The 10 Best Wine Savers
Wine Gone Bad? Blame Oxidation
This change in flavor and scent is also referred to as Sherrying.
To use any of these products most effectively, users should refrigerate their wine.
If you're in the market for a wine saver, then you should understand the primary reason that wine goes bad: oxidation. This section explains how to detect oxidation, why it happens, and how your wine saver prevents it.
Have you ever come back to a bottle of red a week after opening it, only to find that it smelled like Sherry and was suddenly more brown than red? Well, blame oxidation. Oxidation occurs when wine is exposed to air after opening. This is the most common reason that wine goes bad, and typically results from wine being left open for too long. Oxidized wines will be duller in color (which is to say, more brownish) and sweeter or nuttier in flavor and scent. This change in flavor and scent is also referred to as Sherrying.
More scientifically, when wine is exposed to oxygen, the oxygen reacts with phenols, which themselves oxidize and produce quinone. This oxidation diminishes the fruity aromas found in wine, produces a nutty flavor, and causes browning. (For a more scientific explanation, check out this page or this super scientific page.) The tannins in young red wines generally slow this process down, so white wines and older, aged reds are prone to oxidizing at a quicker rate.
Now, onto preventing oxidation: because oxidation is caused by the contact between the wine's surface and air, the key to preventing it lies in minimizing this contact. Vacuum pump seals, our top two picks, work by extracting the air and its oxygen from the bottle, then creating an airtight seal with a rubber stopper. This removal of air greatly reduces the rate of oxidation.
Our third pick, the Savino Carafe, works similarly: a float automatically adjusts to rest on top of the wine's surface, leaving no room for air to stay in contact with the wine. And while our fourth and fifth picks don't actively remove air, they do create seals that prevent more air from entering. To use any of these products most effectively, users should refrigerate their wine.
Other Common Wine Faults
We've already explained oxidation, but there are a number of other reasons that good wine goes bad. Here's a short guide on how to use your senses to detect when wine has turned, and other reasons that your wine might be bad.
- Smell. If your wine has a sharp, pungent, or medicinal aroma, it's probably no longer good. The smells that indicate your wine is past its prime include those similar to vinegar, nail polish remover, wet cardboard, or a musty basement.
- Color. Your wine should be vibrant in hue. If it has a brownish or brickish hue, it's been oxidized and is no longer good. For white wines, a dark yellow ochre or straw color indicates oxidation.
- Taste. Wine shouldn't taste particularly sour, like vinegar or horse radish, nor should red wine taste unusually sweet (think similar to Sherry). These are both indications that the wine has turned.
If you do notice that something is off during the above assessment, these faults may be at the root of your problem:
This results in gustatory and olfactory resemblances to wet wool, wet dog, or cardboard.
- Cork taint. Sometimes, a wine's cork can leech a substance called TCA (Trichloranisole) into wine. This unnatural compound gives wine a distinct musty odor that resembles wet cardboard, a damp basement, a wet dog, and so on (gross, right?). This off-scent will particularly dominate the fruitier tones in the wine. There are other compounds that can cause cork taint, but TCA is the most common. Next to oxidation, this is the second most common fault in wines.
- Re-fermentation. The fermentation process involves the use of sugar and yeast. If there is any residual sugar and yeast when the wine is bottled, it will cause the wine to re-ferment (also called secondary fermentation). This typically materializes as something similar to carbonation. If your wine should be flat (it's important to note here that some wines are supposed to have bubbles, so do your research first), but has bubbles, it's sadly not surprise champagne. It's just re-fermented.
- Overheating. If the cork seems to protrude slightly from the bottle, then it's an indication that the wine has expanded due to overheating, thus pushing the cork out. When it affects the cork, it compromises the seal, making the wine vulnerable to oxidation. This process is known as maderization. In addition, maderized wine will smell sweet-in-a-bad-way, as if you were cooking with it. If you've ever burned sugar, then you know what to look for. (Note: wine storage experts suggest keeping wine stored at between 50 and 59 °F, if you're fancy enough to have a cellar.)
- Sulfer compounds. Winemakers add sulfur to wine as an oxidation preventative. Sometimes, however, this sulfur can taint both aroma and flavor. Sulfur dioxide, when over-added, will resemble burnt rubber, mothballs, or matchsticks, in which case the wine is described as sulfitic. Hydrogen sulfide, a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation, resembles rotten eggs. This reaction, when combined with other elements like ethanol, can progress to the production of mercaptans (you know these as the substance added to natural gas to give it an odor). Mercaptans can be detected through their resemblance to skunk and onion odors. Lastly, dimethyl sulfide can, in low levels, positively affect the wine's flavor profile. In high levels, however, it resembles asparagus or cooked cabbage. Yuck!
- Lightstrike. Delicate white wines—think champagne—are susceptible to UV light damage. This results in gustatory and olfactory resemblances to wet wool, wet dog, or cardboard. Red wines are less susceptible to lightstrike because of their phenolic compounds. This is also why wine is generally stored in the dark.
An Ancient History of Wine
The history of wine goes back. I mean, really far back, as in 6000 BC. That's right, the earliest archaeological evidence of wine is about 8,000 years old and was discovered in ceramic storage jars found in Georgia. What's even more mind blowing is that scientists have found that these Neolithic humans were even adding anti-bacterial preservatives in the form of tree resin to their wine, so that it would stay good longer following its fermentation. Turns out you and Neolithic man have more in common than you realized, thanks to this 8,000 year struggle to answer the question: How can we keep wine good for longer?
That's right, the earliest archaeological evidence of wine is about 8,000 years old and was discovered in ceramic storage jars found in Georgia.
The earliest known winery dates to ca. 4100 BC, and was discovered in Vayots Dzor, Armenia. Whereas the Georgian site evidenced only rudimentary wine, this ancient Armenian winery was the real deal, complete with a wine press, fermentation jars, cups, and even evidence of already-domesticated Vitis vinifera seeds.
By around 3000 BC, wine played an integral ceremonial role in the life of royal and upper-class Egyptians. Egyptian tombs dating from 3150 to 332 BC depict scenes featuring wine-making and wine jugs, as wine was believed to be critical to a positive afterlife. According to archaeological evidence, the Egyptians are the first known to have created and consumed white wine, in addition to red. They even imparted different significance to red and white wine, as residual evidence of red wine in tombs indicated that it was symbolic of rebirth and God Osiris's blood. White wine, however, was found in King Tutankhamen's tomb, indicating that it was of the highest luxury.
The Phoenicians played a vital role in spreading wine to other ancient civilizations, beginning with their dissemination of information about viticulture and winemaking to ancient Greece and Rome. Wine was so central in Greece that it is frequently referenced in Homeric mythology, while the earliest reference to wine appears in a poem by the Spartan choral lyric poet Alcman in the 7th-century BC. Similarly, wine was hugely important in ancient Rome, where it was believed that wine was a daily necessity. It is in Rome that winemaking became a business, fostering countless viticultural innovations.
It is thanks to this history, rooted several thousand years in the past, that today we can joyfully indulge in libations of wine.