What to do with leftover wine
by Thor Iverson
Just drink it.
It's not a Nike slogan, but rather the best advice I've ever heard on what to
do with unconsumed wine. However, for
most people it's not always practical. There may be any number of reasons why
two people don't finish an entire bottle of wine, but they all result in the
same thing: leftovers.
What to do with these leftovers seems to cause wine lovers a lot of anxiety. A
lucrative industry has sprung up selling various gadgets that supposedly
help preserve wine. But the fact is that all the technology is completely
unnecessary; preserving wine is a matter of simple common sense.
First, though, it's important to know what happens to leftover wine. Oxygen is
the enemy of wine, and the more a wine is exposed to oxygen, the more it
devolves. Fruit fades, the wine goes out of
balance, and an oxidized aroma and
flavor develop, similar in character to dry sherry or stale nuts. Of course,
there's an important caveat when it comes to
long-aging, but young, reds and
whites: often, air can actually make them taste better, by seeming to
bring the wine out of its
acidic shell. Still, this is just part of
the process of devolution, and even these wines will eventually succumb to the
effects of oxygen.
Obviously, then, any preservation method must involve keeping oxygen away from
the wine. It also follows that, since the wine is exposed to a lot of oxygen by
sloshing around as you pour your one or two
glasses, it's best to start
separating the air from the wine as soon as possible.
One of the most popular devices for wine preservation is the Vacu-Vin, a little
hand pump with some rubber stoppers that supposedly sucks the air out of the
bottle. However, no hand pump is going to create a true vacuum, and in fact
there's still a lot of oxygen left in the bottle (not to mention dissolved into
the wine, thanks to all that sloshing). Worse, many people report that delicate
wines, like pinot noir, lose their aromatics when subjected to this
Another, slightly better method is to use an inert gas, available in little
spray cans, to "coat" the surface of the wine (the gases used are heavier than
oxygen, and "settle" on the surface of the liquid). But again, this does
nothing for the oxygen already in solution, nor does it provide a perfect seal
when the bottle is moved around. Plus, it's expensive.
The most sensible of the wine-preservation doo-dads are sets of glass (or
sometimes crystal) containers that look a bit like decanters, with a funnel and
their own stoppers. They're nice to look at and they do the job as well as
anything else, but they're very expensive. Besides, there's a better and
cheaper solution: half-bottles.
Here's what to do: visit a good wine shop (the corner packie probably doesn't
carry many good wines in this size) and pick up a few half-bottles. Drink the
wine, but save the corks. Rinse and clean the bottles thoroughly. The next time
you're sure you're not going to finish a full bottle, pour half of the wine
into the half-bottle immediately after opening the full bottle (you
might want to use a funnel). Cork it. You've now gotten the wine into another
container with as little exposure to oxygen as possible.
It also helps to put these leftovers in the fridge. Colder temperatures slow
down the chemical reactions caused by oxygen. But remember to take the wines
out and warm them up (when necessary) before drinking them. And another
reminder: if you start to assemble a lot of these half-bottles of leftover
wine, it's a good idea to label them somehow so you can remember what's in
On the other hand, the advice "just drink it" has its own merits. And if you're
in the mood for drinking, here are a few great wines to get you started:
El Grifo 1998 Mavlasia "Dulce" Lanzarote ($11.99). This is the
I've written about this wine, and there's a reason. Someone found a big
stock of it at $3 below the previous price, which definitely makes it the best
value of the year. It's clean, floral, and hugely flavorful. Serve
it as dessert, or with lavender honey drizzled on fresh fruit.
Jeanine Emanuel 1997 Mâcon Villages "Domaine du Clos du Four"
($10.99). The chardonnay-based whites of the Mâcon are usually thin,
watery, and uninteresting. But Mâcon doesn't have to be industrial plonk,
and this wine proves it. There's some intensity and
minerality here, with
bright lime and honeydew flavors sharpened by a good deal of
acidity. Cries out
Palliser Estate 1999 Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough ($17.99). This New
Zealand beauty gets better every year, and is much more interesting than the
good but over-hyped
Cloudy Bay. It's fat, grassy, and ripe, but with good
and none of the sharp chili-pepper or cat-pee aromas that
sauvignon blancs from New Zealand often have. And on that appetizing note:
serve this one with full-bodied fish dishes or herbed chicken.
CS Santadi 1996 Carignano del Sulcis "Grotto Rossa" ($12.99). Some wines
are like those awkward, gangly children who grow up to be supermodels. This
Sardinian red isn't that good, and it certainly isn't very approachable
when first opened. But after decanting and a few hours of air . . .
what a change! It's rustic and untamed, with aromas like herbs and beef stew
dominating the sharp black-cherry flavors, but it's also one of those classic
Italian wines that really come alive with food. Serve it with something intense
and flavorful, like grilled portobello mushrooms, or let it
age for about four
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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