This week, I will answer some very frequently asked questions about wine taken from emails as well as from students from my wine appreciation class at SOU. Here we go:
How many days does it take for wine to go "bad" after the wine bottle has been opened and what can I do to retard the deterioration of the wine?
On average, after three days of wine being exposed to air, the wine will begin to change rapidly. Many folks believe that by simply putting a cork back onto the top of the bottle, the wine will keep fresh or last "longer" and not go bad for quite some time. The fact is that opening a bottle of wine exposes the wine to agents which turn the wine, eventually, to vinegar. I will not, at this time, explain the process of the evolution of wine to vinegar but it is safe to say that exposure to air for prolonged periods of time greatly affects the dynamics of the product, regardless of whether the wine is red, rosé or white wine. Ironically, in young wines, we enhance flavors many times by "airing" the wine so that it will "open" its components and soften (many times) its structure. Doing this with old wines simply strips the already soft nuances of the wine, so one must be careful not to "air" an older red wine aggressively. My rule of thumb is to try to consume a bottle of red wine within two days or buy a good half bottle of wine instead of the larger bottle.
Refrigeration: Cooling down any bottle of wine slows down the process very effectively. There is a trick I learned from an old wine professional that works brilliantly and I use this trick all of the time. Open a bottle of red wine and consume the amount you desire and if there is some residual left in the bottle, refrigerate it. Simply cork the bottle, stick it in the fridge and leave it for a few days, if you wish. When you are ready to consume the wine again, pour whatever you wish in a water glass, put this glass in the microwave for about nine seconds, or until the chill is off, then pour the contents into your favorite wine glass. Amazingly, the wine tastes fresh and unaffected! I have left bottles of red wine in the fridge for well over a week and this process works every time. If you think ahead of time to pull the wine out of the refrigerator before the meal, just let the bottle warm gently in the kitchen before the meal. In fact, I have frozen half a bottle or so of red wine for up to three months and when I was ready to revisit the wine, I simply put the wine on the counter in the early afternoon and found the wine to be very pleasing by the time dinner rolled around. I think this is the best method for saving red wine for great lengths of time.
There are nitrogen and argon units available for keeping wine as well. The practice is that while the wine is being drawn, the air space is being filled by heavy gas, thus keeping oxygen away from the surface of the wine. There also are air evacuation units available that suck air from the bottle. I find these units only passable in quality control. All in all, cool the wine down in the fridge or freezer and I think you will be well ahead of the game.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.