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Wine Preservation Gadgets

Monday, 1 June 2009 | Tags: ,

If you enjoy drinking or cooking with wine, you've no doubt had to save an unfinished bottle or two for another day. Some just use the cork or a stopper, but others prefer something more high tech. To find the best way to keep wine from losing flavour or going bad, we test out a couple of preservation products on the market, as well as a few "free" techniques.

PRESERVATION TIPS

  • Both red and white wine contain phenolic compounds (including tannins), which are responsible for the flavour and aroma, as well as some health benefits. Red has much more than white.

  • If you have a young red wine, decant it (expose it to oxygen for a few minutes) before drinking in order to mellow the tannins.

  • Wine should spend as little time as possible standing in the open air.

  • Long term exposure to oxygen is what ruins a wine, weakening the flavour and aroma, and increasing the acidity. Essentially, the wine eventually turns into vinegar from oxygen exposure and the ensuing chemical reactions.

  • Different types of bottle closures may make a difference to the wine’s flavour:

    • Cork is traditionally used to seal bottles of wine. It’s favoured for its porous characteristics that allow tiny amounts of oxygen into the bottle over time, which helps to mellow the tannins.

    • Artificial corks (typically derived from plastic) and metal screw caps don’t allow any oxygen into a bottle.

    • No matter the closure, once a wine bottle is open, the airtight seal is broken and oxidation will accelerate.

  • There are a few techniques commonly used by wine-drinkers to try and keep open bottles tasting fresh for a few days after opening:

    • Re-corking. This is the simplest method and is basically just putting the cork or closure back in as tight as possible (while still being able to remove by hand) or replacing the screw cap. Red wines should be consumed within 3-4 days of opening, and white within 6-7 days. Keep any re-corked open wine in the coldest part of the fridge.

    • Freezing is a controversial practice that is also simple (and free): re-cork the bottle and put it in the freezer standing upright (i.e. in a deep freezer, or as upright as possible in a fridge-freezer so that no wine is touching the cork). Wine kept this way can last up to a few months. To thaw, leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours, place it in a warm water bath for 30 minutes, or microwave it for 3-4 minutes. As the wine thaws, the alcohol (which doesn’t freeze) re-integrates back into the solution. Wine that has been frozen will likely taste a bit mellower than when it was first opened. Freezing tends to keep bottles for weeks.

    • Vacuum sealing pumps air out of the wine bottle and lowers the air pressure inside, thus slowing oxidation. Vacuum sealing can result in loss of aromatic compounds of the wine, which are drawn out as gas to fill the empty space. When the bottle is reopened, they escape into the air. This method can help some wines last up to a couple of weeks, but most last only a couple more days than the re-corking method.

    • Inert gas dispensers use a combination of gases (e.g. argon, nitrogen, carbon dioxide) to insulate the surface of the wine from oxygen because the inert gas atoms are heavier. Only a small amount is needed to be effective, according to manufacturers, though oxidation still may occur if the bottle is not kept upright. Wine preserved this way can last a few weeks.

  • Whatever method you use, open wine should be kept cool, either in the cellar, fridge or freezer, to slow down the oxidation process.

  • If you decide to go with a preservation gadget like a vacuum sealer or inert gas dispenser, look for easy-to-use products with clear instructions and as few pieces as possible.

Be Aware

  • None of these methods work for sparkling wine, for which there are other preservation options on the market.

TEST CRITERIA

We tested two preservation products and two “free” methods to see which kept our half-full bottles of wine potable after a few days. We tested:

  • Re-corking method: free
. .
  • Freezer method: free
. .
  • VacuVin Wine Saver: $16.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Private Preserve inert gas dispenser: $12.95
. . Amazon.com

(Note: prices are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Taste Tests

We bought 4 bottles of a favourite wine to use with our test methods. Pouring out half of two, we sealed one for 3 days and one for 7 days, and kept two unopened bottles for comparison.

After 3 days, we invited some wine experts at Vancouver’s wine festival to help us compare a fresh bottle with our sealed bottles:

  • The re-corked bottle didn’t fare very well. It was flat with no aroma, and tasted off.

  • The frozen bottle (thawed out) tasted close to the original. Very flavoursome. Better preserved than the re-corked. No oxidation aromas.

  • The VacuVin sealed wine tasted close to the original as well. Definitely drinkable.

  • The Private Preserve bottle tasted chemical-y and unnatural. It didn’t have a very good flavour at all.

After 7 days, we met with our taste testers again to see how the methods compared:

  • None of the bottles tasted anywhere near as good at the 7-day mark as a fresh, unopened bottle.

  • The frozen bottle, however, tasted the most drinkable out of the bunch. The fruit was subdued and muted but still enjoyable.

  • The re-corked bottle had definitely gone bad. Not drinkable at all.

  • The Private Preserve bottle was also off. It had a funky smell and a synthetic taste.

  • The VacuVin bottle still tasted drinkable, but the freezer one actually tasted better.

OUR TOP PICK

We really like it when our top pick is free! Go with the freezer method for preserving your unfinished bottles of wine.

But if your freezer just won’t fit an upright bottle of wine, then go with the VacuVin and at least keep it at the back of the fridge where it is coldest. (Definitely not in the door!) 

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