I am convinced that a great number people who would like to enjoy wine with everyday meals are discouraged from doing so by a concern for both prudence and moderation. Prudence dictates that one should not be profligate and purchase a perishable (and sometimes expensive) product that cannot be consumed before it goes bad, while moderation demands that we drink alcoholic beverages responsibly.
So here’s the paradoxical question: how can you drink wine in a responsible manner everyday without wasting the majority of an oftentimes expensive bottle? In other words, how do we preserve the freshness and drinkability of wine over several days once it has been opened?
Now, this is not a problem for spirits drinkers since the level of alcohol in a bottle of hootch is enough to preserve the stuff through the next millennium. And beer drinkers are not confronted with this dilemma either since the 12-ounce bottles which contain that frothy amber fluid are easily consumed at one sitting.
Wine, on the other hand, is usually bottled in a 25-ounce glass container with an average alcohol content of between 10 and 15 percent. This amount of alcohol serves to protect the wine from spoilage in the first few hours after the bottle is opened, but it is not sufficient to keep the stuff fresh over an extended period.
So what can you do to keep the wine fresh if the unthinkable occurs and you don’t finish the entire bottle in the first couple of hours after it is opened? Unlike chili, beef barley soup or meatloaf, fine wine, especially the white varieties, does not improve over several days in the refrigerator. In fact, a partially full bottle of wine will deteriorate rather quickly if you don’t take certain precautions.
An open bottle of wine has a schizoid visitor: oxygen. When a wine is un-corked, the oxygen that invades it initially does wondrous things for the aroma and can actually serve as a catalyst to unleash the complex flavors that have developed over time in the bottle. Like a good friend (Dr. Jekyll), oxygen has a positive influence on wine – up to a point.
Enter Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately, after a few hours of uninterrupted contact with air, most wines begin to fall apart rather quickly – even if you screw the cap back on or put the cork back in the bottle.
But fear not intrepid oenophiles, I’m here to give you a few pointers on how to keep that special bottle fresh for days or even weeks!
First, since the major problem is too much oxygen, you must reduce the air space in the partially consumed bottle. You can do this by pouring the wine into a smaller container (such as a half-bottle). It is safe to leave about an inch of air space at the top of the bottle which, of course, must be secured by inserting the cork or affixing the screw-cap. Then, either put the wine in the refrigerator or store it in a dark, cool place to drink another day.
If you’re going to drink the wine the very next day, you can sometimes get away with simply re-corking the bottle and putting it in the refrigerator. Young red wines seem to tolerate contact with air much better than older reds or any white wine. However, leaving any wine with significant air space in the bottle for more than one day is courting disaster.
Another tip is to keep different size containers (with accompanying lids) in your kitchen cabinet so you’ll have them when the need arises. (If you’re a native West Virginian, remember to save that empty half-pint voting-inducement bottle from the last election- they work just fine) Be sure also to save a couple of empty fifth bottles and their corks to store wines from unfinished 1.5 liter bottles or jugs.
Some folks have suggested putting marbles into a partially empty bottle of wine to take up the air space. Not only is this an impractical solution, you’re sure to lose your marbles over time.