How to Store an Opened Bottle of Wine

There’s nothing more tragic than a good bottle of wine — or, rather, half a bottle of good wine — going to waste. If you are one of our customers who buy wine online who perhaps looked forward to drinking an especially good bottle of wine, then this is an especially important question for you. Don’t suffer the sadness of going back for seconds from an open bottle, only to discover it’s spoiled. Read our guide on storing opened wines, so you’ll never have to pour it down the drain again.

1. First, let’s air out the differences

The type-wine and how you store it can make a big difference to how long it says drinkable. Aerating wine upon opening is commonly known to help the aromas breathe, and can do wonders for the taste. But, like all things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. If too much oxygen gets into your wine, it will steadily decline from its peak deliciousness to barely drinkable. It won’t poison you or make you unwell, but it will turn into vinegar. Fine for cooking but not so fine for drinking.

Different wines react differently to oxygen exposure. More often than not, a bottle of wine tastes better on the second day, and sometimes even into the third day. It’s not unheard of for the flavour to suddenly improve weeks after opening. The chemical reaction between the wine and the oxygen (oxidation) can produce wildly different results, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

To get the best oxidation results, you’ll want to limit the rate and the exposure of the wine to the oxygen and keep it relatively cool. We wouldn’t recommend leaving your favourite bottle of South African Pinotage out on the counter with no recorking. The best practice is to recork and vacuum seal the wine, then store your whites and roses in the refrigerator and your reds in a wine fridge or a cool, dark cabinet. Note that the more wine is left in the bottle, the better it will store — there’s simply a smaller surface area to volume ratio, meaning that less oxygen can ‘dissolve’ into the wine.

2. Put a cork in it

Recorking wine is an important step to slow down the oxidation process. How you stopper your wine may depend on how the bottle came in the first place. There are several different ways that wine can be restoppered:

● Corks: If the bottle came with a cork, then you can restopper it simply by reinserting the cork. Make sure you put the cork back in the same way around. The outside-facing side of the cork is easier to insert back into the bottle, but it’s likely covered in all kinds of microparticles of dust and gunk that you really don’t want in your wine. If the cork was damaged on removing (i.e., it starts to break up or flake away) then use a different one. The same goes for the inflexible plastic types of corks — you’ll never get it back in. It’s always a good idea to have some spare, clean corks handy for this reason.

● Screwcaps: If it came with a screw lid, then recorking couldn’t be simpler. Just put the lid back on!

● DIY: If you’ve lost the cork and don’t have any spares, then you can always get crafty with cling film and an elastic band to seal the top of the bottle.

● Sparkling stoppers: It’s advisable to invest in a special stopper for sparkling wines and champagne, as a regular stopper can burst off and cause damage. Never use a vacuum seal on a sparkling wine either, as it will suck out the bubbles that you’re aiming to preserve.

When it comes to recorking bottles, time is of the essence. Don’t go to bed with it sitting on the side — recork it and put it away as soon as you realise you’re not going to finish it. Putting an uncorked bottle of wine into the fridge won’t save it either. It’s best not to decant wine unless you’re certain you’re going to drink it. The process of pouring all the wine out of the bottle and letting it sit in the carafe or decanter introduces a lot of extra oxygen, rapidly speeding up the oxidation.

3. Keep it chilled

Long story short — all wines need to be kept cool once opened. Oxidation is slower in the cold and will keep wine drinkable for longer. It is true that the profile of open wine will still change when it’s in the refrigerator, especially with light red wines. On the counter, however, it will rapidly turn to vinegar. Take your pick!

You can warm up your red wine before drinking it by submerging the bottle in a bowl of warm water, or by taking it out of the fridge an hour before drinking. The alternative is to store red wine in a specialised fridge, or a cool, dark cabinet.

4. Keep them on their toes

If you’re planning to store open wine for a longer period, store it upright rather than lying on its side. This reduces the surface area for oxygen to dissolve into, again, slowing down the all-important oxidation process.

5. Cut them down to size

By transferring your left-over wine to a smaller bottle for storage, you reduce the volume of air in the bottle. Ideally, fill up the storage bottle right to the top, so that there is no air between the wine and the cork. Even if a little bit of wine spills over upon recorking, you can keep the rest drinkable for several more days by removing all the air.

6. Do the maths before buying gadgets

There are several wine preservation gadgets out there on the market, such as Coravins and vacuum-sealing devices. Before you splash the cash, why not calculate how much money you’re losing with wasted wine, and how much money you’d spend on the preservation kit. If it tallies up, then it’s a worthwhile investment!

7. Know your style

Different types of wine have different shelf-lives. New-world wines like South African Wines generally out-live old-world wines, especially if they have a fuller and fruitier profile. Wines at a higher price point usually last longer, but not always. Anything light and red tends to perish very quickly. Wines that have been aged are also best finished in one sitting. The same goes for anything with low sulphur content, as the sulphur helps to preserve wine by killing yeast and bacteria as well as slowing down oxidation.

Aside from these considerations, some broad generalisations can be made about the longevity of different categories of wine. Light reds, sparkling wines and champagnes are generally all very short-lived and should be finished within 1-3 days of opening. Full-bodied whites are best enjoyed within 2-3 days, and full-bodied reds and light white wines in 3-5 days of opening. Sweet wines and fortified wines break the trend, lasting from a handful of days for up to a couple of years depending on the type, the quality and the concentration. Generally, the more concentrated and higher quality, the longer-lasting.

8. Learn when to let go

Losing a beautiful bottle of wine to oxidation is almost as painful as losing the love of your life — and likewise, it’s best to learn when to let go. The following tips might not apply so well to relationships, but they should help you identify when an open bottle of wine is no good to drink:

● Look at the colour.

Oxidation turns red wine into a more opaque, orangey colour, whereas white wines will become golden. Any drastic changes to the colour of your wine may indicate that it’s quite far gone in the oxidation process.

● Give it a sniff.

If it’s turned to vinegar already, you’ll probably be able to tell just from the smell. Does it smell the same? Does it smell sour? Do you like how it smells? If it doesn’t smell good to you, then give up the ghost and designate it for cooking.

● Give it a taste.

If the wine still has a pleasant aroma, then taste it. If it tastes good and smells good, then there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying it!

Different people prefer different aromas and tastes, so whether a wine is still good to drink will come down to personal preference.

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