How Long Does Wine Last?

Someone should do a survey on wasted wine. You’ve probably wasted some yourself. You crack that bottle for dinner and, for whatever reason, you don’t finish it. Next day, you see the partially filled bottle and assume it’s gone, dead, undrinkable. You paid full price for it and you enjoyed only two-thirds. Here’s how to get more from every bottle you buy.

First of all, wines are like little kids: They’re tougher than we think. They contain alcohol, which helps to preserve them. The more the alcohol, the better they will stand up to abuse (like being left open overnight). Red wines have the additional natural preservative known as tannin (it’s the mildly bitter-tasting component). In some wines, high natural wine acidity and/or residual sugar also preserve them.

But you can give the wine an even better chance of survival by re-corking the bottle and putting it into the fridge. Re-corking keeps the oxygen out -- while some oxygen is good for wines (we’ll get into that in another column), too much will just spoil it. By putting the wine into the refrigerator, you lower its temperature. Remember chemistry class? Things change more slowly the colder the temperature? Works with wine, too! Most wines that are re-corked and kept cold will stay fresh and tasty for at least the three or four days that even a near teetotaler would take to finish them off. That vintage Porto or Sauternes? A month is not out of the ordinary in my experience. "But I don’t like my red wine chilled," you say? Just take it out an hour before you want to enjoy it.

What about those do-jiggers that suck out air or cover the wine with inert gas? Be my guest -- but unless you’re talking about an older wine (which probably should be drunk up fast anyway) or those bottles of single-malt scotches (which most of us tend to consume over longer periods of time), these accessories are a waste of money.

Patrick W. Fegan is the wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune. In 1984 he opened the Chicago Wine School. In 1990 he published The Vineyard Handbook. And in 1998/99 he contributed the Midwest section to the Oxford Companion to the Wines of North America. He began his wine education in 1971 by working the harvest in Burgundy. Since then he has visited the vineyards of five continents.

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