Of course you finish it! Seriously though – how often has this happened to you? You’ve opened a really nice bottle of wine but you just can’t finish it. You’d like to enjoy the rest later. But how long will it retain its quality once it has been opened? The good news: An open bottle of wine does not have to go to waste…
Unopened, wine has one of the longest shelf lives of any consumable product. Well-sealed and protected by a few milligrams of sulphite, some fine quality wines can be kept and enjoyed for years, even decades. And some wines actually improve with age. Once a bottle has been opened, however, the wine is inevitably exposed to its worst enemy: oxygen. The gradual process of oxidation starts to take place. After a certain amount of time, the effects of oxidation start to become apparent. The fruit composition begins to alter. The wine’s freshness and immediacy wanes. The complexity of its impression on the palate fades. The liveliness and balance in its flavour are lost. A tedious and lacklustre mouth-feel takes hold.
Tannins protect wine from oxygen
Generalisations regarding the speed of these oxidation processes are very difficult to make. Wines with a firmer structure – those with a more sturdy body and a higher alcohol or acidity content, and those that are sweeter – tend to resist oxidation for longer than light, delicate, low-acidity wines. With red wines, tannic acid plays an important role. This natural component, amply present in the more robust red wines, is responsible for the typical slightly fuzzy/dry sensation on the palate and lends full-bodied reds their backbone and structure. Tannins are powerful antioxidants that, for a certain period of time at least, afford wines a degree of protection against the harmful effects of oxygen.
When to just let that open bottle go
How long an open bottle of wine can be stored and still enjoyed is a highly subjective question that each individual must answer for themselves. Even if the wine has lost some of its fruitiness and no longer has the same quality of flavour as when it was freshly opened, it can still taste pretty good. Clear signs of oxidation, such as a darkening of colour, a dull appearance instead of a healthy shine, and a perceptible change in taste and aroma that can be likened to that of bruised apples, mean that the wine will no longer be a pleasure to the palate.
Red wine belongs in the fridge, too
To help slow down the gradual decline in quality as oxidation progresses, it is best to keep an open bottle of wine as cold and as airtight as possible. The best place to store your opened wine, including your reds, is in the refrigerator. Lower temperatures significantly slow down the rate of oxidation. Your wine should easily last for two to three days, with little noticeable impairment in terms of flavor or enjoyment. Particularly well-structured wines might keep well for as long as a week. Even if your wine has gotten to a stage where it no longer tastes good, it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it! It is not harmful to consume. Why not put it to good use in cooking?
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