Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Magazine article Sunset

The Wine Guide

Article excerpt

A shocking experiment

* Until about a month ago, whenever I was asked how long an opened bottle of wine would last and which method for keeping it fresh was best, my response was discouraging. Wine, I believed, deteriorated quickly when exposed to oxygen; even after 24 hours, most wines would have lost a lot of their character and charm. As to which preservation system worked best, I was unsure. So I decided to experiment with several methods to find out. And frankly, I was shocked. The outcome was nothing short of startling.

The experiment took 54 bottles of wine. I tested three easy-to-use, widely available systems: Private Preserve (about $10), a canister of harmless inert gases, which you spray into the bottle, supposedly displacing the oxygen; VacuVin Wine Saver (about $10), a small hand-pump and rubber seal--you restop the bottle, then pump out the oxygen, theoretically creating a vacuum; and, finally, simply pouring the remaining wine into a smaller bottle, filling it to the top so there's no air inside, then capping it tightly. I also compared these methods to using no preservation system at all--that is, just restopping the wine bottle with its original cork.

For each preservation system, I removed the same amount of wine from the original bottle--175 milliliters, or about one quarter of the bottle (one generous glass)--before resealing it. When it came to just recorking the bottle, I experimented with two variations. In one case, I removed one quarter of the wine, in the other case, half the wine.

To make the experiment more meaningful, I included time as a factor. Was it true that the longer a bottle had been open, the worse the wine tasted? To find out, I tested each preservation method on three different bottles--keeping one resealed for one day, one for two days, and one for four days. And so the results would not apply to just one wine or grape variety, I performed the entire experiment on three different wines: Clos du Bois Chardonnay, Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, and Saintsbury Pinot Noir.

Finally, since I didn't want the experiment to reflect my judgment alone, I asked a winery owner and a wine enthusiast to join me in the tastings, which we did completely blind--none of us knew which wine had been preserved with which system. Nor did we know which was the control wine (from a freshly opened bottle). We ranked the wines in taste from best to worst. …

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