Regularly find yourself pouring wine down the sink? Christine Austin guides you through what to do with your leftovers.
According to research by wine merchant Laithwaite, the average British household throws away two glasses of wine per week – not because they don’t like it, but because they think it has gone off after being opened and kept overnight or for a few days.
Laithwaite has then done some clever maths, extrapolating those numbers across the whole population and converting it into that standard unit of measure, the Olympic-size swimming pool. It reckons that 333 swimming pools worth of wine goes down the drain each year.
I really do find this difficult to believe and suspect, as the report itself discovered, that most wastage occurs in London where apparently two per cent of the population estimate they throw the equivalent of two bottles of wine down the sink each week.
As someone who frequently has more opened bottles of wine than I can cope with, the thought of pouring the efforts of so many grape growers and winemakers down the sink fills me with horror. This accounts for my regular forays up and down my street bearing carriers of opened bottles to give to neighbours.
So what do you do when you have wine left in the bottle and you have finished drinking? Will it taste the same next day? How long will it last, and will it harm you if you drink it next week? Here is my strategy for reducing that wasted wine lake...
Know your enemy
Oxygen is the enemy of wine. It will transform your elegant, smooth-tasting Cabernet into a harsh-tasting, acidic liquid within days. Even overnight a wine can change, but not always in a bad way. If the wine is tight and tannic then you may find that a half-full bottle left with just the cork in it will have opened up, filled out its flavours and become much more supple. On the other hand, a light simple, easy-drinking wine may have lost its primary fruit and become somewhat dull.
Jamie Goodhart, of Bon Coeur Fine Wine in Melsonby, uses a winemakers’ old adage: “When a wine has been open for 24 hours it is equivalent to one year in bottle. So if a wine tastes better the following night then it probably could have done with being aged for a further year.”
White wines behave in the same way as reds, but seem to lose their aromatic notes a little quicker. If the wine is “off” it will smell of vinegar, but even then it won’t do you any harm.
The higher the temperature, the more oxygen can dissolve in your wine. That is why it is much better to store half empty bottles in the fridge – even reds. Lower temperatures slow down the rate of oxidation and the wine will last several days and still be drinkable. One tip is to store opened bottles upright, so there is a small surface area of wine exposed to air, and try not to store them in the door of the fridge. Every time you open the fridge the bottle contents will be disturbed and absorb more oxygen. When you want to drink your chilled red wine, run your glass under the hot tap, dry it and then pour the wine in.
The sweeter the better
The high sugar content in sweet wines protects a wine from oxidation to some extent, but not forever. I often keep the remnants of a sweet wine in the fridge for the best part of a week and it still tastes good. It can also act as a little energy booster for whoever is cooking dinner.
Buy small bottles
If you regularly find that you have wine left over at the end of an evening, half bottles may provide the answer. The problem is that you will never get the same range of wines in half bottles that you do in full-sized ones.
Locally the Wright Wine Co in Skipton has a reasonable range of half bottles including Ch. Gloria from Bordeaux and Rioja from Muga. Bon Coeur Fine Wines also stocks some half bottles.
Supermarkets have jumped on the little bottle trend and Tesco has a fair selection of quarter bottles such as Argentinian Malbec and Australian Cabernet Shiraz at £1.75 for 187 ml. Marks & Spencer has a good range of 250ml bottles including a very decent white Burgundy at £3.80.
Keep an ice cube tray to hand so you can pour leftover wine in and freeze it. Then you can easily add wine to soups, sauces and gravies without having to open a bottle specially. Alternatively if, like me, you want a good splash of wine to really add flavour then use small plastic containers and freeze around 150ml of wine in each. Stacked up in the freezer, they are flavour in waiting for any casserole on the go. I also have a smaller stack of frozen white wine for fish sauces. Fortified wines can just take up residence next to the stove, a permanent reminder to add a splash of port into a stew.
Gas and air
A squirt of inert gas will remove oxygen from a bottle and settle over the surface to protect the wine from oxidation. Private Preserve Wine Spray, available online at around £18, uses a clever mix of nitrogen and argon and is simple to use. The can contains enough for 150 squirts. Alternatively you can use a pump gadget such a wine saver (John Lewis, around £9) to pull the air out of the bottle. This is a cheap and convenient way to carry on drinking the same wine next day, although some of the aromas do get pulled out with the air.
A spoon in Champagne
There are many people who believe that dangling a teaspoon in the top of a bottle of Champagne will preserve the bubbles. This flies in the face of all common sense and is equivalent to believing in fairies. I prefer to use a Champagne stopper which actually does keep the fizz in the bottle.