The Battle of Preservation Methods

When it comes to wine preservation wine drinkers will try anything to be able to make that open bottle last longer than a few days.  The most common forms of preserving wine are pumps and gases. Unfortunately neither of these tends to fully achieve the job.  Instead they leave wine drinkers disappointed in a wine they once loved.

To better understand why these systems can fail to work, it is important to understand what happens to wine once you pop the cork.  After a bottle is opened, volatilization begins.  This means that wine’s aromas begin to disperse into the air. How quickly volatilization occurs depends on the amount of oxygen the wine is in contact with. We want some volatilization to occur, as this allows for certain aromas, often harsher aromas, to “blow off” and for other, softer aromas, to become more evident. Another thing that occurs is oxidization. This does not happen instantly, but as the wine is exposed to oxygen for long periods of time it begins to lose aromas, body, and flavor. Left in a bottle, often even when ‘preservation’ methods are used, wine begins to oxidize within 8-12 hours. Oxidation is the main culprit of wine going “off” in open bottles.

Knowing that, the idea behind the pump is to take the oxygen out of the bottle in order to prevent or slow down further oxidation. There are numerous reason why this doesn’t work, especially if you are trying to keep the wine’s flavor and body intact. The biggest problem is that we often open a wine around dinner and don’t pump it until right before bed, allowing the wine to be in contact with oxygen for hours.  However, the main reason they don’t actually work, is the lack of a gauge on the pump to let you know that you have really ‘pumped out’ all the air. Pumps also tend to leave a wine less aromatic than other options due to the pumping.

Inert gases are meant to work in a similar way, by keeping the oxygen away from the wine.  A neutral gas which is heavier than oxygen, such as argon, rests between the wine and the oxygen in the bottle. The same problem with the pump occurs with these; typically we do not gas and re-cork our wine until it has been open for hours. Therefore the wine will begin to oxidize due to its interaction with oxygen prior to gassing it. That being said, the gas will help in keeping the wine for approximately 5 days after opening, but there will be changes in the flavors and body of the wine.

The cheapest and most effective method for preserving wine is to pour it into a smaller bottle. The bottle needs to perfectly fit the remaining amount of wine. Similar to above, this needs to be shortly after opening. This method is not used often due to the fact that finding the perfect sized, sanitized bottle is not easy. That being said, this method does work better than the pump or gas methods.

Hopefully by this point you aren’t completely discouraged, there is in fact one method that will completely eliminate pouring wine down the drain. The Coravin is the latest in wine technology. House of Wine just recently brought the Coravin to Idaho and is excited to show off its amazing capabilities. The Coravin allows you to pour from the bottle without every pulling the cork. It has a small needle that pierces through the cork, the wine is then displaced using argon gas, and pours through the needle. The gas then fills the bottle so the wine is never in contact with oxygen, which is the main problems with the above methods. The Coravin allows you to test vintages to see if a wine is ready, to indulge in an expensive wine, or is perfect for those faithful wine students. The Coravin may not be the perfect solution for all wine drinkers, but it does provide drinkers with an exciting and educational experience every time.  The major barrier to this method is the price as the Coravin retails at $330.  That said, even if you “save” one half bottle per week that is worth $20 or more, the Coravin pays for itself in six months.

Whatever type of wine drinker you are, learning how to preserve your favorite bottles of wine is key. Every method has its pros and cons and it is important to consider what you need from a preservation system when choosing. If it is a less expensive wine that you will finish the next night then using a pump or gas is the perfect way to keep it.  For more expensive bottles, the Coravin may be a great option.  However, the only foolproof option to protect an open bottle from oxidation is to drink the bottle completely.  But, that has its own consequences. . .