Preservation of Open Wine

Wine preservation is a dilemma we have all faced as wine drinkers. We come home from work and decide to have a glass of wine to relax. Being that we must go to work the next day, we  only drink 1-2 glasses if our wives are not helping. Now what do you do with this wine that you opened and still have a half bottle or more left?  You don’t want to pour it down the sink as that wold be a sin. Some wines, such as big Cabs, young Bordeaux’s or some Chiantis from Spain, can survive another day after being opened and some actually taste better. However, by popping the cork and allowing the wine to come into contact with oxygen is no different than decanting the wine. The oxygen will soften the tannins and even make the wines taste better the next day in some cases cut this is only true of some.  I am sure many of you have witnessed this on your own.  By popping the cork on delicate wines, such as light Burgundies and Pinot Niors, will not taste the same the following day. These are the wines that require a process to preserve them if the are opened.  In this article I want to look at the various options to preserving a wine for 1, 2 or more days with minimal deleterious effects on the wine.  Most of us are familiar with the benefits of refrigerating food or drink products to preserve them. If you remember your high school chemistry in order to accelerate chemical reactions you must heat the solution. If you want to slow down a reaction you must cool the solution. The same is true with wine, refrigeration will slow down, or prevent, acetic bacteria (Acetobacter) from turning the wine into vinegar. The growth of Acetobacter in wine can be eliminated by circumventing access to the oxygen found in air.  This can be accomplished by proper storage and moderate amounts of sulfur dioxide in the wine as a preservative. Sulfur dioxide occurs naturally from the skins of the grape.

Using refrigeration is a key method to slow the chemical processes of the wine and keep it from spoiling. But there is still another factor that has an influence on wine that we must stop, or control, and that is oxidation. This is a heavy hitter in ruining a wine. Placing wine into the refrigerator prevents wine from spoiling, but it creates another problem as oxygen is temperature dependant. In simple terms, oxygen is more soluble in a wine that is chilled. The wine will also hold more oxygen in solution if it is cold. As an example, if a wine is cooled from 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 32 degrees Fahrenheit the percentage of oxygen in solution will double.  A solution to this new problem is to reduce the surface area over the wine (less available oxygen). This can be accomplished by transferring the wine from the standard 750 ml bottle into a 375 ml wine bottle (splits). The smaller the area above the wine, the less oxygen for the wine to absorb oxygen when or if you refrigerate it.  Another method used by some is a vacuum pump that pulls a vacuum on the bottle which theoretically should reduce the percentage of oxygen in the bottle. From a scientific point of view, once you pull a vacuum on a bottle it can cause some of the gasses, such as carbon dioxide, to come out of solution. If these gasses carry some of the more volatile aromatics of the wine with it, you could actually be degrading the aromatics of the wine.  Another method that I do like is to use nitrogen, or another inert gas, to displace the oxygen from the remaining area above the wine.

In conclusion, there are methods available for preserving wine.  For me, I like the use of 375 ml bottles stored in the refrigerator.  At a minimum, I do refrigerate my wines that are left over.  When I get home from work I remove the bottle and do what chores I need to take care of.  By then, the bottles is at about cellar temperature.  If still a little cold just pour  a small amount in your glass and cup your hands around it for a few minutes.  This process will allow you to enjoy an open bottle of wine for a few days without much change from the day you opened it.


Rusty Sly