OK, we’ll admit it: in our house, once a bottle gets opened, it usually gets finished. But not always and certainly there are lots of people who do open a bottle of wine and don’t drink it all. So, when that happens what should you do with that left-over wine? We have several answers for you.
The first thing you need to know is that once you open a bottle of wine and pour some of the wine into your glass, even if you immediately re-cork it, you have begun the process of deteriorating the wine.
How much or how quickly the wine will deteriorate depends on the wine and on what you do with the remainder in the bottle. Because of this deterioration, most wine bars and restaurants will throw out a bottle of wine that has been open for 48 hours, some after 24 hours, if it has not otherwise been protected.
Wines with high acids and/or high tannins will generally last longer than those that do not, as those compounds act as preservatives. Good quality wine will last a lot longer than most every-day drinkers.
Most people will replace the cork back into the opening when an unfinished bottle is being saved for another day. And that is a good thing!
Replacing the cork prevents air from circulating into the bottle. Fresh air can bring in dust and other unwanted particles that can accelerate deterioration or add off flavours to the wine. Most wine bottles have a thin, metal capsule over the cork, protecting the exposed end of the cork from the elements. If this is the case, you can replace either end of the cork into the bottle. If there is no capsule, replace the end of the cork that was already facing into the bottle.
The next thing to do is place the remaining wine in your fridge; don’t leave it on your kitchen counter!
Heat is not the friend of any wine at the best of times. With an already open bottle it will be even less of a friend. Heat can “cook” a wine…literally. We live in Vancouver, British Columbia where generally we have moderate summer temperatures. Not recently! At the end of June, we were setting records as the mercury climbed to 42 degrees C (or 108 degrees Fahrenheit). Sorry climate change deniers…it is a thing.
Temperatures above 21C/70F will begin to prematurely age wine over longer periods of time.
Temperatures over 27C/80F will rapidly harm your wine. As the heat cooks your wine it will take on unpleasant flavours and aromas, sometimes sour, sometimes pruney, sometimes creating a raunchy port-like taste. Over 21C/70F and the degradation will be slow and gradual, measured in weeks and months. But over 27C/80F things can start downhill in a matter of hours. Regardless of the temperature of your house, play it safe and stick left over wine in your fridge.
But temperature is not your only worry. Air can do just as much damage as heat. Exposure to some air is generally thought of to be a good thing. It aids the development of complex flavours and aromas in the wine over long periods of time, referred to as ageing. But the amount of air that you expose the wine to needs to be kept to a minimum.
The space between the bottom of the cork and the top of the wine actually has a name: ullage. Ullage needs to be kept at a very low ratio of air to wine.
On a standard 750 ml bottle of wine the amount of ullage can be seen just by looking at the neck of the bottle and you will notice that airspace is very small. In fact, that amount of space is usually just 5ml. So, the ratio of air space to wine, when that wine has just been bottled is 5/750 or just 0.67 of 1%. When you pour yourself a glass, you remove about 125 to 150 ml for a standard size pour. If the air is now 130 ml and the remaining wine is 675 ml, your air to wine ratio has rocketed up to 19.25%, a 30-fold increase! The increase in air to wine will significantly increase the deterioration rate of your wine.
There are a few ways you can reduce this air to wine ratio with your left-over wine. One is to decant your remaining wine into a smaller vessel. It is a good idea to keep an old 375ml bottle on hand for this purpose. Pouring a half of a bottle into a half bottle works just right! Be sure to clean and thoroughly rinse that half bottle before you pour your good wine into it. You don’t want any foreign particles to destroy the very wine you are about to save.
If you want to go all-out and get the best, the deluxe model that the pros use to keep their un-drank wine, then nothing will beat the Coravin. Pricey, there are several different options that will run you between $150 and $450 (CDN $) but this is definitely the gold standard.
Coravin works by never taking the cork out of the bottle. Coravin systems have a small, hollow needle that pierces through the cork. From there, you tilt the bottle to a 45° angle over a glass and quickly press and release the trigger to pour. Pure argon gas is injected into the bottle to replace the lost wine and preserve what’s left. Simple, ingenious, but most of all it works. Robert Parker, the well known wine critic from Baltimore tried it before it went commercial. He poured a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape from his Coravin and put the remainder of the bottle in his cellar and pulled it out 4 years later to give it a try. He has no association with or interest in Coravin and he said that bottle (or what remained) of the Chateauneuf was in as good condition as a brand new bottle.
Finally, you can buy cans of inert gas made specifically for filling partially drunk bottles of wine. Exact instructions come with each preservative, but the idea is to displace the air in the half empty bottle with the inert gas in your preservative container.
That usually means attaching a straw-like tube to the preservative cannister and placing the other end of the straw into the opened wine bottle just above the surface of the wine. To fill a half empty bottle, you squirt the inert gas in for about 5 seconds and then quickly re-cork it. We find this method works very well. We have started to open bottles to have just a glass or two from knowing we can preserve them with a bit of gas and a cold fridge. Depending on the wine, we seem to get about another week or two of fresh, very drinkable wine. Since in our house there is no greater sin than to waste good wine, we are very happy to have discovered these tricks and to share them with other wine lovers. Cheers!