We’ve all done it at least once in our lives: opened a bottle of red wine, drunk a few glasses, popped the cork back in, opened it up again later in the week and it tastes off. The deep, rich flavours you experienced on the first day have been replaced with flatter, duller, slightly sour notes.
So how long does red wine last?
How long does red wine last when opened
First things first, red wine is not all created equal, therefore it doesn’t last equal amounts of time either. The type of red wine you have and how well it has been stored all factor into the equation. Fortified wines like Port, for example, will last much longer when opened than your average bottle of table red, one month versus 3 – 5 days (tops).
The more tannins and the more acidic the red wine, the longer it will last, acid is a preservative after all – a Pinot Noir won’t fare as well as say a Malbec. Saying that some red wines will actually improve if you leave them for a day, however, beyond that, expect them to start tasting acerbic.
Red wine and oxygen
The most important thing you need to know about red wine is this – air will make your red wine the best thing you’ve ever drunk, and the worst.
Let’s elaborate further.
Air helps to open up a red wine when it’s first poured from the bottle. Swirling it around your glass allows the aromatic compounds of the wine to be released, enhancing the flavour and your drinking experience.
To take advantage of aeration, there are gadgets you can use such as aerators, or pouring the red wine into a decanter to help speed this process up. However, there is a fine line between enough air and too much air.
As soon as the air hits the liquid, the clock starts.
The flavour of the red wine will be deeply enhanced for a few hours only, after that the wine starts to lose its fruitiness, the aroma declines and its body starts to sag like an ageing rocker, all due to oxidisation.
Oxidisation is when the wine meets the oxygen in the air. This combination kick starts a chemical chain reaction that can not be reversed, only slowed or momentarily halted.
Once oxidisation has begun, hydrogen peroxide starts to form, as does acetaldehyde. Neither of which taste good.
So how do we prevent this from happening, or at the very least, slow this process?
What’s the best way of keeping red wine fresh
There are various ways you can slow down or temporarily halt the oxidisation process:
1. Pop the cork back in.
This is probably the most obvious answer, but it doesn’t elicit the best result as you’re essentially sealing oxygen in with the red wine. However, it is better than leaving it open to the elements.
If you are going to do this, at least store the bottle somewhere cool and dark to slow the process; your fridge is better than leaving it out in a bright, warm kitchen.
2. Remove the air from the bottle.
This is best done cheaply with a Vacu Vin (or equivalent), a simple device that gives you a night’s grace. A special rubber stopper goes over the bottle opening and you pump the air out.
Whilst, in theory, this should be the best way to keep red wine fresh, however, the weakness lies with human error. Realistically, how much air can a rubber seal and a hand pump remove from a bottle?
Tests have shown about 70% of air is taken out with a Vacu Vin, which is better than nothing, preserving the wine for a good 24-48 hours, but after that? Rumours abound that the Vacu Vin leaks… after a week, your wine will likely be undrinkable.
3. Switch out the bad air for good.
Hear us out on this one. You can purchase cans of inert gases for wine preservation. If you’ve ever used a can of WD40, these cans of inert gases operate in much the same way.
You simply spray the inert gas into the open bottle of wine via a very thin nozzle, before quickly popping the cork back in and sealing the inert gases inside.
So chemistry goes, the inert gases are denser than oxygen, displacing the oxygen as you spray and preventing any from staying on the wine’s surface.
According to some of the inert gas wine preservation makers, they have kept open bottles of wine for up to 4 years this way.
4. Create a physical barrier between the wine and the air.
You can either use an air cork – a deflated balloon that once inserted in the open wine bottle can be pumped up creating a physical barrier between the wine and the air, or if you decant the wine a plate or a lid that creates a seal or a barrier between the wine and the air will work too.
This is probably most akin to just popping a cork back in the bottle, and does yield pretty much the same results: off wine within 24-48 hours. But again, it’s better than doing nothing.