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A Guide to Opened Wine

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by Etty Lewensztain, Wine Expert for the Menuism Wine Blog

I'm all about being resourceful when it comes to leftover food. I've been known to transform last night's seemingly dissonant dinner ingredients into tomorrow's lunch masterpiece. But when it comes to wine, leftovers are an entirely different issue.

A very innocent friend of mine once served me a glass of Pinot Noir from the fridge that she said she had opened "a little while ago." When I inquired further she confessed that by "a little while," she meant three or four months! I quickly poured the entire bottle down the drain and embarked on an open wine diatribe. Needless to say, from then on my friend relied on me to provide the libations for our dinners.

If you ever find yourself pouring a glass of three month-old Pinot, this post is for you! Read on to get the complete lowdown on how to deal with opened wine.

How long can I keep an opened bottle?

The time frames vary depending on the specific type of wine but for still whites, reds, and rosés, I would say two to three days is the absolute maximum you'd want to keep an opened bottle. After being open for a couple of days, a wine's aromas will go flat, its native flavors will subdue, and the wine may appear overly sour or acidic. For best results, I suggest finishing the wine within two days of being opened.

Champagne or other sparkling wines are pretty much useless after they've been opened, since the carbonation dissolves very quickly when the wine is exposed to oxygen. It's advisable to open a bottle of bubbly only if you know you'll be able to finish the whole thing, which to be honest, never seems to be a problem.

Fortified wines like Port, Sherry, and Madeira have a much longer shelf life once they've been opened due to their high alcohol and/or high sugar content. These elements act as preservatives and give fortified wines much more longevity than non-fortified wines. The shelf life of an opened bottle of fortified wine will vary depending on the specific wine type. Manzanilla or Fino Sherry, for instance, should be consumed within one week of opening if stored properly in the refrigerator. Port will last a bit longer, and should be consumed within two to four weeks of opening if stored properly in the refrigerator (Ruby Port has a bit longer shelf life than Tawny Port). Madeira lasts just about forever, literally years after opening if stored properly in the refrigerator.

What is the best way to store/preserve an opened bottle? Are any of the fancy bottle stoppers or oxygen removal systems worth it?

Without a doubt, the best way to extend the life of an opened bottle is to keep it in the refrigerator and to cork it with its original cork or with a tight-fitting bottle stopper. This holds true for all wine types. For red wines, simply remove the wine from the refrigerator a few hours before you'd like to drink it to let it warm up a bit. A wine will deteriorate much more quickly if left on your countertop at room temperature.

When it comes to bottle stoppers, many models on the market are really meant to be decorative as opposed to functional. Opt for stoppers that come equipped with a side tab that clicks closed and seals the bottle tightly. Champagne bottle stoppers can be quite effective but again, you'll see a substantial dissipation in the bubbles due to the wine's exposure to oxygen.

In all honestly, I've never used oxygen removal or gas preservation systems on open bottles, so it's difficult for me to assess their effectiveness, but my general opinion on the matter is that it's better to remove oxygen from the bottle than to add a synthetic gas to the wine to preserve it.

Should I save opened wine for cooking?

Yes! The best uses for opened wine are in the kitchen, not in your glass. Whether using old wine to deglaze a pan and make a quick pan sauce, or to fortify a pasta sauce or braising liquid, I always keep a few old bottles of white and a few old bottles of red in the refrigerator for cooking. Old wine used for cooking doesn't really have a firm expiration date, so feel free to keep your stash of opened cooking wine for several months.

Can I take an opened bottle of wine home from a restaurant if I don't finish it?

Many states allow you to brown bag your wine and take it home if you don't finish it. Check out this link for specific regulations by state.

Related Links from Menuism Wine Guides:
• The Dish on Decanting
• Fortified Wine 101
Which Wine Glass Should You Use? (VIDEO)

A Guide to Opened Wine originally published on the Menuism Wine Blog.

Etty Lewensztain is the owner of Plonk Wine Merchants, an online shop focused on small-production, artisanal and altogether great cheap wine. The food- and wine-obsessed Los Angeles native cut her teeth in the wine biz running a marketing campaign to promote Chilean wine in the U.S., and is certified by the esteemed Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and the American Sommelier Association. Plonk Wine Merchants specializes in hidden gems from around the globe and every bottle in the store is priced below $30. Follow Plonk Wine Merchants on Twitter @PlonkOnline.

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