Wine / When to let that bottle go

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DRINKING alone is a warning sign of alcoholism according to Karen Frazier in a web article entitled “Ten Warning Signs of Alcoholism”.

Richard Calver.

So, about three days a week, Karen would have me on addiction watch.

I like to have a glass of wine with dinner and I live alone. I’m not going to stop the habit of matching my food with a suitable wine from fear of succumbing to dependency.

That’s especially the case where the wine first goes in the food to enrich its flavour; for example, in risottos, that quarter bottle gives the rice depth and piquancy; I reckon the best use of sauvignon blanc is in risotto. As WC Fields said: “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food”.

But the issue that I want to talk about is the real problem raised by drinking alone: how long am I able to keep the wine after opening? Because there is always about half to three-quarters of a bottle left after dinner. I would be firmly on the watch list if there were not.

On opening, oxygen reacts with wine to, at first, liberate the nasty compounds that you don’t want, such as sulphites and ethanol (they tend to be more volatile than the desirable ones). This is the good part of letting wine “breathe”.

Then, like the effect it has on a cut apple, oxygen starts to do damage. It reacts with the phenolics in the wine (a large group of several hundred chemical compounds that affect the taste, colour and mouthfeel of wine) and causes a loss of fruit and varietal smells, browning and development of a nutty, bitter flavour. It is the presence of that nutty bitterness that should tell you to reject wine by the glass in a restaurant because they have kept the wine too long in the bottle.

To partially emulate Con the Fruiterer, three days I reckon is the most you can keep table wines without these adverse elements affecting the flavour. At that point, the better alternative to drinking the stuff is to use it as a drain cleaner. Three days is too short on some accounts with the Wine Folly website saying that the period is three to five days and, with some wine types up to seven days. I’m going to stick with three days because my palate doesn’t like the taste of wines that have been kept on the shelf for longer and what’s the point in drinking wine that doesn’t taste right for you?

During these three days, there are various ways that you can slightly arrest the deterioration. If there is a cork always put it back in or use a wine stopper. Store the wine in the fridge or a cool, dark place. Red wines once opened can be stored in the fridge, just bring them back to room temperature before drinking.

I haven’t entered into the controversy surrounding vacuum seals or pumps and expensive replacement of the air with nitrogen systems. They seem too much trouble and expense.

In simple terms, I just have to drink the wine within three days or throw it out. And, hey, if I throw it out maybe I’m not an alcoholic?


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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.


  1. Dear Sir, As always I read Richard Calver’s wine column with interest. For the second issue in a row he has used the word “palette” when referring to the taste of a wine. Am I correct in assuming that he means “palate”?

    • Hi Vincent,

      What an oversight. Thank you for drawing this to our attention, it’s been amended on the CityNews website.


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