This topic comes from a request made by a friend of mine, who read the blog last week. Bemoaning the fact that her beer-drinking partner doesn’t share her predilection for a glass of wine of an evening, she explained that she can never quite finish the bottle in two nights.
As a result, she finds herself pouring a lot of plonk down the drain because of post-opening oxidation. As we all know, wine degrades once opened, starting off on a slow march towards vinegar, and my friend wanted to know what she can do to keep wine fresh for longer than two nights of drinking.
I expect that (especially in Scotland) most of us find we can drink a bit too much from time to time, but my friend is being quite responsible here, which in her circumstance is quite hard to do. You see, current health guidelines on consumption vary massively between the smallest of ladies (daily limit: 2 units) and the largest of gents (daily limit: 4 units), and my friend happens to be quite a wee lady! This makes the average of 10 units per 750ml bottle of wine just a little over her recommended daily allowance – even if she drinks it over the course of two nights!
So, while her partner can enjoy 1.5 units per 330mls of his beer, opening one at a time, she has to crack open all 10 units at once. There are some half and quarter-size bottles available, but unfortunately these offer limited choice, and are often not of great quality or value.
No, my friend has to pop the whole bottle, turning that old shtick about the pessimist’s glass being half-empty on its head; instead, she is pessimistic about her half-full bottle because it is likely to go off before she has the chance to quaff it!
There are three factors which act to ‘gub’ your wine once you open it. The first and worst is oxygen, which reacts with the wine, altering its chemical structure by breaking down the phenolics (basic flavour compounds) and ethanol (the alcohol itself). The second is environment, as higher temperature and light levels can act to speed up this reaction. The third is surface exposure - the amount of wine that gets to be in contact with the oxygen in the air.
Once a bottle is open, you would do well to keep it resealed, upright (to minimise surface exposure), and in the fridge – but NOT in the door of the fridge, as this will ‘stir’ the wine every time you swing the door open. This advice applies to both red and white wines, but for advice on serving previously-opened reds from the fridge, refer to my last blog (‘warming your reds’).
There is a wealth of fairly silly (and costly) gadgets available that are designed to combat wine oxidation. These include vacuum pumps, nitrogen and argon sprays, and tiny glass marbles that you put in the bottle to ‘top up’ the wine to the neck of the bottle. I don’t know about you, but I reckon each and every one of those sounds like an injurious disaster waiting to happen (inhaling pure argon, swallowing invisible marbles, etc). I might perhaps suggest a good, snug bottleneck stopper as corks can be a bit tricky to re-use sometimes, but otherwise, a steady hand when moving the wine, and due diligence in storage are the way to go.
This advice is not a solution, just best practice, and the success of this method depends on the wine in question too, but I expect you should get a solid three nights of drinking out of most bottles.
If you still have leftovers, a final tip is to plan your home cooking around the wine you have left. Wine used for cooking doesn’t have to stay super-fresh to be useful, and can sit in the bottle a little longer until you find a chance to revitalise it in your sauces, marinades, soups and stews!
There you go – plenty of reasons to be optimistic about that half-full bottle!