Friday, May 18, 2012

Yes, Red Wine in the Fridge. Really.

Taste the best in fine Italian wine, on deal now.

It seems like a lifetime ago when I was just getting started in the wine industry, with so much to learn about tasting wine, making wine, selling wine. Not much has really changed. I worked for a small, family-owned winery back then where it wasn’t easy to find the confidence to voice my opinion amidst the group whom I’d known had been immersed in wine for what seemed to me like eons.

I remember a day when I was filling in for the tasting room manager (one wears many hats in a small business – communications manager one moment, receptionist the next and tasting room manager the next) and performing the closing duties. I got to the part where I was supposed to preserve the open bottles of wine for the next day. While I would have much preferred to take those open bottles home and put them to good use, that wasn’t a financially sound option. Instead, I pumped a steady stream of nitrogen gas down the neck of each bottle and stuffed the cork tightly back on. Into the fridge went the whites, while the red wines were returned to their position on the tasting room bar, lined up like bunch of beauty pageant contestants. At that moment, if someone had been standing next to me, they might have seen the light bulb illuminate over my head. The thought going through my mind… If the refrigerator preserved the white wines, wouldn’t it do the same for the reds?

At the next staff meeting, when I suggested perhaps the red wines should be refrigerated each night just like the whites, the winemaker and assistant winemaker looked at me for a moment, before slightly nodding their heads in agreement. “Yeah, I guess that’s a good idea” was their reply.  Really? Had no one thought of this before. Years later, after I’d moved along to another winery and then into business for myself, I found myself recalling this moment and wondering if that best practice has been preserved like a valuable bottle of wine.

So, this all came streaming back into the forefront of mind last week when I had the pleasure of attended an industry tasting of over 100 bottles of wine and was able to take home a few of my favorites. With six open bottles of wine, I invited friends over to taste, but between my busy schedule, and theirs, there was more open wine bottles than people to consume them. I wondered how long the wine could last before becoming oxidized and undrinkable.

Fast forward a bit… I was mentioning to a friend that I was taking a risk and drinking a four-day-old wine that night, when he advised me to be careful and not to get sick. “It’s not milk” I replied. I told him I’d vacuum sealed the bottles and stored them in the fridge, and though they were perhaps not optimum, they should hold up okay, but it was a test. “Red wine? In the fridge?” he asked surprised (this coming from a man who had cooked bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1960's in his collection). “Of course, you should always store your unfinished bottles in the fridge, even Port,” I said, realizing at that moment that what I’d thought was common sense really wasn’t that common at all. “Not only does it reduce oxidation but it also reduces the chances that acetic bacteria will spoil the wine,” I added. It also occurred to me not everyone has the dilemma of storing open bottles of wine. Often time people finish their bottle each night and don’t have to worry about how to save the remaining for future use, but that’s not always the case.

While air is a wine’s worst enemy, high temperature is no friend either. Pop a cork and you can rest assured that your wine is now vulnerable to both. While we instinctively put our white wines in the fridge to preserve them, partly because it's common knowledge to serve white wine chilled, not everyone would think to do the same their opened bottles of red. I can tell you though that this simple method is the best and easiest way to ensure that bottle will be as enjoyable next time you remove that cork. Don’t discount the wine vacuum though. The recipe for wine preservation should be a two-step process. Suck out all the air before you store it in the fridge. 

Through experimentation, I’ve learned that older vintages will survive a bit longer than young wines. And while I would certainly not recommend that anyone should try to store an opened bottle of wine for four days (yeah, it wasn’t good), with proper technique and attention (though it may deteriorate some), it should definitely be drinkable for a good two or three days. As with any rules, there are exceptions, and Bubbly is always the exception. Don’t ever try to save an open bottle of sparkling wine, it will only lose its sparkle. If you can’t find anyone to help finish the bottle, call on me. I’ll do my civic duty and volunteer my services to rescue your Champagne from impending death. It’s all in a day’s work. Call me a superhero, call me the wine rescuer… just call me.

11 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hey Kim, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. It's such an easy thing to do to help preserve the life of your bottle. Wine's too precious to not give it every advantage. Hope it improves your leftovers! Stop by and visit again soon, you're always a welcome guest!

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  2. Never thought to store red in the fridge. Don't ever have occasion that there is ever any red left.

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    1. Miss Nubian, not many do think to store reds in the fridge, hence the post. But sometimes, after finishing one bottle, I've found myself pining for a another glass and open a second (even when I know it will not be finished). This technique gives me the confidence that I can still enjoy another glass without having to waste the rest of the bottle. Thanks for the comment Luv, hope you have a wine-filled weekend!

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  3. It does make a lot of sense to store reds in the fridge. On a rare occasion ;-) I do have some leftover wine, I'll start doing this.

    Thanks!

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  4. I suppose if you enjoy tartaric acid crystals with your wine you could store reds in the fridge, but I sure as Hell don't. Curious why the winemaker would agree to this..

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  5. Dearest Anonymous (how I do wish I knew whom I was speaking to),

    I beg to differ. Professionals all across the board actually recommend storing wine long-term in a 55 degree refrigerator and it's been suggested that safe temps can be as low as 40 degrees. Keep in mind I'm not talking long term storage here.

    Some wines are cold-stablized, but if they're not, and tartaric acid crystals do form, they're odorless, tasteless, will fall to the bottom of the wine and are completely harmless anyway. Much prefer that to oxidized and undrinkable wine.

    That said, I think there is one caveat I didn't mention about storing leftover wine in the fridge, and that's possible exposure to strong smelling foods (ie onions and garlic) or foods with their own yeasts (ie cheeses), those will wreak havok on that opened bottle.

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  6. A common kitchen refrigerator maintains a chilly 35-38°F temperature, with relatively low levels of humidity. Hardly the ideal 55-60 degree temperature to store red wine.

    The most damaging way that wine is oxidized is through temperature fluctuations. As a wine heats up it expands, putting pressure on the cork. As it cools down it contracts, creating a pressure differential which pulls air into the bottle. The more frequent the fluctuations, and the wider the temperature swings, the greater the wine’s exposure to air. A 25-30 degree temperature fluctuation is huge.

    Tartaric crystals are orderless and tasteless, but if you're pouring wine in a tasting room I feel as a consumer it would be a rather unpleasant find in my glass.

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  7. I've been doing this for years, and I can tell you the pros out weigh the cons. Normally I get an extra day out of the wine, especially when using a vac seal - typically 4 days vs. 3 (or in some cases two) when storing at room temperature.

    Tartaric crystals? I've only seen this in Viognier so far - haven't noticed it red wines as of yet and I have kept hundreds of bottles overnight in the fridge over the past few years.

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    1. Thanks Anonymous,

      Appreciate your feedback, thanks for visiting and sharing your perspective. Don't be a stranger!

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  8. The fridge is definitely your best friend! I think many believe that somehow the cold will hurt your wine but in reality, as you point out, it only slows post-corking oxidation. I wouldn't think of leaving an opened bottle anywhere else! Great article.

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