How to Store Wine So It Lasts as Long as Possible
"In my opinion, there are few things worse than letting a delicious bottle of wine go to waste," says Christopher Hoel, sommelier and founder of Harper's Club and Luckysomm, and expert wine curator for Wine Insiders and Martha Stewart Wine Co. And we couldn't agree more.
The good news? There are easy tips and tricks to extend the life of your favorite wines, starting with knowing why wine goes bad in the first place. Wine requires a delicate balance of oxygen exposure. Oxygen is crucial in the fermenting process and can boost flavors and aromas of a wine once opened, but too much exposure will turn your wine into vinegar (this process is how we make red wine and white wine vinegars).
"Therefore, almost every wine preservation tip you'll find is based on minimizing your wine's exposure to oxygen," Hoel explains. However, oxygen isn't the only factor when it comes to maintaining a wine's integrity—light and temperature play a part, too, and storage tips will vary depending on if your bottle of wine has been opened yet. For example, you should always refrigerate both red and white wines after they are opened, but this method only works for open bottles. The fridge is not recommended for long-term wine storage of unopened bottles.
From timeline to temperature, here's everything you need to know about how to store wine at home to keep it fresh for as long as possible.
How Long Does Wine Last?
Both red and white wines will stay good for up to one year unopened, while champagne and sparkling wine lasts about six months in the pantry. And how long is a bottle of wine good for after opening? The acid in white wines, such as rieslings and sauvignon blancs, helps keep them fresh after opening for about three days, whereas most reds should be finished in a day or two, says Andrea Robinson, a master sommelier and the author of Great Wine Made Simple. Champagne and sparkling wine on the other hand will only last one day in the fridge.
To make opened wine last closer to a week, remove as much air as you can with a device like the Rabbit vacuum pump, moistening the stopper first for the tightest seal, advises Michael Aaron, chairman of Sherry-Lehmann Wines & Spirits in New York City.
"You can easily get a quality vacuum pump for $10 to $20 and, while not perfect, it can add a few days to the life of your wine," explains Hoel. Vacu Vin's Wine Saver Pump is our favorite option.
How to Store Unopened Wine
Lay Bottles Sideways
Though some wine bottles have screw-on caps or rubber or plastic corks, which can stand up to being stood up, most still come with natural corks. To maintain an airtight seal that protects the wine from oxygen and outside aromas, a natural cork needs to stay moist and expanded, says Robinson. Store the bottle on its side, so the cork stays in constant contact with the wine.
Pick a Dark Location
If a wine is light struck, it has been subjected to bright light for an extended period of time and will taste "numb and dumb," says Robinson. Although most bottles are made from tinted glass, which offers some UV protection, there's still a risk of exposure. "The most important thing is to keep the bottles out of direct sunlight," says Anita LaRaia, author of Pick a Perfect Wine…In No Time. Keeping your wine low to the ground or in a cabinet helps protect it from overhead fluorescent lighting, which can also do damage.
If You Can't Keep It Cool, Keep It Stable
You do not need to refrigerate unopened wine. The ideal wine-storage temperature is 45 degrees F for white wine and 55 degrees F for red wine, but if you'll be opening the bottle within six months, a warmer room temperature is fine. Just avoid storing bottles in pockets of high heat or in locations where temperatures fluctuate drastically, such as next to the dishwasher or stove. Above all, don't stash a collection on top of the refrigerator, says Robinson. Overhead lighting and refrigerator exhaust give off a lot of heat, and the constant vibration can adversely affect taste.
How to Store Opened Wine
Re-Cork Right Away
If you know that you're not going to finish that bottle, keep it closed. It can be easy to leave the cork off until you're ready to put the bottle away, but according to Hoel, re-corking the bottle immediately after each glass is your first defense to keeping your wine fresh. "It limits the amount of oxygen that's in contact with your wine and helps keep its flavor fresh for longer," he explains.
Another tip: Make sure the same end of the cork goes back in the bottle (the other end has been exposed to mold and odors). If the cork won't go in easily, use the blade of a corkscrew to shave a notch near the bottom on either side, or pick up a reusable rubber stopper at a wine shop for about $1.
Refrigerate the Bottle
All wines, including reds, last longer if chilled once they are opened. "Try to keep your open wine bottle out of light and store it below room temperature," says Hoel. "The refrigerator is often the best place and can go a long way to keeping your wine fresh. This slows down the process of wine oxidizing since the molecules are now moving very slowly."
How to Tell If Wine Has Gone Bad
According to Hoel, oxidation will begin to change a wine's color and taste, but that doesn't always mean your wine has gone bad. "In fact, this process is the reason we decant wines before drinking, as the flavors are often enhanced by oxygen. However, there is a point that it stops enhancing the wine, and starts turning it into vinegar," he explains.
First, check the color. Reds will begin to darken to brown and brick tones, while white wines will often deepen and become more yellow. Then, give it a test (don't worry—bad wine won't hurt you). For red wines that have gone "off," you'll find that the flavors and aromas will flatten, replacing fresh flavors with nutty, sherry-like notes. Whites will start to develop a sour, vinegary taste.
"This process is also useful for checking the integrity of your wine when dining out," explains Hoel. "If you order wine by the glass at a restaurant, remember to take notice of the color and the flavor profile." Wines served by the glass can come from bottles that were opened earlier that day and can start exhibiting signs of over-oxygenation, even in just a few hours. "If you discover the wine you ordered in a restaurant has gone 'off,' it's well within your rights to ask for a fresh glass," he adds.
What to Do With Oxidized Wine
If you've stored your wine correctly—in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator—but the taste or color is just a little off, a slightly oxidized wine can still be used in the kitchen. "I find they work best in recipes with long cook times, like stews, sauces, or marinades, which allow the alcohol to cook off and the flavors to meld seamlessly," Hoel says.
If you're at the point of no return, consider turning your leftover wine into vinegar. "All you need is raw vinegar, a clean jar, an old bottle of wine, and voila," says Hoel. "Simply combine all of those ingredients and store the concoction in your pantry and, in about a month, you'll have delicious vinegar to cook with. Plus, you can keep contributing your leftover wine to the container to continue making vinegar."