The Best Way to Save an Open Wine Bottle

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The Best Way to Save an Open Wine Bottle
You're drinking wine and you realize you aren't going to finish the bottle. You know wine doesn't stay fresh for long once the bottle is opened. So how do you keep it as fresh as possible until you want to finish it? How long can you realistically wait to drink it? To answer these questions, consider the reason wine spoils.
Wine is full of molecules and chemical compounds (like alcohol and acids) that are constantly reacting to each other. This is why wine changes as it ages in the bottle, but this is also why wine spoils. When the bottle is opened, these molecules react to the air, and the wine starts changing rapidly. This is why wine "opens up" or "breathes" in the glass as you drink it.
That's the good news. The bad news is that any remaining wine in the bottle will continue "breathing" and reacting to the air until the wine spoils. The reaction between wine and oxygen is called "oxidation", and oxidation is the primary thing to prevent when trying to preserve an open bottle.
A little bit of oxidation is okay. When we decant or aerate wine, we're forcing a small amount of oxidation to occur quickly, in order to soften tannins or increase aromas. But too much oxidation, like when an open bottle sits on the counter for several days, is a problem. Oxidation diminishes the fruit flavors in the wine and creates nutty, caramelized flavors instead. It also gives a brownish hue to the wine, making red wines lighter in color and white wines darker in color.
You need a two-step strategy for preventing oxidation. Step one is to keep the wine away from air. Step two is to keep the wine cold to slow down the chemical reactions. The colder the wine, the slower the process of oxidation.
STEP ONE: KEEP THE WINE AWAY FROM AIR
The best choices involve pumping the air out of the bottle or pumping inert gasses in.
Vacuum pump (an acceptable method) Inexpensive vacuum pumps are readily available in wine and grocery stores. The small plastic pump is usually sold with specially designed rubber corks. To preserve an open bottle of wine, you place the rubber cork in the top of the bottle, place the pump on the rubber cork, and pump out as much air as you can, creating a vacuum in the empty space in the bottle. This method works, but there is a problem: some of the volatile compounds in wine, which so easily evaporate into air (like when we swirl and smell), can be pulled into that vacuum and lost. This method is better than nothing, and should work for a day or two. However, I prefer the second method...
Gas (the preferred method!) These cans of compressed gas are a little more difficult to find, but worth the effort. In this method you spray inert gasses (nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide) into the open bottle. These gasses are heavier than air, so they sink down and form a blanket on top of the wine. You place the original cork (or a bottle stopper) into the opening, and your wine is protected. This method will preserve your wine for a longer than a vacuum pump up to a week. These cans of gas cost about $10, and I find that one will last me a year or more.

Use A Blanket Of Co2 Gas For Best Results
STEP TWO: KEEP THE WINE COLD
The two main options are the refrigerator or the freezer.
In the fridge (the preferred method!) This is the best way to slow down the chemical reactions that could spoil your wine. Try to position the bottle upright in fridge instead of laying it down, to minimize the amount of the wine's surface area that is in contact with the air. (Chances are that when you're ready to drink the wine, you won't want to drink it at fridge temperature. See my article on service temperatures to find out how long it should stay out of the fridge to warm up to the correct temperature.)

Preventing Exposure To Air Reduces Oxidation
In the freezer (only recommended for cooking) Some wine writers recommend freezing wine, but I wouldn't freeze a wine I want to drink. Extremely low temperatures can damage wine or cause particulates to precipitate out of it and create cloudiness or sediment. However, I DO freeze wines that I'm planning to cook with later. The wine will expand as it freezes, so to ensure the bottle doesn't burst, I leave the cork out when I place it in the freezer, positioning the bottle so it won't spill. When the wine has frozen, I put the cork in the top to prevent odors from the freezer from influencing the wine.
By combining a gas system with refrigeration, you can keep your wine fresh and ready to drink for up to two weeks.
Whatever you do, just don't leave it sitting on the kitchen counter!
 
Could you by chance use CO2 instead of a pre-mixed gas canister (mostly nitrogen I assume?), I ask as it would be relatively trivial to flush a wine bottle with gas from a kegging rig.
 
@vincentAlpha I don't see why not, Co2 prevents beer from oxidizing it has to work with other liquids as well I would think.
 
@ScrewyBrewer That is what I would assume, but for some things wine is different from beer so worth the ask. Then again my wine doesn't usually sit around open long enough to worry haha
 
I work for a major wine producer. Usually a bottle of wine that you're going to drink through in a few days won't develop much oxidation if you avoid high temps, but beyond that, these tips are good for extending that time frame.
Another one I like a lot is to keep around 375ml bottles. When you drink through half of a 750, gently pour the rest into a 375, which has little surface area (esp. if you get up into the neck). Recork, and it will last a very long time like that. Don't worry about the oxidation from the pour from one bottle to the next. Most decent wines benefit from decanting anyway so the motion from one bottle to another isn't a big deal.
Private Preserve is also sold under another name (I forgot what it is, though) in woodworking shops, where its used to preserve things like varnish in the can and prevent a skin from forming.
 
What's an "open wine you're not going to finish"? I think my wife said it best, "What's leftover wine?"
 
I have a utility line connected to the CO2 tank on my kegerator that I used to purge containers (growlers of beer, bottles of wine) with good success. If you're going for a few days to a week, seems to do well.
 
Those pumps don't do much. The cans give you about a week.
Notice the can uses a little tube on the nozzle. This is because nitrogen is lighter than air. So no blanket. I think what they are selling is air with the oxygen removed, so it's mostly nitrogen.
There is no such thing as a CO2 blanket, at least not one that lasts more than a few seconds. Gases dissipate very quickly. See 'partial pressure'.
 
Maybe I am a "suspenders with a belt" kind of guy, but I use the vacuum and the gas. I have had bottles of delicate whites that were good weeks later. I try to moderate my consumption, so avoid the "ah, what the heck, one more (double sized) glass will finish the bottle off. The cost of the gas is way offset by the savings in wine. Great article.
 
By far the best method is to use a coravin device (coravin.com). It uses a thin hollow needle to inject argon and pour glasses of wine without pulling the cork. My cousin has one and it works beautifully. I have no affiliation with the device, I just wish I invented it.
 
@masonsjax
Gotta agree with masonsjax, the Coravin is so far and beyond amazing it is frankly disruptive technology! (by putting the makers of the 20,000$ sampling systems out of business and enabling restaurants to sell $1000 bottles by the glass)
 
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