How does one keep wine leftovers? It is an age old question to which the wine industry has recently provided elaborate solutions, vacuum sealers, inert gasses, elaborate serving machines in wine bars. While this is not a problem for me – leftovers in my house are rare – on the few occasions when this happens, I prefer the simplest solution of all. Recently this was tested on a thirty-three year old wine.
Once a bottle of wine is opened and the liquid is exposed to oxygen, a process of maturation sets into motion that ends in spoilage. Limiting the air exposure to a few minutes or hours can sometimes lead to good results, taming and mellowing it. That’s what decanting is all about. Beyond that, wine enters an unpredictable zone, often worse than its freshly opened version.
The key to preserving wine is halting its exposure to oxygen. The easiest way to do this is to place the a leftovers in a smaller container, one barely large enough to accommodate the full volume of liquid. For those interested, my suggestion is to buy a few half bottles – they are ubiquitous, especially as dessert wines – and once empty and rinsed, keep them. After partially consuming a full bottle you can exchange the rest into the smaller one, cork it and keep it. This works best if the top of the liquid comes up to the neck of the bottle where its surface of oxygen exposure is most minimal.
Last week, when we opened a 3 liter 1982 Chateau Lynch Bages, a red Bordeaux wine, we served most of it during our dinner party while the remainder sat in the bottle for around four hours. This leftover turned out to be the perfect volume for a regular 750 cc bottle. We transferred it to an empty one, corked it and placed it in the refrigerator. The darkness and cooler temperature of the fridge also helps with preservation.
I then spent several days wondering what to do with the wine, with each passing day giving up hope that it would be any good.
Finally I invited my friend Steve, who had contributed the bottle, back to my house to try it out. It was a weeknight five days later and the occasion was unceremonious. I had a few back-up wines in mind, that might make Steve’s trip worth while if the Lynch Bages was spoiled.
When we uncorked the leftover, an amazing surprise!
The wine was not good. It was sublime, out-of-this-world, better than its original version. It had mellowed into a silky smooth texture, its tannins tamed, its structure well balanced. The upfront fruit was most pleasing to the palate and the wine carried itself elegantly through its nuanced phases into a seductive finish that called for more. We polished it off with great pleasure and in amazement.
While this unusual experience serves as proof that this simple method of preservation works, it is also a testament to the wine itself. 1982 was one of the best vintages of the twentieth century in Bordeaux and these wines have kept well. Furthermore, the larger format bottle in which it was stored had slowed down the aging process, making the wine less vulnerable to spoilage than a regular sized counterpart. The wine initially presented itself more robustly than other ’82’s we opened. It obviously had staying power.
In essence the amount of time it sat in a half empty 3 liter bottle amounted to an informal decanting. By transferring it into the smaller bottle we arrested further oxidation, thus preserving the wine. We’ll never know if it mellowed further in the five days it stayed in my fridge, because no one tasted it while transferring to the smaller bottle.
If interested, perhaps you could conduct such and experiment yourselves. I suggest you choose something other than a 1982 Bordeaux.