With the popularity of new laws that allow restaurant patrons to take home unfinished bottles of wine, the question among wine enthusiasts now is whether the wine will be drinkable the next day or even several days later. For many, the choice has always been: finish the bottle or pour it down the drain. For others, it means saving the bottle for cooking, but not drinking. There are others, however, who have found ways to save wine from opened bottles.
Amy Reiley, author and wine expert, readily suggests storing the unused wine. “Once a bottle is opened, red or white, I stick it immediately in the refrigerator. There is a lot less chance of oxidization in the fridge.” Oxidization, of course, will kill any opened wine.
The fridge is really the first place to start. Wine kept there in a cool, dry place will keep the wine relatively drinkable, usually a couple of days. How drinkable and how long the wine will stay that way depends on the quality of the wine you purchased in the first place. Big young reds with high tannins can last a bit longer and may actually mellow to your liking. Some experts feel that whites can store better. Whether any wine is drinkable after a day or two (or longer) depends entirely on the sensitivity of your own palate. Many people just use the leftover wine for cooking within a day or two. Some adventurous souls even freeze the wine and use it to cook with.
Though etiquette has said to use the same cork the wine came with and to insert the cork wet side into the bottle, sometimes you just can’t use the cork to stopper the bottle. This can be because the cork was damaged in opening or that it swelled too much when it was removed and cannot be reinserted. Many wine experts are now suggesting that putting rubber corks in opened bottles is the best move. Not only are they easier to insert but they are not contaminated with anything that could have been on the original cork.
Always keep the bottle upright. Do not put it on its side on a rack. Since oxygen is the enemy of wine, having the bottle upright provides less surface area to come into contact with the oxygen in the bottle.
One great way to eliminate oxygen from opened bottles is by pouring the leftover wine into smaller containers.
Many wine stores sell small wine bottles, usually half bottles, for this purpose. You can also save half bottles from restaurants where you have ordered wine. When you have an unfinished bottle, fill the clean half bottle all the way to the top and put in the cork. You now have a bottle with no air pocket in it. Put the half bottle in the fridge, and it can last a week or two, depending on the variety.
Another way to remove oxygen from an opened bottle is to put another gas into the container. By pumping in a gas that is heavier than air, it will force the oxygen out of the bottle. Once the gas is inside the bottle, cork the wine immediately. The replacement gas usually does not alter the taste of the wine.
There are several gas systems available at wine shops and online. One is called The Keeper. It dispenses nitrogen through a spigot and costs about $60. Private Preserve is a pressurized can that also pumps nitrogen into the opened wine bottle. The WineSaver pushes nitrogen and CO2 into the bottle. Any of these methods can be used in decanters that are stoppered.These systems are good a preserving even inexpensive wines for a few days. Some wine enthusiasts, though, comment that the tannins are often softened in the process and the nose may lose some power.
One last way to force air out of an opened bottle is to pump it out. The most popular is the Vacu Vin Wine Preserver. For about $15, the comes with a small hand pump and two rubber stoppers. You put in the rubber stopper, place the pump over it, and pump until you hear a click that tells you that all of the air is out of the bottle. You remove the pump and store the bottle upright in the fridge. To re-open the bottle, wiggle the stopper to the side to release the vacuum and pull the stopper out. The Vacu Vin should not be used for sparkling wines.
Amy Reiley highly recommends this device for keeping wine drinkable. “I can open a bottle by myself and enjoy it, even a red wine, for four or five day,” she says. “I’m very sensitive to the taste and the change in wine. If I open a bottle one day and set it on my counter with a cork in it, I can’t drink it the next day. ....I have actually stored white wines this way. I’ve kept them up to 2 or 3 weeks.”
Other wine experts have notee that the tannins and the nose are well preserved using a Vacu Vin. And, with its reasonable cost, it is a good value.
Vacu Vin also makes a champagne saver. It is a special stopper that allows you to pour and stopper the wine. Epicurean-Presovac also makes a wine and champagne pump system, but it retails for $125.
When you buy that lovely Greek wine at your local restaurant, you now can have the opened bottle re-corked. How that is done and how you transport it depend on the liquor laws in your state. In Michigan, for instance, the cork must be placed deep into the bottle, flush with the lip, so that it would take a corkscrew to re-open the bottle. Other states merely want you to put the bottle in the trunk.
Some restaurants and individuals are taking advantage of a new product call a wine doggy bag. It is a tamper proof, transparent bag with tamper-resistant adhesive closures. Made from strong durable film with heat sealed seams and a carrying handle, the wine doggy bag complies with a number of state requirements for transporting an opened bottle of wine. Restaurants are ordering them in as they would take out containers. And, some customers are bringing their own.
Storing leftover wine may take some forethought and some extra effort. If you are investing in good wine, you may not wish to use your rare vintages in the demi glace for your next roast. However, any of these methods can let you enjoy that last glass from the bottle the next day or several days later.