottle. This depends largely on how well the wine is made, the amount of Sulphur Dioxide (a chemical preservative used in most wine and many foods) added before bottling, and various other nebulous & hard to quantify factors. It’s hard to guess which wines will be just fine for several days vs. one that will be terrible the next day, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much and just get to opening your wine.

A general rule of thumb is that red wines take longer to oxidize than whites. The tannins in a red wine act as a natural anti-oxidant, so they are sturdier than whites. I’ve opened red wines and left them out for up to 5 days and gone back to them, only to find that I liked them better than when I originally opened the bottle. You could do the same with a white wine, and it will lose it’s freshness and vibrancy much more quickly than a red. Still, you can leave a white open for 2 days and have it still be totally drinkable.

Here’s what you do: If you open a bottle of red, replace the cork ASAP and leave it in a cool, dark spot until you are ready to finish it. I recommend drinking it the next day or two days later, but if it’s a sturdy wine it could be fine (or improve!) for as many as 4. If you are not planning on drinking it the next day, put it in the fridge. This keeps it fresher, longer. Just take it out a couple of hours before you want to drink it. If you open a bottle of white wine, replace the cork ASAP and stick it right back into the fridge. Leave it there for up to 2 days. Whatever you don’t drink, use to cook with. I wouldn’t cook with a wine that had been open for longer than a week or two. As they say, don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink.

There are various products on the market that claim to help extend the length of time you can leave your bottle open, and we will go over those (and their effectiveness) here.

1. Vacuum-pump stoppers, like this one. Notice that the “Sauvignon Blanc” in the photo is brown, which is the color yours will turn if you use this product. The claim is that the vacuum pump thingy “removes” the oxygen from the bottle, creating a vacuum. The problem with this is there is no such thing as a true vacuum here on earth. While I am sure it removes some of the oxygen/air, it doesn’t remove enough to prevent the wine from going south. When my husband and I first started dating, he bought me one of these because he knew I loved wine. I used it often, and much to my dismay, it didn’t seem to do much preserving. I’m sure whatever “preservation” I noticed was psychosomatic, and I probably told him it worked great because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. The only good thing about this product is the stoppers it comes with, which I still use to this day as replacement corks for half-consumed bottles of wine. They are fairly air-tight. If you get one of these as a gift, throw out the vacuum thing and keep the stoppers.

2. Cans of “inert” gasses, such as this one. These resemble “cans of air” that you use for dusting, however the contents are much more specific. Generally, they contain a blend of gasses – argon, CO2 and nitrogen. Winemakers often keep tanks of pure argon around to “top off” their barrels with when they are doing barrel samples (this is done to remove the O2 in the headspace in the barrel). Argon is inert; it won’t absorb into the wine, it’s flavorless, and it’s heavier than air. This is perfect for wine-making and wine-preserving because you can just spray it onto the surface of the wine. Since it’s heavier than air, it will protect the wine from oxidation indefinitely as long as the argon doesn’t leak out due to a faulty closure. The thing that confuses me about most commercial “wine-saver” is that it contains CO2, which is NOT inert, and DOES get absorbed into the wine. I only assume they blend the argon with CO2 and nitrogen because they are cheaper to produce and work just fine for short periods of time. Anyhow, if you can find wine-saver that is pure argon, that’s your best bet. It works great, and for around $8 a can, it’s worth trying.

3. Coravin wine preservation system. While I have never used this product, it was received with much fanfare as it entered the commercial market several months ago. It’s a pretty expensive device (around $300) that uses a needle of sorts to puncture an in-place wine bottle cork, and remove a glass of wine while replacing the liquid removed with argon gas. Basically, you can pour wine from a bottle without taking the cork out or exposing the contents to air. Unfortunately, the system and replacement cartridges are so expensive, it only makes sense to buy one of these if you a) use hundred dollar bills in place of toilet paper or b) own a wine shop/bar/restaurant which pours extremely expensive wines by the glass. Apparently there have been trials where trained Sommeliers couldn’t tell the wine had been “open” for several months. Get one of these if you are rich, I wish I could justify buying one.

My point is, don’t hesitate to open a bottle of wine if you don’t intend on finishing it in one go. It will probably be fine for a day or longer, and it might just get better. Nice wines will definitely perform better than cheaply made ones, so keep that in mind when choosing which wines to leave out.