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How Long Does Open Wine Last?

It's all moot if you finish the bottle...

Putting the cork back into an open bottle for later enjoyment. (Photo by Danny Diamond.)
Putting the cork back into an open bottle for later enjoyment. (Photo by Danny Diamond.)

by Mike Supple
published: 07 Apr 2010
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It happens to the best of us: halfway through dinner the wine runs out so you immediately pop the cork on another bottle. The meal winds down, the conversation winds down, your friends realize they have to be sober to drive home and you're left with two-thirds of a bottle of wine. Sure, you can flip on the TV or fire up the PS3, fill your glass and go to town, but your boss may not appreciate you showing up late the next morning with a raging headache.

What exactly is the problem? Why can't you just stick the bottle on the counter and leave it until you're in the mood for another drink?

Oxygen and wine are fickle friends. Small amounts of oxygen during the aging process can help red wines evolve, making them more complex, smooth and delicious. The same can be true for many wines right when you open them - the immediate exposure to oxygen helps to soften the tannins and bring out the aromas. However, once a wine is exposed to oxygen it begins to evolve. While small amounts may be good, larger quantities of oxygen will quickly cause the wine to deteriorate. The fresh fruit flavors start to fade, turning your wine into a drink more reminiscent of old leather, dried fruits and stale cheese.

Sticking the cork back in the bottle will not stop this process. Once a wine is exposed to oxygen, the process of deteriorating begins and closing the bottle again will not stop it. However, putting the cork back in will limit the continued exposure to more oxygen and will slow the process.

If you feel like spending some money, there are a few tools on the market that can help increase the lifespan of your open bottles. One popular one involves replacing the oxygen in the bottle with an inert gas like nitrogen or argon. These are available at many liquor stores and wine shops for a few dollars.

Using inert gas to save an open bottle of wine.
Photo by Danny Diamond.

Another is a pump that vacuums the air out of the bottle.

Using a Vacuvin wine saving pump.
Photo by Danny Diamond.

Neither of these methods is perfect, but they can both help your wine last for a few more days.

If you don't want to shell out a few dollars for some device to save your bottle, the best method is to put the cork back in the bottle and put it in the refrigerator - white and red. Cooling the wine slows the oxidation process, giving you more time to come back to that bottle. Of course if it's a red wine, don't forget to take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to drink it so it has time to come back up to temperature. Cold temperatures mute the aromas and flavors of red wine.

How long will my wine last once opened?

  • Sparkling Wine: 24 hours at most - once opened it will start to go flat. Without a good stopper, few will last more than 4 hours.

  • White Wine: 1 - 3 days. White wine is primarily consumed for fresh fruit flavors, and these fade quickly once opened. Heavier wines (like oaky Chardonnay) tend to last longer than Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.

  • Rosé Wine: 1 - 3 days. Lighter rosés are like white wines and will fade quickly. Some fuller bodied wines will still taste fine after a few days.

  • Light-bodied Red Wine: 1 - 3 days. Like white and rosé, lighter reds are built around the freshness of fruit, which fades quickly.

  • Full-bodied Red Wine: 1 - 5 days. Some heavy reds - like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah - may even improve after being open for a day or two, particularly when they are young and tannic. The oxygen softens the wines and brings out the aromas. After a couple of days the fruit will fade.

  • Fortified Dessert Wine: 7 - 14+ days. The high alcohol and sugar content of these wines allows them to withstand the oxygen onslaught much better than dry wines. Port and Madeira in particular can last for weeks in the fridge after being opened.

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