You’ve drained a slew of bottles – you and your good-time crew – and if tonight were a movie, the credits would be rolling right about now. Time to sleep it off. Live to sip another day. But there’s wine left in one of those bottles. What do you do with that?
You have options, but there are two rules you should follow every time: Limit the leftover wine’s exposure to oxygen, and keep it cool. You don’t live in an old oil painting with a fresh kill of pheasant, a bugle and yesterday’s half-drunk bottle of wine resting on a sideboard; use your refrigerator. The cooler temperature will slow the wine’s decay. If you have a wine fridge, great. But a regular refrigerator is better than no refrigerator at all. Your wine will probably be colder than it should be when you retrieve it, but it will soon rise to its optimal temperature in the glass.
Young, intense wines that normally would have benefited from decanting in the first place could actually improve after being opened and stored for a day or two in the refrigerator. But oxygen is the enemy of wine, and even when you put a cork back in a bottle after opening it, essentially sealing it off from the outside air, the wine has nonetheless begun its rapid descent to undesirability.
Limiting the amount of oxygen that comes into contact with leftover wine is sort of the human equivalent of wearing sunblock and avoiding fried foods, refined sugar and excessive sodium. Storing it in a cool place is the equivalent of regularly getting a good night’s sleep on a high-quality mattress. All of it should keep your wine alive and healthy longer. But still, we’re talking about only a few days, give or take.
Your first, least-involved option is to stuff the bottle’s cork back into it (or screw its cap back on tightly), place it in the refrigerator and cross your fingers that it will still be good in two or three days. You could also skip the original top and use a wine vacuum pump, with its reusable rubber-seal cap. These gadgets pull air out of a bottle and keep it out until you’re ready to open it and pour again. Another technique is to use a product that replaces the oxygen hovering over the wine in the bottle with an inert gas.
Your final option – possibly the best and easiest, considering it involves no pumping or gas injecting – is to pour the remaining wine into a container that is sized as close as possible to the volume of liquid that remains. A standard wine bottle holds 750 milliliters, or a little more than 25 ounces. If your pours have been roughly 5 ounces each over the course of an evening, even a buzzed English major can figure out how much is left in the bottle. But no math is required if you have a few smaller-size bottles on hand.
A half bottle (375 milliliters) holds about 12 1/2 ounces, and a split (187.5 milliliters), holds a little more than 6 ounces. (Splits are the little single-serving bottles of Champagne.) This is a good excuse for you to buy some half-bottles, so you can drink the wine first and, as a bonus, score a few implements to add to your arsenal of wine tools (the empty little bottles, ready to hold leftovers). Buy a funnel, too, so you can transfer the wine without spilling a drop.
Other bottles and jars of different sizes work well, too. But a lot of times, smells from what was in the jar will cling to the lid. It’s buying a couple of new, unused jars for leftover wine. It’s a tiny investment that will pay for itself after a couple of uses.
To keep your leftover bubbly adequately fizzy and fresh for mimosas or just a good old eye-opener the next morning, invest in a sparkling wine stopper, which will fit directly onto the bottle the wine came in. They’re inexpensive and often work well. Generally, sparkling wines will last a day or two in the refrigerator, reds will last at least two days, and most whites should last at least three. Dessert wines, which are high in sugar, can last much longer – up to a couple of months in some cases.