Preserving Open Wine
Exposure to air is both the friend and the enemy of wine. During the winemaking process, exposure to oxygen in small amounts and in a controlled manner helps to improve the character and taste of the wine. Oxygen tends to round out some of the rough tannins in younger wines and helps bring about the positive affects of aging.
Once the bottle is opened however, the affects of air take a turn toward the negative side.
Exposure to air causes the wine to age, and not in a good way. The more air, the faster the wine will oxidize and lose its freshness.
When a wine becomes oxidized, it’s not harmful, but it certainly won’t taste that good either. Warm temperatures can also cause acetic bacteria to develop, which will essentially convert your wine to vinegar.
And so the question is, once opened, how long before the wine goes off? The answer depends on a number of factors:
- How young the wine is—young wine has more tannic structure making it less susceptible to the aging process.
- How much wine is left in the bottle—the more wine left in the bottle, the less room for oxygen to get in.
- How much alcohol—higher alcohol wines age more slowly.
Of course, keeping opened wine in the refrigerator will help slow the oxidization process.
Chemical reactions are less rapid at lower temperatures, therefore oxidation occurs much more slowly. In addition, low temperatures also inhibit the development of bacteria. The refrigerator is definitely your friend in this instance.
Generally speaking, wine should last two to three days in the refrigerator, if corked and stored properly. The trick really is to attempt to try to ensure the wine has exposure to the least amount of air as possible.
Make sure to reinsert the cork, or insert a replacement cork, securely into the neck of the bottle before placing in the refrigerator.
An even better option is to transfer the leftover wine from the larger bottle, where there is lots of air to battle the wine, to a smaller bottle. Ideally, fill the smaller bottle with the leftover wine and then recork securely before refrigerating.
Going one step further towards removing the wine from contact with air involves using a vacuum device. These specially-designed rubber gaskets are inserted into the neck of the bottle, and a simple pump is used to extract the air. This results in a partial vacuum, reducing the amount of oxygen in the bottle before storing.
And finally, many a serious wine lover has a cylinder of compressed nitrogen handy that can be employed to protect the wine from oxidation. A quick squirt into the neck of bottle before recorking helps to reduce the air remaining in the bottle. Nitrogen is an inert, harmless gas which will be unnoticeable in the wine.
So don’t feel pressured to finish the bottle of wine once opened, it can be safely stored away for at least a few days, to be enjoyed again.