How to keep wine fresh after opening it

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Frank Piaskowy/Hoosier Wineaux

There was a time when I would only open a bottle of wine if I intended to have it consumed within hours. Problem was most evenings, my wife and I just wanted a glass with dinner.

While a bottle between two people might not sound like a lot, let’s look at the numbers. A standard wine bottle is 750 milliliters or 25 ounces.

According to medical authorities, moderate wine consumption is defined as two 5 ounce glasses for men and one 5 ounce serving for women per day. That is not an average over weeks or a month, but rather the amount for any given day.

The arithmetic discouraged me from enjoying wine on a regular basis. I found wine that was not finished that day frequently “soured” if I drank it days later.

Why does it go bad? Wine turns to vinegar over time with exposure to air. The deterioration process is called oxidation. As a result, flavors can be lost within hours with ultimate deterioration to a flat, brownish liquid.

Important factors in this oxidation or spoiling are the amount of surface area in contact with air, exposure time to air and wine temperature. Here are some basics to remember when saving unfinished wine for another day: 

  • Store recorked bottles upright with the cork’s stained end down. Placing bottles on the side increases the surface area exposed to air in the bottle. Conversely, unopened wine should be stored on its side so the cork does not dry out, allowing air to enter.
  • Red, sweet and lower alcohol wines are more resistant to oxidation. These generally can be kept longer once opened.
  • Refrigeration keeps wine fresh longer by slowing down the oxidative process, even red wines. Chilling red wine will not alter the wine if it is allowed to rewarm before drinking.
  • The effectiveness of commonly used vacuum pumps with rubber stoppers remains controversial. I often find restaurants using them on the wines poured by the glass. They generally will mark the bottle with the date it was first opened. Sparkling wines should not be vacuum pumped.
  • When asked how long open wine may stay good, David Davis of WOW Distributing in Indianapolis suggests “two days…three max, but you should taste and decide. If you prefer inert gas or vacu-save, then use it.”

The key to preserving opened wine is limiting the amount of air contact. I employ a technique that I read online a number of years ago.

First, you need the individual serving-sized, screw top bottles used by airlines or sold in grocery stores. Each bottle has a 187 milliliter capacity. Four such bottles are equivalent to one 750 milliliter bottle.

If I assume I will not be finishing a standard bottle wine when first opening, I will immediately pour off two 187 milliliter bottles. I fill them as close to the top as possible and promptly seal with the screw top. Approximately 12.5 ounces are left to enjoy. If an additional glass is desired later that evening, I simply open one of the poured off bottles.

I leave these filled smaller bottles in the recesses of our kitchen counter, avoiding direct sunlight (heat speeds up the oxidative reaction). When pouring off white wine, those small bottles are frequently placed in the refrigerator.

In my experience, wine saved in this fashion will remain fresh for a week to 10 days. I am told restaurants are not permitted under any circumstance to store wine in anything other than its original container.

Carefully transferring wine to smaller containers has provided Barb and I the opportunity to enjoy more wine with our meals. On the other hand, sometimes it’s just best to finish the whole bottle!

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