Why Does Open Wine Go Bad So Quickly? And What Can I Do to Preserve It?
We’ve all had the experience of leaving a half-open bottle of wine on the counter and coming back to it a few days later. The end result is always disappointing – the wine has turned totally undrinkable and ends up getting thrown away. It’s a sad moment for all parties involved.
So why does open wine go bad so quickly? The culprit behind spoiled wine is oxidation – but oxygen isn’t always bad for wine. In fact, exposure to oxygen is essential for aging. In this article, we unpack exactly how oxygen affects wine at different stages of winemaking, and what you can do to save wine from going down the drain.
When Is Oxygen Good vs. Bad for Wine?
Wine and oxygen are frenemies with a complicated relationship. On the one hand, oxygen is a necessary part of winemaking and helps wine age and evolve. On the other, too much oxygen quickly spoils wine and will eventually turn it into vinegar. So, when is oxygen good vs. bad for wine? Let’s break down some key times oxygen interacts with wine during its lifecycle.
Barrel Aging – Good for Wine
Oxygen is a crucial component during barrel aging. After fermentation (where almost no exposure to oxygen occurs), wine is put into barrels to mature. Oak barrels let in oxygen to develop more complexity and depth of flavors. But a little goes a long way and the amount is carefully controlled by the winemaker.
Aging in the Bottle – Good for Wine
Cork stoppers are specifically intended to allow a small but consistent amount of oxygen to interact with and improve the flavor of wine. Bottle aging is important because it allows harsh and intense wines with high tannins to mellow out over time.
Letting Wine “Breathe” – Good for Wine
Exposing a fresh bottle to oxygen before drinking is also important. This allows the wine to “breathe,” which enhances the flavors and aromatics of the wine. Wine Spectator suggests swirling or decanting red wine to maximize surface area exposure to oxygen. This is especially important for younger, more tannic wines.
Prolonged Contact With Air After Opening – Bad for Wine
After being opened and exposed to air for 24 hours, wine takes a turn for the worse in dramatic fashion. The organic compounds in wine begin to completely oxidize – much like an apple turning brown. Bacteria also begin to grow and convert ethanol into acetaldehyde. The smell of overripe fruit is the first indicator that the wine has begun to turn. The wine will also develop that all-too-familiar sour, nutty, and spoiled taste.
Why Does Liquor Stay Drinkable After Opening but Wine Goes Bad?
Anyone who loves spirits knows that they can last on your shelf for years. There are a couple reasons liquor holds up well even after opening. For one, it has higher alcohol content where bacteria can’t survive. It also doesn’t have all the organic flavor compounds from grapes that give wine its complexity. Unfortunately, these flavor compounds are the first ones to oxidize. The qualities that make wine so great also make it fleeting!
How Can I Keep Wine Fresh?
No one likes spoiled wine! There are a few tricks you can use to slow down wine oxidation.
Recorking the Bottle
We’ve all used the tried and true method of simply sticking the cork back in the bottle. It’s quick, easy, and certainly better than leaving wine totally open. Popping the cork back in keeps new air from circulating the bottle and oxidizing the wine even faster. It also keeps dirt and debris (and bugs!) from getting inside. Masterclass says you can even get around 3 days out of an open bottle by recorking it and placing in the refrigerator.
Unfortunately, wine will only last a couple days at most when you recork it. It’s also not a foolproof method – sometimes the cork won’t fit back in, or breaks apart when opening. There are some alternatives.
Many people pump out air with vacuum stoppers such as VacuVin. It’s relatively quick and painless, and the stoppers are infinitely reusable. Unfortunately, extensive testing has recently debunked this idea and shown that they don’t work much better than recorking the bottle – if at all. This is because plenty of oxygen is left in the bottle (up to 20% remains), even after pumping. Additionally, some wine aficionados claim that pumping out the air actually removes aromatics from the wine and dulls the flavor.
The Coravin device can be a good option, but is costly. This contraption pushes a needle through the cork and uses pressurized argon to pump wine out of the bottle and into your glass. The argon then fills in the displaced wine and no oxygen gets in. Many users say in the right conditions Coravin works incredibly well, but there are some drawbacks. For one, it only works on natural corks – otherwise the wine can leak out. It’s also a significant investment, with the actual device costing hundreds of dollars even before accounting for argon gas refills.
Encork Oxygen Absorber
The only way to preserve wine long term is to remove all the oxygen from the bottle. Encork bottle stoppers are specially designed to prevent oxidation – they contain earthen compounds that absorb 99.9% of oxygen. They are inexpensive and don’t require a large upfront investment, giving you more flexibility on when and how you use them. By using Encork wine savers, you can preserve wine for months on end and never have to stress or worry about an unfinished bottle again.
Wine goes bad quickly once opened, but there are measures we can take to extend the life of each bottle. Encorks are a simple and effective tool to preserve wine by removing oxygen from the bottle. Get a pack of these wine preserving devices today to start tasting more and wasting less!