The Best Way to Preserve an Open Bottle of Wine

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

If you are anything like me or my friends, deciding what to do with an unfinished bottle of wine is a problem that rarely arises. But maybe you had a few people over for a dinner party, or maybe you are a light drinker, or maybe you just wanted to open both a red and a white for pairing options.

Regardless of the scenario, we all want that opened bottle of wine to taste as fresh and delicious tomorrow, as it does this evening. Here’s how to make sure that happens.

It’s All About Oxygen

As soon as you uncork a bottle, oxygen begins to interact with the wine, changing its composition over time. At first, oxygen encourages a wine to open up, releasing its aromas and softening any harsh tannins. This is why we swirl wine in our glasses or decant or even aerate.

Wine exposed to oxygen for an extended period of time, however, degrades and slowly turns to vinegar.

So, how long do you have? For most wines, you basically have two days of optimal drinking. Some wines can stretch until three days, but if you have a bottle that has been open a little longer, and it tastes fine to you, enjoy it! Those same attributes that make a wine age-worthy (high acidity, high sugar, or high tannin) also prolong the shelf-life once opened. For example, a high-acid, sweet Riesling or a dense, tannic Cabernet will maintain their characteristics longer than a low-acid, flabby Chardonnay or delicate Pinot Noir.

What is the easiest thing you can do to preserve your open bottle? Quickly and tightly cork the bottle and stick it in the fridge, even if it’s red. Refrigeration slows down the process of oxidation.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

3 Ways to Further Extend Your Open Bottle’s Life

1. Reduce the Oxygen.

The easiest and cheapest means of doing this is simply transferring your leftover wine into a smaller vessel. I keep a couple empty half-bottles around for just this occasion, but glass container or jar will do. There are also a couple of products on the market that function in a similar fashion, each uniquely keeping oxygen away.

2. Remove the Oxygen.

Another option is to use a device that extracts the air from the bottle of wine, removing the oxygen, creating a vacuum. This is most commonly accomplished with a pump device.

3. Replace the Oxygen.

This refers to replacing the oxygen in the bottle with an inert gas, most commonly, Argon. This gas is non-reactive and is frequently added to freshly bottled wines to prevent oxidation. The most common and cheapest means of blanketing the wine with Argon is an aerosol spray. One new device that demands attention is the Coravin system. Wine is extracted without ever encountering oxygen, allowing for an open bottle shelf-life of up to six months.

More on Preservation and Leftover Wine

→ Do you have any specific questions about how long you can keep your opened bottles of sparkling wine, dessert wine, tawny port, or aged Madeira? Ask me a question in the comments, and I will write a reply.