Wine spoilage.

A nice bottle of wine is a pretty common house gift for those invited to a holiday gathering. But what happens if the bottle is opened for a taste, but much of it remains when your guests leave? You know that, once the cork is pulled, the air will cause the wine to degrade. But why, and how can you preserve that wine for another day?

Though you probably associate wine with beer and liquor, wine actually has more in common with the produce in your refrigerator. When exposed to oxygen, wine begins to spoil, in the same way that a cut apple turns brown as time passes. The air begins to convert the alcohol into an aldehyde or acetic acid, and the flavor profile of that nice gift wine starts tasting more like vinegar. If only you could prevent these chemical reactions, that wine may be perfect match to a home-cooked meal a few days from now.

The trick is to stop or slow the reactions that convert the alcohol. Simply recorking the bottle and putting it in the refrigerator – with the other produce – will slow down the chemical reactions. Another approach is to reduce the exposure to oxygen. Elaborate (i.e., expensive) systems are available for introducing argon or nitrogen to replace the oxygen that enters the open bottle, but are probably not justified for those of us who normally drink a simple table wine. Several inexpensive devices exist to pump most of the air out of the bottle, creating a vacuum that greatly reduces oxygen exposure. Combined with refrigeration, these are probably the most practical devices for most consumers to help preserve a nice wine for several days.

None of these techniques will protect an opened wine bottle from degradation indefinitely. The best course may just be to share that unfinished bottle with someone special before it spoils!

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