Monday, 23 February 2009

What to do with your leftovers

Some of us encounter the problem more frequently than others – how best to keep leftover wine from a bottle you haven’t finished. Some people tell me it’s a problem they never face, simply because they always finish the bottle. However, I’m sure we are all left with unfinished wine at some stage. My particular vice is having numerous bottles on the go at the same time: if you’re eating chilli con carne you can’t possibly have the same wine you opened to go with chicken risotto last night, can you? Well I can’t, anyway.

Once a bottle of wine is opened, the liquid inside is exposed to oxygen and the process of oxidation begins. A little bit of oxygen can be a good thing, but, left long enough, all wine will turn to vinegar as a result. Before you get to the vinegar stage, though, the wine becomes less lively, less aromatic and fruity and less enjoyable to drink.

Cheap and cheerful
So what’s the best way to keep an opened bottle of wine fresh?
The simplest solution is simply to put the cork back in the bottle. Cold delays oxidation, so white wines that go back in the fridge have a better chance of surviving intact for a while. And the more wine left in the bottle the better. Any bottle that has just a glass out of it and that you stopper and go back to the next day is generally not too affected. You also need to think about the style of wine: the lightest, most aromatic white wines will suffer most from being left around for more than a day or so, especially if they are left unstoppered and out of the fridge for any length of time. Whereas some full-bodied and young red wines (I’m thinking especially of Italian reds and the like), can positively benefit from being opened one day and drunk the next – the gentle oxidation is just what the wine needs to allow the wine to open out and show more of its range of flavours.

There’s an array of devices available for preserving wine, from the cheap to the vastly expensive. But a quick and potentially free solution is simply to have a range of smaller bottles with screwcaps on hand. Just decant the unfinished wine into a bottle that accommodates it and voilà – instant wine preservation.

Sparkling wines have an additional problem – preserving the fizz is essential to the enjoyment of these wines. There is a myth, which I believed for years, that putting a teaspoon (handle downwards, bowl sticking out of the top) in a bottle of Champagne will keep the sparkle for longer. Readers, I have to tell you, it’s utter rubbish. When I tried leaving an opened bottle in the fridge, without a spoon, I found no difference – all sparkling wines will stay fizzy for a while in the fridge, with the amount of wine left in the bottle the critical factor. If you want to be sure of coming back to a fizzy bottle, up to three days later, then invest in a special Champagne stopper, from around £5 a pop (ho, ho) online.

Top of the range
Many restaurants and bars now offer a wide range of wines – and more and more by the glass. This is great for wine drinkers, not just for providing more variety, but also for giving us the chance to order just one glass and drink sensibly, rather than having to order a whole bottle. It also gives greater scope for experimentation – you might want to play it safe and go for a wine you know and love if you have a bottle to get through. But if you can order a single glass then you might just give that Argentinian Torrontes a whirl.

But, when you order your single glass, how do you know if you’re getting the first glass from a new bottle, or the last one? And if it is the last one, can you be sure that your wine is going to be as fresh and lively as it should be? Especially if you’re going for something out of the ordinary, your bottle might have been hanging around for days, or longer. Pubs or restaurants that just re-cork cannot guarantee the quality of their wines by the glass.

There are a number of wine saving systems available to wine drinkers, but two which have earned respect in the high pressure environment of pubs, bars and restaurants are the Presorvac and the Enomatic. The Presorvac is a clever system which sucks air from the opened bottle of wine with a pump, keeping the oxygen out which causes oxidation. Conversely for sparkling wines the system pumps air into the bottle to preserve the bubbles. You can buy the Presorvac online from various suppliers, including Guildford-based Wine Gift Centre ( – but be prepared for the hefty price tag of £270!

A system which is surely beyond the scope of all but Russian oligarchs for use at home is something called the Enomatic, which has been put to good use by the recently re-launched Old Bear in Cobham ( These machines cost a cool £4,000 each and The Old Bear has invested in two of them, allowing them to serve 8 different wines in a range of measures (50, 75 and 125ml). Each wine is blanketed in a layer of inert argon gas, which preserves the just-opened freshness of wines for up to three weeks, apparently. They change the wines available each month – January was Australian whites and Italian reds – and my sampling of a days old red wine was every bit as good as if it was the first glass from a newly-opened bottle.

The cheap and cheerful home versions of these two systems are things like Private Preserve, which uses inert gas to blanket the wine; and Vacu-vin, which uses the vacuum system – but of course neither is going to work for sparkling wines. You can pick up either of them for under a tenner online and, while their performance is not up to the level of the Enomatic or Presorvac, they are an improvement on simply sticking the cork back in the bottle.

No comments: