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how to preserve leftover wine

Leftover wine isn’t much of an issue around my house, but I know that many people struggle with how to preserve it. The problem is simple: oxygen is the enemy of wine, and once you open that bottle the clock is ticking. The issue becomes more acute when the wine is expensive or older (although an older wine, nowadays, generally means one year or more past its vintage date).

Consumer concern over the fate of leftover wine has been a boon to the accessory industry. Every year, there’s a new batch of must-have gadgets for wine lovers. Ironically, the trend recently has been a string of aerators, each one claiming to infuse your current-vintage Cabernet or blend with the greatest amount of oxygen. Once you’ve aerated the wine or decanted it into your favorite cut-glass depository, there’s little chance of putting the toothpaste back in the tube, so it’s best to make sure you’re thirsty before you do so.

Do any of the popular methods of preserving leftover wine really work? Better yet, are they even necessary? If you’re dealing with a crisp, high-acid white or a full-bodied young Cabernet, you might be better off just corking it and putting it in the refrigerator. Here’s my opinion of the options, based on experience:

     popular methods of preserving leftover wine

Vacu-Vin: Bernd Schnieder, a Dutchman tired of the taste of spoiled leftover wine, invented the Vacu-Vin back in the 1980s. The principle is simple: you place a rubber stopper over the lip of the bottle and pump out the air with a plastic device. The best estimates are that you can only remove 80-85% of the air using this device. If you stand directly over the rubber stopper as you do this, you can smell the bouquet of the wine being expelled from the bottle. Those lovely fumes have convinced some consumers that they are stripping the wine of its aromatics. All in all, the Vacu-Vin is cheap, and better than nothing.

Gas: This is probably your best option. The simple principle is that an inert gas heavier than oxygen, such as CO2, nitrogen or argon, will settle on the surface of the wine and force the air out. It has been used successfully for many years in wineries, and in large-scale restaurant preservation systems such as the Cruvinet or Enomatic. There’s a commercial application called Private Preserve, which is a can containing a mix of inert gases. You spray some into your wine bottle and wake up the next day to fresh wine. A can of Private Preserve costs around $10. If you taste or drink a lot of wine, you’re better off buying tanks of your favorite gas and dispensing in into bottles with a hose.

Coravin: While technically not a preservation system, the Coravin is revolutionary. It was invented by Greg Lambrecht, who specializes in developing high-tech medical devices, and consists of a thin, hollow needle that you inject into the cork. The needle allows you to draw out a glass without subjecting the rest of the bottle to aeration. It’s perfect for collectors, or anyone else who wants to regularly sample expensive wines without opening them and drinking the entire bottle. Among other uses, it has allowed restaurants to offer extremely high-end wines by the glass without fear of spoilage. The Coravin itself is expensive: systems range from $200 to $500, and replacement gas canisters are $10. It has also been controversial. There were reports of early models causing some wine bottles to explode, but those glitches have now been resolved.

The Marbles: Speaking as an alumnus of two marriages to Italian-Americans, this is my favorite low-tech method of preserving leftover wine. The simplicity of the technique is a thing of beauty. You obtain several dozen small, clean marbles, and drop them one by one into your partially consumed bottle. As the marbles enter the bottle, they fall to the bottom and force the level of the wine upward. When you reach the top, simply cork the bottle and forget about it. It’s not fancy, but it works, and the only expense is a one-time investment in the marbles.

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Wine doesn't usually get left over in our house either, but when it does, simply recorking and refrigerating does the trick. Nevertheless I enjoyed reading …

The Funnel Method 
I use glass bottles that are smaller than a full 750ml bottle. I prefer those with a "screw cap" for ease of closure but a cork or a piece plastic film …

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