At least a couple times a week, customers ask me which tool is best for saving a partial bottle of wine.
My answer’s always the same: Masking tape.
Let me explain.
I have a glass of wine with dinner most nights (it’s practically a BFOQ, after all), and there’s no way I’m killing off a whole five-serving, 750-ml bottle every night. But wine—real wine, anyway, not the taste-managed, chemically enhanced (Mega Purple, anyone?), critter-labeled, fermented-grape beverage—is produce, not a product.
And while you might think that someone who sells wine for a living could easily become cavalier about tossing out leftovers, I’m the opposite. The more I’ve learned about the care and the passion and the back-breaking work that goes into honestly made wine, the harder it’s become for me to waste any.
But guess what? Saving wine is easy. And cheap. And requires no special equipment.
That’s right. You don’t need a fancy gizmo—no vacuum sealer or gas injector—just get a smaller bottle. And screw the cap on.
Oxygen is wine’s frenemy
Initially, once you open a bottle of wine, oxygen is a friendly force, softening, releasing, and encouraging all those fascinating fruit and attendant aromas to fill the glass and then your nose and then, of course, your taste buds.
Over time, though—could be an hour or two, could be a day or two—oxygen changes teams. Overlong exposure turns a wine flat, cidery, and often bitter. Rusty. That’s oxidation.
Skip the vacuum sealer
Those pumps designed to draw air out of the bottle’s headspace are well-intentioned. Sure, they extract the demon oxygen. But they can’t select only the oxygen; they extract all the good stuff, too—those volatiles and esters that suggest berries, pepper, apples, or whatever—those phenomenal phenolics that make wine fun.
So skip the gadgets, and do this instead.
- Decant it. Just pour the remaining wine into a smaller vessel, one that’ll leave little to no headroom. Fill it as full as you can. In fact, you can let it spill over, as in this little video from Food52, inspired by my NY Moore Brothers colleagues.
- Label it. (See, here’s the masking tape bit.) For as much as you think you’ll remember what’s in that little bottle, you won’t. Especially once you have more than a couple going at once.
- Refrigerate it. Oxidation is further retarded at cooler temperatures, so put your little bottles in the fridge. Yes, even the reds. They’ll warm up quickly when you’re ready to revisit them.
Preserved this way, most wines (sparklers excepted) will keep almost-as-good-as-new for up to a week (for lighter whites and rosés) and up to two weeks (for sturdier reds).
Do it early
TasteZone = ƒ(volume, temperature, time)
I do sometimes still think in equations, or at least in mathematical frameworks. And if a wine’s optimal shelf-life once opened is a function of the volume of headspace left in the bottle, the temperature at which it’s stored, and the time for which the wine’s exposed to air, with our little-bottle-in-the-fridge trick, we’ve obviated two of those.
The third—time—is an easy fix, too. If you suspect a short night, fill your short bottle straight away, before you even pour yourself a glass. Tucking it away after it’s only been open to the air for a minute or two buys you another couple days of freshness.