How long will a bottle of wine last once opened?
In my student days, the concept of 'leftover wine' was, I have to say, utterly foreign to me. Any wine in the house was gone in a matter of hours, and I'm afraid I would have read an article like this one with utter derision.
But as life goes on, and I have become older and wiser, the idea of keeping a bottle of wine open, and in good condition, for more than a night or two has become more attractive. Quality has begun to matter to me more than quantity, and stringing a bottle of wine out over a week is now a viable option.
So why does the condition of a bottle of wine degrade once opened? How long will a bottle of wine last after being open? And what can you do to prolong the life of opened bottles?
I'll start with the first question - why does opened wine go bad? This is an easy one, and can be answered in a single word: oxygen. While a small amount of oxygen can be beneficial to certain wines - as is the case with decanting - too much, and your deliciously complex wine will be reduced to nothing more than half a bottle of vinegar.
Unfortunately, that's where the easy answers end. We in the wine world have come to terms with the fact that questions rarely have one definitive answer, and there are often multiple factors to consider when answering any given vinous question. With that in mind, how long will a bottle of wine last after being opened?
Well, that depends.
There are two main factors to consider here, and those are the kind of wine you're storing, and how you're storing it.
Below is a rough guide to how long different types of wine will last after being opened.
Sparkling wine: 1-3 days
Light white and rosé wine: 5-7 days
Full bodied white wine: 3-5 days
Red wine: 3-5 days
Fortified wine: 28 days
Why should some bottles of wine fare better than others after being opened? To answer that question, you need to know a little bit about the make up of your wine, and a little bit about how it was produced.
In general, red wines and full bodied white wines see more oxygen during the winemaking process, usually as a result of being stored in oak barrels. This makes them more vulnerable to oxidation later on in their life.
However, seeing oxygen and being oxidised are not the same thing, and the above principal does not apply to those fortified wines which have been deliberately oxidised during the winemaking process. Two examples of this would be Oloroso Sherry, Marsala, or Madeira.
Two elements of a wine's make-up which help to protect it from oxidation are acidity and tannin. In fact, strongly tannic and acidic red wines can improve after being open for a day or so. And it is the acidity in white wines that gives them that extra few days of longevity.
So, how should you best store your wine after opening it?
At the risk of stating the obvious, make sure your bottle is properly resealed. There are various closures available on the market - but for most wines simply screwing the top back on or putting the cork back in is perfectly adequate. Sparkling wine closures are widely available and work much better than the bizarre solution of hanging a teaspoon in the neck of the bottle.
Now, I'm going to say something that might surprise you. The best place to store any open bottle of wine - be it red, white, or rosé - is in your fridge. Fridges are a good place to keep opened wine because they limit the wine's exposure to heat, light and oxygen - three things that are dangerous to a wine's health. Keeping a wine cold slows down the detrimental effects of oxygen on the liquid and will help to prolong the life of your wine. Besides, the great Jancis Robinson suggests keeping open wines in the fridge, and who am I to disagree?
What if I want to keep my bottle of wine open for more than a week?
Well, there are a few products on the market that can help you with this one, and most work by using argon gas.
Because argon is heavier than oxygen, if you shoot some in to your open wine bottle before resealing it, the gas will sink to the bottom, thereby forming a protective layer over the surface of the liquid and preventing oxidation. This is the technology that is used in the enomatic machines that have been popping up in trendy wine bars around the country.
Now I'm sure that having a big, shiny, wine-dispensing machine in the kitchen would appeal to a lot of you, but that's not always going to be practical. What you can use, however, is a Wine Save - a simple aerosol can of food-grade argon that you can shoot into opened wine bottles, thus preserving them.
How well does it work? Very well, or so I'm told. I'm afraid that while I'm managing to hang on to open bottles of wine for more than a couple of days, nothing has lasted over a week yet!