What to do with Leftover Wine
What is “leftover” wine? For some, it is hard to imagine such a thing. This is a subject that has been addressed previously, but we still often get questions about it from customers at the 4.0 Cellars tasting room. So, here is my take on Leftover Wine.
Under most scenarios, there will not be any wine left in the bottle(s). However, if you sometimes find wine left in the bottle(s) after dinner or at evening’s end, what can be done about it? My preferred “best practice” is as follows: anticipate that you may have some wine left from the bottle you are opening, so immediately after opening a bottle, transfer one-half of the wine into a smaller container. Do this before you even pour your first glass of wine (see below). A half-bottle (375 mL) from a previously enjoyed wine, or a well-washed 12-ounce plastic soda bottle will do nicely. The smaller container needs a tight-fitting closure - a cork, stopper or snug-fitting screwcap. My favorite is a 12-ounce plastic soda bottle with a screwcap.
How and why does this best practice actually work? There are basically four 6 ounce glasses of wine in a 750 mL bottle, so immediately pouring half of the freshly opened wine to completely fill a smaller container will leave two nice glasses of wine ready to serve. This may well happen when a couple wants just one glass of wine each for a meal. Filling and sealing the smaller container will minimize air (oxygen) contact that will degrade the wine. Refrigerating the sealed, smaller container reduces the rate of oxidative degradation. This technique has provided drinkable wine even after 3-4 days. All one needs to do is warm it up a bit and enjoy when ready. If you find after finishing the two glasses of wine in the originally opened bottle that you would still like more of that wine, just pull the smaller container from the refrigerator and enjoy another glass.
Leftover wine in the original bottle will begin to oxidize immediately, and can result in significant degradation in aroma & flavor overnight. Refrigerating the partially filled bottle will help, but there is still air in the bottle in contact with the leftover wine. The best results expected from this practice would be one, maybe two days of drinkability.
A very effective method to preserve leftover wine for several days is displacing air with an inert gas, nitrogen or argon. Argon is best because it is more dense than air and displaces air from the bottle. In order to use a compressed gas cylinder safely, a pressure regulator is needed, which adds some expense and requires some handling know-how. Or, one can find several gassing systems for home or commercial use on the internet or in commonly distributed wine catalogs. Small spray cans of argon are relatively inexpensive and readily available. Adding a good “squirt” of argon from such a spray can and tightly sealing the bottle will preserve leftover wine for several days.
Removing air using self-sealing stoppers and a small hand pump to pull a vacuum is another widely used technique. The advantage is less air left in the bottle to oxidize the wine. The disadvantage is that when a vacuum is pulled, a portion of the wine’s volatile aroma and flavor components are also removed. Since what you taste in a wine is 80+% related to what you smell, removing these important volatile compounds appears a less favorable approach to dealing with leftover wine.
However you decide to deal with this issue of leftover wine, here are two key things to remember.
1. Air contains oxygen, which in contact with wine will start impacting the wine immediately, and cause oxidative degradation over time.
2. Refrigeration slows oxidative degradation and will increase the drinkability time window.