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For Pete's Sake, Don't Throw Out That Wine!

recorked_bottle.jpgIn the course of trolling the Internet for all things wine, I recently came across a remarkable statistic: UK consumers throw away around 50 million liters of wine per year, valued at around $726 million.

That's a lot of wine being poured down the sink.

The British supermarket chain that reported this statistic, presumably from some study they had done, suggests that it is due "in part, to Brits not knowing how long it stays fresh in open bottles and too much wine being served at a time."

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the people reporting this statistic are purveyors of bag-in-the-box wine that combats this very problem, let's assume for a moment this is actually true, and that consumers everywhere (at least those with options for refrigerating their wine) have the same issue.

Either people are tossing out wine too early, for fear that it has gone bad, or they're keeping it too long without finishing it and finding that it has indeed gone bad.

Care to hazard a guess which is more likely? I'm not sure myself, but if I had to put my money on one, it would be that people are throwing out a lot of perfectly good wine.

I'm not infrequently asked how to store opened wine, and also continue to come across friends who express surprise to see me (or to be instructed by me to) put the cork back in a bottle and throw it in the fridge. Red or white, it doesn't matter.

This is by far the most common way I store wine for later consumption. If I were richer, and a little more organized about such things, I'd buy inert gas canisters and spray some of that into my better bottles to displace the oxygen before putting the cork in to make sure the wines lasted the longest, but really, I can't be bothered (not to mention paying eight bucks for a can that feels like it has nothing in it still makes me feel a little weird). At any given time I've got several bottles in the door of my fridge at home.

Keeping wine in the refrigerator is quite important if you want it to last once opened. The chemical reactions, that take place to spoil wine, especially those involving living organisms like bacteria and yeasts are dramatically slowed by cooler temperatures. Oxidation, on the other hand, can be slowed by the aforementioned dose of Nitrogen or Argon, or by simply keeping an empty half-bottle and a funnel around and pouring it full of the leftover wine, thereby dramatically reducing the amount of oxygen that can come into contact with the wine.

But let's get back to the basics: push the cork back in, and throw it in the fridge.

I've tried those mechanical vacuum sealers and pumps of different kinds and I don't think they really make much of a difference over the course of time. Don't waste your money or your time -- though the little rubber stoppers you get with them can be handy.

As for how long wine will keep with the cork shoved back in the bottle (or that screw cap re-threaded): a lot longer than some people think.

I tend to keep white wines (and pink ones) re-corked in the fridge for sometimes up to three or four weeks. Yes, at week four I can often taste some oxidation, but most white wines are still quite drinkable even at that stage. Sadly Champagnes don't last nearly that long, but as someone once put it to me in outrage: "what on earth would make you not want to finish a bottle of Champagne once it was opened?" A very good question, indeed.

Red wines are a different story, as they oxidize much quicker than white wines. How long a red wine will last in the fridge seems to be much more variable, and in my experience dependent upon the winemaking. Without getting into a whole digression here about what makes some wines able to age much longer than others, suffice it to say that the wines most likely to last decades in your cellar are those most likely to last weeks in your fridge.

I recently "lost" a bottle of red wine in my fridge (OK, so I mostly just ignored it in favor of other wines for weeks) and found it in remarkably good shape after more than three weeks. At that point the blend of Pinot Noir and Pinotage tasted like it was 10-years-old, but it was quite surprisingly still in fine shape. It made me think I ought to buy a case of it and throw it in the cellar for a long time.

That bottle is an extreme case however. Usually my reds last about a week before they show noticeable signs of oxidation. Some I can continue drinking for another week, others are pretty much kaput on day seven. It's always luck of the draw, and in my house I have the luxury of having a lot of other wines around if one opened bottle from last week turns out to be over the hill.

But the short story is that keeping leftover wine to drink later is a pretty simple proposition that merely involves remembering not to throw out that cork (or screw cap) once you remove it. And perhaps reminding yourself to not pour the remains of that bottle down the sink after all.

Photo courtesy of Ninja M

Comments (31)

Jen wrote:
09.06.10 at 5:24 AM

Yup just keep it simple! Push the cork back in, throw it in the fridge :-)

Having said that, I think the real solution here is, only stock wine that you'll have to rush back for more..that way it won't be forgotten in the fridge:-)

Jim H wrote:
09.06.10 at 7:05 AM

thanks. Just curious, do you drink reds cold or pour and wait for them to come to room temp?

Allen Clark wrote:
09.06.10 at 7:39 AM

I certainly agree, Alder, though I use a slight variation of your process, as I live alone. On opening a new bottle, the first thing I do is fill an empty 375ml bottle (over the sink; no need to be all that careful), put a levered stopper in it (corks are a pain), and put it in the fridge. I then pour a glass from what remains of the bottle, put a stopper in it, and put that in the fridge. The stoppered full bottle, mostly air, keeps fine for a few days, but is normally finished the second evening. The stoppered half-bottle (no air) will keep pretty much as if it had never been opened - years, but typically consumed within a few days.

Jenny wrote:
09.06.10 at 7:44 AM

Nice to see that I am not the only one to shove the cork back in the bottle and put it in the fridge. I generally go by the taste to see if it is still good but having a guideline works too.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
09.06.10 at 8:25 AM


Thanks for reminding me. When I'm going back to a bottle I've kept in the fridge, I try to pull it out about 10-20 minutes before I'm going to drink it so it's not too cold.

It's also acceptable to throw a glass in the microwave for about 4 seconds.

Jack wrote:
09.07.10 at 6:12 AM

And of course, you can always cook with it!

Rajiv wrote:
09.07.10 at 6:19 AM

How long a wine will "last" also depends on your threshold for acetaldehyde and other oxidative characteristics. I've only had two wines that were remotely palateable for me the next day. One was a young nebbiolo (notoriously tannic and ageworthy) and the other was a Musar (it's already somewhat spoiled... seems to make it invincible).

I'm inclined to think that most people over-estimate the lasting power of wine, then find it tastes bad when they open it, and dump it. For me, I consider the original wine to be dead the morning after opening the bottle - if it's still drinkable that's a plus, but I don't expect it to be anything like it was on the first day.

I've had best luck with the half-bottle trick plus vacuum stoppers plus refrigeration. Microwaving is awesome both for glasses of wine and whole bottles (only 5-6 seconds at a time!). I've heard that somms microwave expensive bottles all the time.

Brooke wrote:
09.07.10 at 10:53 AM

In a conversation I had with Wine Bible Author & CIA Wine Director Karen MacNeil, I discovered she and Alder share a similar philosophy: there's nothing wrong with sticking a cork in it, and throwing it in the fridge.

Sean Kroronk wrote:
09.07.10 at 11:14 AM

I've had some luck freezing bottles opened at a party, and then thawing them some months later. The whites precipitated some white crystally stuff, but since I did this per the suggestion at Iron Chevsky's blog, and he stated that the stuff was harmless, I wasn't worried. Plus, it tasted pretty close to how I remembered, so no harm no foul. I keep meaning to try it with reds, but they never last long enough to get to the freezer..

David Honig wrote:
09.07.10 at 12:52 PM

The half-bottle trick is the easiest. I keep a couple just for that purpose. I also keep a couple of 500ml bottles from dessert wines for bottles with a bit more left in them.

On the comment about keeping a red out until it reaches "room temperature," IMHO a lot of reds are consumed to warm. The idea is cellar temperature (around 58F), not room temperature, so Alder's advice, 10-20 minutes out of the refrigerator, makes good sense. (doesn't it always?)

Ed Lehrman wrote:
09.07.10 at 2:26 PM

Actually, I follow the same method as Allen Clark for 2 reasons: 1) Filling the 375 ml with wine first and stashing it recorked in the fridge seems to make more sense to me as doing it after I have had a half-bottle of 750 ml wine open on the counter for a few hours seems like unnecessary oxidation--seems to be true, and 2) it is more obvious when I have already consumed a half bottle--the visual half bottle of a 750 ml is never quite true! Then the only problem is when my wife comes looking for the other half after the kids are in bed.

Kelly wrote:
09.07.10 at 7:24 PM

We rarely have to store a bottle for later consumption, but when we do the cork goes back in and it goes in the refrigerator for safe-keeping. I kind of thought we were abusing the wine a little. Usually it is gone within a week anyhow so I suppose we don't give it enough time to go "bad". If we aren't drinking it because we don't like it I might dump it into the slow cooker with some beef. We rarely throw out wine unless we really cannot stand it.

Darlene wrote:
09.08.10 at 6:48 AM

I quite often will keep a bottle of wine in the fridge for a week or more. It's great to have around when making risotto or a sauce. Definitely no need to pour good wine down the sink.

Dan D wrote:
09.08.10 at 11:13 AM

I used to always use the vacuum but found that the bouquet/aroma got sucked out. So now I just throw it in the fridge like the rest of you. I find I need to wait closer to an hour to get it back to the desirable temperature. Also thinking about getting the inert gas canister. Any thoughts there?

Doug Schulman wrote:
09.08.10 at 12:25 PM

I rarely find a white, pink, or red wine that I will drink on day 3 or beyond. I usually use the method you're talking about. I think Rajiv raises a good point that the longevity of a wine is very dependent on your tolerances for oxidative aromas and volatile acidity. I usually notice too much for me of one or both of those components anywhere after day 2. I've never had a bottle be good after 3 or 4 days.

pTart wrote:
09.08.10 at 3:42 PM

Dan D:
I use a insert gas canister all of the time. It is called Wine Life. The gas is a blend of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide. A two second shot of the gas will hold a bottle for about 1 month..maybe more. To test it, ( a long time ago), I opened a bottle, poured out a glass for me and one for my wife. A shot of the gas & re-cork it. I dated the bottle and placed it back in my cellar, standing up, too see how long it will last. 25 days later, I brought the wine up and poured out the balance, Delicious and fresh. The gas covers the wine and protects it from oxidation.
As a rep, I do this all of the time to extend the life of my samples.

Tom Barras wrote:
09.08.10 at 4:42 PM

Our wines are generally finished off within the week, either during "cocktail hour," or with dinner, or both. But if there's any doubt about being able to finish off the bottle, we usually find a way to deglaze the pan, use it in marinades, or create a simple sauce with butter. Throwing out wine is never an alternative at our house.

Carl wrote:
09.08.10 at 9:06 PM

Very interesting read! We have one of those pumps with the rubber insert that goes in the bottle. I'm not sure how much this helps. I'm going to try putting our red wines in the fridge if we don't finish. It makes sense. Thanks again!


Rs Ss wrote:
09.09.10 at 9:44 AM

I use Platypus PlatyPreserve bags. Simple idea and it works great. You pour the wine into them and squeeze out the air then screw on the top.

Rebecca wrote:
09.12.10 at 3:10 PM

This was a great piece of advice. The survey was interesting. I think they throw a lot of wine away because they no longer have the cork or screw cap. If they are anything like my friends from Norway they toss the cork immediately because they fully anticipate drinking the entire bottle.

09.12.10 at 4:24 PM

I like the 375 ml approach. I use a small funnel and pour slowly. Remember that pouring vigorously in itself allows a lot of air to be mingled with the wine. I don't bother putting it in the fridge. For my better wines, I use the nitrogen spray.
Alder, "paying eight bucks for a can that feels like it has nothing in it" How much did you expect nitrogen to weigh? Just joshing you. I have even seen people shake the can. Oh yeah, that really makes sense.

Sally wrote:
09.12.10 at 7:57 PM

You can also make wine into wine vinegar by adding some 'mother' to it and keeping it a warm place. Look out for vinegar which includes 'mother'. This is a very good idea for the dregs of bottles - just have a large earthenware jar ready and pour the odds and ends in. After a while it will have the fresh smell of wine vinegar rather than the musky gone off smell of wine.

Anthony wrote:
09.13.10 at 3:02 AM

I swear by the Vacu Vvin - I think it really works. That and the fridge - but often once I use the pump cork I leave the reds out and they are fine for a week or more...

tom farella wrote:
09.13.10 at 9:13 AM

I am always afraid to put reds in the fridge b/c of the temperature swings but I guess you've had good luck with that? Lesser evil of fruit retention and slowed oxiddation vs. loss of earthy nuances, perhaps? Sounds like we share thoughts on oxygen under vacuum (it's still oxygen), inert argon gas (wasteful, imprecise and not perfect). An added bennie for me is I get to watch open bottles "decompose" and see elements and patterns of their composition as things fall away. This is a key to the blending process, too, since it's one of the only ways to get insights into the layers in a given blend.

Craig Duncan wrote:
09.13.10 at 1:00 PM

And if it does get too old, make vinegar. It is surprisingly simple and satisfying to make your own excellent wine vinegar. Don't use corked wine though.

09.17.10 at 3:50 PM

I dunno.. I've thrown out my fair share of wine and I can guarantee you I tried to drink it first!

09.20.10 at 5:37 PM

The simple putting he cork back in the bottle usually works well. Another technique we often use, especially when we have several leftover wines (as a result of the frequent tastings our group does) is to pour the remaining wine into plastic bags, squeeze out the air and put in the fridge. Many of our wines last well over a week and display excellent aromatics.

Kathleen wrote:
03.06.11 at 5:53 AM

I pour any leftover wine in a small empty water bottle. Squeeze the bottles till the wine level reaches the top of the bottle and screw the lid on. No oxygen in the bottle so there is no deterioration of the quality !!

bill wrote:
01.23.13 at 7:47 AM

I have some grand old Bordeaux wines. E.g. 1961 & 1966 HautBrion, 1961 Chateau Latour the best. The retain excellent fill and have been in stable though not ideal tempurature ~ 60 F. My recent experience is that they are all coming up pruney. Corks all crumble and cannot be removed cleanly with a Corkscrew. Any suggestions?

01.23.13 at 12:57 PM

Bill, try the two pronged corkscrew. Your corks will come out all in one piece.

Kelly wrote:
11.02.13 at 5:00 PM

I'm a Caregiver for a 91 year old lady that likes a glass of White Zindenfel or as I call it "Sinnedandfell". She has a bad case of IBS and I wonder if it is her 2 month old bottle of wine. She buys the large 2.4 Liter bottles and one will last her 1 to 2 months in the fridge. Is this harmful? She only has one small glass every night or so.

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