Keeping an Open Bottle of Wine -
It's a topic that wine people can spend weeks arguing about. What do you do with that half-drunk wine bottle at the end of a night? Can you just cork it and leave it on your counter? Should you decant it and put it into the fridge? How about gas or vacu-vin or other methods - do they really work? Are they worth the money?
After hearing all sides of the argument, I decided to try every combination being offered and see what the actual results were for a standard red and white. We didn't go with rare $300/bottle wines that would hardly ever reach a wine drinker's table. Even if one did, would it actually survive the evening of drinking? Instead, we polled various stores and settled on what appeared to be the most commonly sold bottles of wine:
- Kendall Jackson 1998 Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, $12
- Beringer 1998 Founders' Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $10
Note: We originally wanted to do this test with Rosemount's Shiraz/Cabernet blend, which is also hugely popular. However, we were warned by an expert that this wine is created with carbonic maceration. This technique creates young, easily drinkable wines, but it also makes a wine that is incapable of aging. To leave this wine out overnight, no matter what you did, is in essence to kill it. Drink wines like this in one sitting, or use them for cooking.
After much deliberation, we decided to do the following things to each wine after removing half of the wine:
- Simply cork one bottle and stick it into the fridge. 750ml bottle, half empty.
- Vacu-vin a bottle and stick it into the fridge. 750ml bottle, air "removed".
- Apply gas to a bottle and stick it into the fridge. 750ml bottle, layer of gas on wine.
- Decant the wine into a half-bottle and stick it into the fridge. 375ml bottle, NO air.
Avoid the Kitchen Counter
Note that something is missing here. We did NOT do any test of a bottle by leaving it out on the kitchen counter. This is because after talking to many wine people, we were told emphatically by each one that leaving a wine on the counter will definitely ruin its flavor. Any wine, red or white, needs to be put into the fridge to try to preserve it for even a few days. Why is that?
Having air come in contact with a wine is sort of like fast-aging the wine. That's not to say you can make a 1999 Bordeaux taste like a 1979 Bordeaux just by sitting it out for 2 hours - aging is a complex combination of many reactions.
Since the air is already 'aging' the wine, you need to keep other environmental conditions from also adversely affecting the wine and making this aging worse. Your aim in keeping a wine for a few days is to "freeze" it in time. Your ultimate goal would be to have it just as drinkable on the 3rd day as it was when you opened it. This is why you put it into the fridge - to help it stay stationary in its aging cycle, so it tastes just as good after a few days as it did when you first removed the cork. A warm counter would only accelerate the aging further, turning the wine into vinegar very quickly. Wine is stored at 55F for 'normal aging', so the fridge temperature of around 34F provides 'slower aging', which is just what you want.
Not all Wines can Survive
Not all wines can last the three days. For a wine to remain drinkable after having been exposed to air, it needs to be capable of aging in the first place. Otherwise it will turn into an 'over-aged' wine and become undrinkable. This is not in the sense that it is now dangerous to drink - a wine doesn't go 'bad'. However, it will taste awful!
Knowing this, it makes sense that most reds will last the 3 days better than most whites will, since most reds are designed for aging better than whites are. Also, some drink-quick wines like White Zinfandel will not be able to survive at all, since they were never made for aging in the first place.
Our Test Components
The Vacu-Vin we used is the standard one available on most websites and in most stores. While it says you only need a few pumps to make it work, we have found that you need around 15 to create a reasonable vacuum inside the bottle. For the gas, we used Private Preserve, which is a mixture of Nitrogen, Carbon dioxide, and Argon that is heavier than air. In essence it blankets the top of the wine in the bottle, forming a layer which keeps the air away from the wine.
For our experiment, we came up with our question: Can a wine, once it is opened, survive 3 days and still be similar to the original wine. On Tuesday, October 24th, we prepared four bottles of the Chardonnay and then four bottles of the Cabernet, and then placed these 8 bottles side by side in our fridge. We also put a control bottle of each in the fridge with them. We then left them, untouched, until Friday, October 27th, when we invited several friends over to assist us with the tasting.
On the Third Day: The Whites were Opened First
On the Third Day: The Reds were Opened Second
Experiment with Wine Warming Up Rates