Sometimes — despite your best efforts! — you just can’t finish a bottle of wine in one evening.
Whether it’s because you’re only having a single glass with dinner or your guests have left the party with a few open bottles lying around, it’s not at all unusual to be faced with the task of finding a place for opened bottles where they won’t go bad.
Keeping fine wines fresh is fairly straightforward when the cork is still in place, and many of the basics still apply to leftover wine as well. Still, a broken seal requires some extra care to make sure you can enjoy that half bottle of white wine before it turns to vinegar on you. Here’s everything you need to know about how to store wine without a cork.
Wine 101: Best Storage Practices
Before you start focusing on how to cap your wine bottle, it’s worth reviewing the basics about wine storage so you know where to keep your bottles. The ideal wine cellar hits the sweet spot for a range of conditions that affect the long-term storage of wine.
Room temperature isn’t cold enough for wine to last as long as possible, even when it’s unopened. The ideal temperature for wine storage is 55 degrees Fahrenheit— that’s what wine aficionados mean by a “cool place.” Since this is much cooler than the temperatures in your kitchen, it makes sense to keep your wine in a refrigerator. In general, the colder the temperature, the slower the aging process. Cold temperatures keep bacteria from growing and help your wine resist the chemical process that will eventually turn it from delightful into a sour vinegar.
Though you can keep your open wine bottle in your standard kitchen refrigerator for a few days to a week, you’ll need to allow it to warm back up before drinking it to bring it back to its ideal serving temperature. Using a dedicated wine fridge set for 50 to 55 degrees saves a step and makes it easier to enjoy that Zinfandel whenever the mood strikes.
Sunlight — and even light from fluorescent bulbs — can prematurely age your wine by causing the breakdown of delicate chemical compounds that make up its complex flavor. When the UV rays hit, the breakdown doesn’t happen evenly, so you end up with an imbalance of flavors that can ruin the whole experience. Keep your wine its dark glass bottle and in a dark storage space once opened to combat damaging sunlight. Fortunately, most refrigerators are dark most of the time, so this step is easily accomplished.
Unopened, corked wine requires 70 percent relative humidity for best results. That’s because the cork needs to stay nice and plump to maintain the seal against the glass bottle neck. This happens to be the humidity in a refrigerator kept at 55 degrees, but colder temperatures mean lower relative humidity. For example, your kitchen fridge is set at 38 degrees, and that’s cold enough to cause cork shrinkage, which will break the seal of the wine.
Unless you re-cork the bottle for storage, however, humidity isn’t very important when it comes to keeping your already-opened bottles in good condition. This means that storing your wine at colder temperatures once it’s open is just fine — as long as you choose a non-cork solution from the list below.
The air around you is actually one of the most potentially damaging things when it comes to storing good wine for a longer period. While some aging may be desirable in a wine cellar full of red wine, you want to stop that process when dealing with your opened wine. Though unopened bottles are often stored in a wine rack on their sides to keep the cork moist, an open bottle really must be stored upright. This minimizes the surface area of the wine that comes in contact with the air to keep oxidation at bay.
It’s also a lot more practical to keep opened bottles upright. Once the seal is broken, you run the risk of wine leaking through a bottle stopper or an imperfectly seated old cork — and that can lead you with a big mess on your hands.
Put a Lid on It: 6 Ways to Cover Your Leftover Wine
Now that you know the best practices for storing your leftover wine — that is, in an upright position in a cool, dark place — it’s time to think about how to keep unwanted air out of the bottle. Try one of these ideas for capping your regular bottle so you can finish it up in a day or two and still enjoy the same great flavor your love.
1. Re-Cork It
The easiest way to close your bottle of wine back up for storage is to simply put the original cork back in. Sometimes this is easy, but sometimes the cork expands to make it difficult to get it back into place. You can make it easier by trying the following tricks:
- Keep the cork in the freezer immediately after opening the wine. This will help it contract and might make it just a little bit smaller so that it slide back into place without a fuss.
- Wrap the bottom of the cork in a bit of wax paper. The wax paper lubricates the corks and helps it to slide into place. It also will trap any bits of cork that happen to break off and keep them from falling into your wine.
- Apply steady pressure. You shouldn’t have to push hard together the cork back into place. Instead, try twisting it slowly as you press down to help reinstall it.
2. Use a Wine Stopper
Wine stoppers come in hundreds of cute designs with decorative tops that will allow you to express your personality in any way you like. Look for ones that have a series of rubber or soft plastic flanges near the top. These flexible pieces fold in when you insert the stopper and then press outward against the glass bottle neck to create a tight seal to keep out damaging oxygen.
3. Switch to Screw Caps
You know what they about not judging a book by its cover, right? Turns out that it’s true about wine, too. Wines with a screw top tend to get a bad rap, but they’re no better or worse than wines sealed with a cork. Screw caps are just as effective, and they’re much easier to reuse than a cork. You may want to seek out wine bottles with a cap if you find that you can never finish a bottle in one sitting.
4. Make Your Own Cover
In a pinch, you can MacGyver a wine stopper from items you have lying around your kitchen. For example, you can use plastic wrap or aluminum foil to cover the top of the wine bottle. This won’t create an air-tight seal on its own, but you can help things along by wrapping a rubber band around the bottle neck a few times to hold things securely in place.
5. Try a Vacuum Pump
If you want to store wine that has been opened for as long as possible, a wine vacuum may be just the thing you need to have on hand. These fairly inexpensive gadgets suck the air out of the wine bottle and create a vacuum seal that keeps a special topper on tight. Removing as much air as possible cuts down on oxidation and helps wine last for many days — and perhaps even up to two weeks.
6. Invest in Inert Gas
While most wine accessories aren’t too pricey, there’s also a high-tech solution to take care of half-drunk bottles of wine. The Coravin allows you to enjoy part of the bottle without ever even opening it. It works by piercing the cork so you can pour out what you like, and then replacing the lost wine with argon gas to keep oxygen out.
For a cheaper solution, you can try Private Preserve, a much less fancy spray bottle of inert gas that you use to fill your wine bottle before quickly adding a stopper.
A Note About Sparkling Wines
None of the solutions above is a good choice for making a bottle of bubbly last longer. The trouble with sparklers is that they’ll go flat very easily, so you really need a perfect seal. Vacuums won’t work either, since they’ll suck the carbonation right out of the bottle instantly. For Champagne and other sparkling wines, you’ll need a specialty Champagne stopper. These are designed to use the pressure of the carbonation to help create a tight seal while having a strong clamp to hold the stopper in place. Even so, you’ll only get an extra two or three days out of a Champagne stopper, so don’t forget to polish it off.
Whether you are looking for a regular win storage solution that lets you have just a glass of wine at a time, or you just need a quick fix on rare occasions, there are plenty of ways to keep your wine in good shape for a few days until you’re able to finish it. Just keep in mind the basics of temperature, light and humidity, and you should be able to enjoy your wine in its entirety before it goes bad.
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