What to Do When You Have an Unfinished Bottle of Wine

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

“What can I do with an opened bottle of wine if I don’t finish it?”

I am (very) frequently asked this question. We all have encountered this dilemma (some less often than others). The good news is that you have several viable, reliable choices.

First, a bit of background. Wine begins to change as soon as the cork is removed from the bottle. Many wines improve when exposed to air; the aromas and flavors that have been tightly confined since bottling are released when they come in contact with oxygen. But most do not; they begin to deteriorate quickly.

Wine, in its most elemental form, is a fruit derivative and is perishable. It’s just a question of time before oxygen accomplishes its dastardly deeds – oxidation and spoilage. Generally speaking, red wines will last longer than white and sparkling wines, wines with higher acid and tannins will last longer than softer wines and wines with higher alcohol will last longer than those with lower alcohol.

Preserving wine is a worthy endeavor. The longer you can forestall or slow down the oxidation process, the longer the wine will retain its freshness. Here are three things you can do with an open bottle of wine: ditch it, preserve it or recycle it.

  1. Ditch the wine. Stop. Pouring it down the drain is the least palatable, even though it may seem like the most expeditious. I never recommend this course of action. Instead, tightly cork the unfinished bottle and place it in the refrigerator. Cold temperatures induce a wine coma, slowing oxidation. Take the bottle out about 20 minutes before consuming to reach the proper drinking temperature.

When faced with an unfinished bottle at a restaurant, do not leave it behind. Instead, take advantage of New York’s “cork-and-carry” law and bring it home for a nightcap or for the next day’s meal. Carry it home side by side with your food doggy bag and voila, you can repeat your entire dining experience at home the next day.

  1. Preserve it. Remove the oxygen that resides in the empty portion of the bottle. There are several ways to accomplish this.

One is to transfer the wine into a smaller vessel – less area for oxygen to reside equals slower oxidation. An empty 375-ml, half-size wine bottle is ideal. Better yet, if you know you’re not going to finish a bottle at a single sitting, decant a portion of the wine into the 375-ml bottle before, not after, you consume it. This method will preserve wine for up to a week.

A second is to utilize modern technology. Several gadgets on the market successfully remove oxygen from an open bottle. One is Vacu-Vin. It consists of a reusable rubber stopper and a pump; simply place the stopper in the bottle neck and work the pump until you feel resistance. You’ve created a vacuum seal. I’ve used it and can confirm it works. It sells for $10 to $12.

A more esoteric preserver is Private Reserve, an aerosol dispenser containing inert gases that replace the oxygen in the bottle. A few squirts into the bottle and presto, a layer of gas sits over the wine. Perfectly safe, this gadget lasts for 120 applications and costs about $10.

Beware of one thing: these wine preservation methods all work and will enhance the life of your wine – generally for one to two days. Don’t wait too long; the oxidation clock starts ticking as soon as the cork is removed.

  1. Recycle it. Simply incorporate the wine into a favorite recipe as a marinade or use it to infuse rich flavors into sauces and soups. Wine can also be used as the base for a vinaigrette salad dressing. Let your imagination be your guide.

The next time you’re tempted to force yourself to consume that last drop of wine in a bottle – stop. Cork it. There are many ways to enjoy that wine without compromising your first experience with it.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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