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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?
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.
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.