Storing half drunk bottles is something almost all wine lovers have
to contend with. Often the wine left over is a result of
enthusiasm/excess or simply because a single bottle is too much during
the week. Nonetheless, keeping the wine as the winemaker intended
overnight is no mean feat, given how rapidly a wine can degrade when
exposed to oxygen.
The biggest enemy are the acetic bacteria often present and active
in open bottles; these wines donít oxidise in the chemical way, but
generally rather more rapidly as the bacteria feed, turning your wine
The difference between the two types of degradation is fairly
marked although both will be acting at once. Chemical oxidation will
slowly turn your wine more stale, sometimes sherry- or Madeira-like,
but overnight you should be able to reduce its progression to a degree
where, for another night or two, it remains drinkable.
So, providing your wine is not too susceptible to acetic action,
whatís the best way to maintain itís freshness ?
I wish I had an easy answer Ė there simply isnít one! There are
many methods, each offering varying degrees of success. I think itís
so dependent on the type of wine Ė even on the character of
individual bottles Ė that thereís no hard and fast rules.
However, I can clearly recall bottles, particularly young, tannic
and or oaky wines, that actually drink better the next day providing
their exposure to air is kept fairly minimal. I guess a wine decanted
straight into a half bottle and placed in the fridge is perhaps less
oxidised than a wine decanted for an hour or more in an open
container, but itís difficult to judge.
So, cards on the table, I think one of the most important devices
to save wine overnight is your fridge! I have tried just about every
wine preservation technique and no one method is best every time. The
relatively undisturbed leftover bottle, placed into the fridge
straight soon after opening works well in many cases. There exist
devices designed to suck out the air first, but the problem with these
is that while some wines seem to benefit this way, others turned out
flat and dull. In some cases you can sometimes see the carbon dioxide
being drawn out of the wine, which might account for the loss of
What about trying to avoid oxygen contact completely? Sounds like
the ideal solution doesnít it? Well, it isnít. I was truly
saddened to find an expensive device which pushes out and Ďpreservesí
the wine under nitrogen made some irreplaceable wine react so badly to
the gas that it was totally undrinkable next day.
So, with all my experience with the different devices and
techniques on offer, what would I recommend ?
If you know youíre only drinking a half, especially younger
wines, try decanting immediately the half you donít expect to drink
into a smaller bottle and place straight in the fridge. Allow to warm
up naturally within a couple of days.
If you didnít know at the outset and are just left over with
around a half or less, either lightly vacuum out the air and place in
fridge or use a light layer of nitrogen (you might even want to try
both together), and use the fridge or cool cupboard. Itís entirely
possible that the fridge Ďshocksí some wines and they donít
recover soon enough after opening to be an improvement over a cool
cupboard, so once again experiment Ė and donít expect all wines to
react the same.
However, one hard and fast rule for me is with older, or just fully
mature reds, avoid the nitrogen completely. Youíll also need to be
careful or any heavy nitrogen exposure with any red Ė you canít
assume the results arenít going to be better than oxygen exposure.
White wines including desert wines
Use the half bottle method when appropriate, but also use nitrogen
more freely, including for the serving of the wine if you have such a
device. Avoid vacuuming white wines unless you pump out air very
lightly. In all cases continue to store in the fridge.
I use the half-bottle technique usually, but donít always use
the fridge, even for more mature wines. They stand up well as a rule
and the fridge can suppress the flavours for sometime after, although
port served slightly cool on a hot day is a good way to continue your
port drinking all year round!
With Champagne (less so with New World fizz), believe it or not an
overnight stay in the fridge with a normal cork placed in the bottle
seems to work so well -- youíd hardly know it wasnít just opened
(weíre talking more than a glass or two left over). I suppose this
is why people believe the silver spoon trick works Ė itís perhaps
because of the carbon dioxide forming a protective layer. However, if
you think a spoon might help keep the carbon dioxide in the bottle, a
cork certainly works a whole lot better!
But hereís the thing; when does anyone ever have any leftover
champagne! Cíest la vie!