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Wine Wednesdays With William: How To Keep Your Leftover Wine From Going Bad

'saratoga living' wine expert William Roach solves your open-wine-bottles-everywhere, post-Thanksgiving-dinner problem like a boss.

Opening A Wine Bottle
(Marco Verch/Flickr)

All sorts of issues occur after you pull the cork out of your favorite wine bottle. For one, opened wine will turn to vinegar. The villains are acetobacter, acetic acid bacteria that are found on all grapes. They flourish in warm temperatures, in the absence of sulfur dioxide, and in the presence of plentiful oxygen. In other words, they will be very happy in the half-empty bottle of red, left on the kitchen counter, overnight tomorrow. Later, when you come to taste it, you will be less happy. The immediate consequence of bacterial activity is the wine loses its fruity aroma and becomes dull, flat and vapid. The color of both white and red wine becomes brownish. Ultimately, the wine won’t be wine anymore, but vinegar.

There are devices, of varying effectiveness, that claim to help wine from going vinegary. The most popular are the vacuum pump and the aerosol spray; both work by limiting the exposure of the opened wine to air. While the vacuum pump sucks air out of the bottle, the aerosol puts into the bottle argon or nitrogen which, the gas being heavier than air, sinks to the surface of the wine and lays as a sheet of inert gas on it, in much the same way a you might wrap previously cut fruit in saran wrap.

There are simpler ways of restricting the wine’s exposure to air, and the most effective one is to transfer the leftover wine into a smaller container—an empty water bottle is worth keeping on hand—and resealing it as good as new. Wine lovers have also been known to add inert objects to their half-empty wine bottles—small glass marbles are a favorite—raising the level of the wine back up to the neck of the bottle.

I’m full of admiration for anyone who has the energy to attempt any of the above after a Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s not for me. So, for lazy wine drinkers out there, here’s my tip: deny the bacteria the warm temperatures they need and put the opened wine, red or white, in the fridge. We may not defeat the bacteria, but we can slow them down long enough to keep the leftover wine fresh for the leftover turkey.

Wine Challenge:
Next time you just want a glass of wine, open a wine bottle and immediately fill a clean plastic water bottle to the brim, screwing the top back on. Put it aside for the next time. How well did it survive?

William Roach
William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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