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Vines & Vittles: Keep leftover wine fresh (as possible)

By John Brown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From time to time, friends ask me how to keep wine not consumed at one sitting fresh for later drinking. I must admit this is not a situation I have ever personally experienced, but I do have some suggestions.

Wine is usually bottled in a 25-ounce glass container with an average alcohol content of between 10 percent and 15 percent. This amount of alcohol serves to protect the wine from spoilage in the first few hours after the bottle is opened, but is not sufficient to keep the stuff fresh over an extended period.

This is particularly true for white wine, where only the grape juice is fermented. Red grapes, which are fermented with the skins and seeds, have a longer shelf life before giving way to the ravages of oxidation.

A real-life experience proved that point for me. On the occasion of a multicourse wine dinner, I decanted a bottle of Barolo and forgot about it until the next day. To my surprise and delight, the wine was heavenly. Unfortunately, wines with less body and staying power (both red and white) would have been transformed into something tasting like turpentine.

Unlike chili, beef barley soup or meatloaf, fine wine does not improve over several days in the refrigerator. In fact, wine will deteriorate rather quickly if you don't take certain precautions.

Here's why:

An open bottle of wine has a schizoid visitor: oxygen. When a wine is uncorked, the oxygen that invades it initially does wondrous things for the aroma and can actually serve as a catalyst to unleash the complex flavors that have developed over time in the bottle. Like a good friend, oxygen (Dr. Jekyll) has a positive influence on wine -- up to a point.

Unfortunately, after several hours of uninterrupted contact with oxygen (enter Mr. Hyde), most wines begin to fall apart, even if you put the cork back in the bottle. So, here are a few tried and true tips that should help keep that undrunk wine tasty for a day or two.

If you're going to drink the wine the very next day, you can sometimes get away with simply recorking the bottle and putting it in the refrigerator. Young red wines seem to tolerate contact with air much better than older reds or any white wine. However, leaving any wine with significant air space in the bottle for more than one day is courting disaster.

Because the major problem is too much oxygen, you must reduce the air space in the partially consumed bottle. You can do this by pouring the wine into a smaller container (such as a half-bottle). It is safe to leave about one inch of air space at the top of the bottle, which, of course, must be secured by inserting the cork or affixing the screw-cap. Then, either put the wine in the refrigerator or store it in a dark, cool place to drink another day.

Another tip is to keep different-size containers (with accompanying lids) in your kitchen cabinet so you'll have them when the need arises. Be sure also to save a couple of empty fifths and their corks to store wines from 1.5-liter bottles or jugs.

One other method of preserving your partially used wine is to pump the air out of the bottle by using something like a Vacuvin wine saver. Vacuvin employs the use of a rubber stopper that is placed in the bottle opening and then a device that is placed on the stopper to pump out the oxygen. These are widely available at wine shops and grocery stores for around $15.

Some folks have suggested putting marbles into a partially empty bottle of wine to take up the air space. Not only is this an impractical solution, you're sure to lose your marbles over time.

Here are two bottles you'll most likely consume at one sitting:

2011 Acrobat Pinot Gris ($13): This pale straw-colored pinot gris from Oregon opens with a bright citrus and pear bouquet. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied and crisp and would be a superb match to halibut brushed with soy and hoisin.

2011 Chateau St. Roch Cotes Du Rhone ($15): From the southern Rhone, this young wine has a nose of dark fruit and leather. Ripe blackberry and cola flavors and excellent balancing acidity make this the perfect accompaniment to short ribs braised in a tomato and red wine bath.

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown's Vines & Vittles blog at thegazz.com.


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