Continuing the thread from two columns ago, there are a number of questions about wine that come up quite frequently in conversation. This week, I’ve added a few other common questions and answers with the hope that it might not only dispel some common misconceptions but also make your wine buying and drinking easier and far more enjoyable.
1. How long can a wine last once it has been opened?
This is a concern sometimes that will discourage someone from opening a bottle of wine, especially if that person is alone – you don’t want it to go to waste because you weren’t able to finish it and it has “gone bad.” In general, wines will last at least a day or two, and sometimes longer, once you have opened the bottle. There are several steps you can take to help your wines last longer, but first, it helps to understand what happens to a wine once you’ve opened the bottle.
When you open a bottle you expose the wine to oxygen. That interaction is important because it “wakes up” a wine’s aromas and flavors from sometimes years of being sealed up. So, a certain amount of “air time” helps most wines, especially red wines, to smell and taste better. The best way to save a bottle for a later date is to slow down or stop that oxygen reaction. Three ways to do that come to mind, in order of ease: 1.) Simply put the cork back in the bottle and refrigerate it. Red or white, this works and will extend a wine’s life by several days. For red wines, take the bottle out an hour or so before you want to drink it to let it come up to temperature. 2.) Use a vacuum pump (like a Vacu Vin), a device that comes with rubber stoppers and a hand pump, to remove the oxygen from the bottle. 3.) Replace the air in the bottle with an inert gas using a product like Wine Keeper.
It bears repeating that, especially with red wines, a day or so open on the counter will many times help a wine taste even better.
2. Should I be worried about sulfites in wine?
I am not a medical professional and don’t even play one on television or in any other medium. Sulfites are elements that occur naturally in wines. Vintners also use sulfur in various forms in the vineyard and in the winery to protect grapes and wine from spoilage. In general, vintners work hard to minimize sulfites in wine to the extent that they can. I’m told that allergies to sulfites are not very common; many times the headaches and other allergic reactions are due to other compounds in wines, like histamines.
3. If a wine has a screwcap, does that mean it’s the cheap stuff?
Not at all. Bottles with screwcaps are becoming more and more common on retail shelves and on restaurant wine lists. And those screwcaps are being used on more and more expensive wines every year. Why? Screwcaps provide a nearly perfect seal for wine and avoid much of the problems and failure issues associated with natural corks. Now, the majority of natural corks provide great seals, but because natural corks are by definition irregular some provide a better seal than others and can result in different bottles of the same wine aging differently. The other downside of natural corks is that they can be prone to attract a chemical compound called TCA (abbreviation for a very long scientific name) that causes “corked” wines. I’ll cover corked wines in a future FAQ. White wines of all price levels are quickly moving to screwcaps and more and more red wines are going that way too. I rarely buy a bottle of white wine that’s not screwcap finished – it also makes saving the wine for a few days really easy.
So, do not be afraid of wines with screwcaps—especially white and rose wines. In fact, because they provide such a great closure, they can help extend the length of your white wines in the refrigerator adding another solution to question #1 above.
As always, you can email me with other questions at [email protected]
Greg Walter, a Sonoma resident for more than 20 years, has been in wine and food publishing for more than 30 years, 15 of which were spent as a senior editor and later president of Wine Spectator magazine. Today he writes the PinotReport newsletter (Pinotreport.com) and publishes books through his Carneros Press imprint (Carnerospress.com).