Tips & Tricks: How To Preserve Opened Wine

12 04 2011

I am the only wine drinker in my household.  My wife is tragically allergic to wine, and my infant son is, well, an infant, so I’m on my own in terms of wine consumption.  Since I’m not falling down drunk at the end of every night, this inevitably means that I deal with a lot of half-full opened wine bottles which I have to try and preserve somehow…after all, there’s no point spending $30 on a bottle of wine to drink half of it when it’s showing well and the other half when it’s stale and faded.  Here are a few things to think about to make your wine last a little longer once you pop and pour.

First, if you do nothing else, always stopper an open bottle of wine once you’re done drinking for the night and keep it in the fridge.  The main thing that makes an opened wine go stale and eventually turn into undrinkable vinegar is oxygen, but the oxidation process is slowed down significantly at cooler temperatures, so putting your bottle in the refrigerator instead of on the counter will make a big difference.  However, it won’t solve all your problems:  you can still taste a distinct difference between a brand new bottle and a half-empty one that’s been sitting in the fridge for a day.  If you want to make your next-day wine as good as when you first pull the cork, you have to go to the next stage of wine storage and preservation and involve some toys, two of which are set out below on an ascending scale from least to most wine nerdy.  I own both.

  1. Cheap, easy, and mostly effective. "Well, it certainly does suck!"

    Wine Vacuum Pump: You have probably seen these for sale for $15 at your local wine store, and they are a simple but effective way to make your wine last longer, although they don’t work universally well with all types of bottles.  The premise is simple:  you stopper an open bottle with the specially-designed plug, put the vacuum pump over the stoppered bottle, and pump like your life depends on it to pull out the air from inside the bottle and expel it outside.  If you do this long enough, you will create a mini-vacuum inside the bottle with dramatically less oxygen than before that can come in contact with and start spoiling your wine.  I’ve found that if you’re only storing your opened wine for a day or so, a vacuumed wine will taste WAY better the next night than a non-vacuumed wine, although still not quite as good as when it was first opened.  The main issue with the vacuum is that the stopper plug doesn’t fit perfectly in all wine bottles; I’ve noticed that bottles with a screwtop instead of a cork never seem to form a proper seal with my stopper.  Without that seal around the lip of the bottle, no matter how much you pump, air will work its way back in contact with the wine and defeat your heroic preservation efforts.  Still, for the price, it’s hard to complain too much.  If you want a more consistent, less manual-labour-intensive storage method, you’ll have to move on to…

  2. Argon? Argon. Trust me.

    Argon Wine Saver Kit: Anytime you start injecting your nightly wine with inert gases, you’ve probably crossed a line somewhere, but oh my GOD does it work well.  Argon sprayers like the Hummingbird Wine Saver system pictured at right ($50) are simply an argon cannister in a plastic reservoir connected to a rubber straw that you stick into a wine bottle so that it’s directly over top of the leftover wine.  You then spray the argon for a few seconds over the wine; since argon is heavier than air, it won’t waft up out of the bottle but will instead settle directly on the surface of the wine, thus preventing any oxygen from coming into contact with it.  Cool, hey?  I knew the periodic table was good for something.  The argon doesn’t interact with or affect the wine at all, but it almost completely prevents spoilage, so when you pour out a glass the next night it’s as good as new.  This is a total lifesaver in a 1 wine-drinker family.  My Hummingbird argon kit came from this super awesome wine gear website:  Everything But Wine.com.  $50 is a little steep, but if the argon kit preserves half of two higher-quality bottles of wine until you can enjoy them again, it basically pays for itself.

So go ahead and pop open that full bottle just to have a glass or two.  Don’t worry about picking that $7 selection hidden at the bottom of your wine rack that you were saving for a time when you thought there would be leftovers that would go bad.  With a fridge, a vacuum and some argon, your wine will live to drink another day.

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