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May 13, 2010 02:01 PM

Best ways to preserve an open bottle of wine

Over the course of the past two months, I tried several wine preservation methods at home, and researched others that I didn't try. This is what I came up with. Interested to hear your thoughts:

Highly Recommended:

Private Preserve Wine Preserver – Replaces the air in a bottle with a balanced mixture of three gases we naturally breathe: carbon dioxide, nitrogen and argon. With just a few quick blasts, the gases force any oxygen out of the bottle or at least off the surface of the wine, thus slowing the aging process.

Wine Preserva — Fairly new to the scene, it’s a disk system (made of bubble wrap and plastic 'fingers') that when inserted into an opened bottle of wine, acts as a ‘lid’ on the surface of the wine. Wine Preserva says it keeps the wine “at restaurant quality” for up to 5 days. It looks a little odd, but creates a barrier to oxidation and greatly extends the life of your wine.

Recommended with reservations:

VacuVin — It’s better than nothing, but not my favorite. This very popular wine saver extracts the air from an open bottle with a vacuum-like device re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Although the removal of air slows down the oxidation process, it’s still sub-optimal. Once the oxidation process begins, it doesn’t stop.

Skybar Wine Systems — it’s a lovely idea, but a $1,000 idea. Here you get a reasonably attractive countertop unit with three ’stalls’ to store wine under heavy gas, and at the right temperature. I’ll recommend it when it comes down to $300 — I’m betting within two years.

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  1. Best way yet and cheaper...

    Keep any empty 375ml or 500ml bottles you drain. Pour leftover wine from your 750 to within a cork of the top of the smaller bottle. Cork it, pushing the cork in as far as you can.

    1. I've been at this for quite a while and have been convinced that 100% argon gas is the best barrier available. That's why it's used in the $1000 and up systems.

      There are less expensive, high quality argon-based wine preservation units available. I developed one for the by-the-glass trade that is pretty cool, if I do say so myself. It employs a type of argon gas that is used in winery 'sparging' (final purging of bottles before corking) and storage tanks, so there's really no contest compared with the gas mixtures in aerosol or spray form, and the the long-term, per-use cost of my refills is similar to the sprays, if you do the math.

      100% argon forms an air-impervious barrier over the surface of the wine. You can Google "argon wine preservation" or go to my Chowhound profile to find out more. My product should come up in the top 'sponsored links' section.

      1. Here's what I like: a small-sized cylinder of industrial argon.

        In the back work room of most large tasting rooms, out of view of the public eye, is a large industrial cylinder of argon, and surely you've seen big industrial-sized cylinders of gas. What I'm talking about is a smaller version of those. The size HP 20 cylinder of argon gas is 14” tall, 5 inches in diameter, small enough to fit onto a pantry shelf or underneath a wet bar. The initial cost is $84 for the canister and $44 to fill it, and this size cylinder will preserve hundreds of bottles of wine, far more than the same amount of $$ put into cans of Private Preserve. Once you've used the industrial cylinders of argon, the Private Preserve cans seem expensive and a little hokey. But PP does have one of the greatest marketing lines ever written on a label: Full Can Feels Empty.

        How the cylinder works is easy. There's a spigot that looks an outdoor faucet and a piece of tubing attached to the nipple on the cylinder. Insert the tubing into the wine bottle, turn on the spigot for a few seconds, quickly remove the tubing and cork. Easy and inexpensive, especially if you’re a regular wine drinker and like to have several wine bottles open at once.

        The HP 40 canister is slightly larger -- 17½” tall and 6-3/4” in diameter, still small enough for household use.

        Contact Airbus (all around the United States) for details on gases or to check availability at your local store: (866) 924-7427.

        3 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Just checked the gas mix of Private Preserve. Not 100% argon.

          Do you think that 100% makes enough of a difference that I should switch?

          1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

            Yes, I think a switch to a 100% argon product would be better than using Private Preserve. There are many brands of wine preservation gas, so even if you don't go the cylinder route I describe above, check the brand labels to make sure the contents are 100% argon.

            On the PP label are listed nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon, and I'm guessing that the most important gas for wine preservation -- argon -- is the smallest part of the mix.
            My own experience with Private Preserve is that it's "staying power" is minimal -- 2 days perhaps -- and I attribute that to its being less than 100% argon.

            Argon preserves wine because it's several times heavier than oxygen, and sits right on top of the wine in the opened bottle, forming a barrier between the wine and oxygen. It's also a noble gas (formerly called inert) and has almost no reactivity with other substances. Dilute the argon with other less-heavy, more-reactive gases, and you have a greater chance of the wine oxidizing and decaying.

        2. For the past six or seven years, we have been using cleaned glass bottles with aluminum screw caps in various sizes, but most seem to be about 250 ml. We usually drink 1/3 of a bottle (about two glasses) and put the remainder into two 250 ml bottles, filled all the way up. Works for us, and the wine will stay good for over a year, though we usually finish it in about two months.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Tripeler

            A year? I have a hard enough time believing a week...

            1. re: invinotheresverde

              I have kept unusual (and unusually good) wines in smaller bottles for as long as a year, but normally they are gone within two weeks to two months.

              1. re: Tripeler

                Like what? It's not that I don't want to believe you, I'm just struggling to.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  The empty glass bottles that the wine is decanted into are filled all the way up, so there is little or no air space. The wine keeps well under those conditions until we decide to drink it. Usually that is two to eight weeks later, but some times it can be as long as a year. The type of wine is immaterial.

                  Perhaps I am not understanding your question.

          2. As a chemist I don't think that Argon has vast superiority for purging oxygen from the headspace of a partly consumed bottle of wine. The idea is to simply displace air (including its oxygen): nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc. should work about as well. One problem is that once you open the wine and slosh it around some oxygen get dissolved in the liquid, especially if it is cool. Inert gas purging can't really do much about this.

            Personally, I like the idea of transfering half the bottle to a 375, leaving no airspace, immediately upon opening and then storing in a cool place (to slow down oxidation rates). Of course with this you need to know in advance that you will only drink half a bottle.

            9 Replies
            1. re: jmoryl

              While filling smaller bottles is certainly the best way, not everyone has exactly the right amount of wine left to accomplish that perfectly. A partially filled bottle is going to have the same issues no matter the size. My research, involving Enology Dept. staff at UC Davis and a number of respected winemakers, has most definitely shown that Argon is the best gas to use and better than vacuum pumps, mixed gas aerosols or Nitrogen or CO2. I don't want to start an academic debate on this, but I'd be interested in the results of one. I think other gases may 'work' in displacing air, but Argon apparently works much better than other gasses.

              Argon is totally inert. It's colorless, odorless, flavorless and has no taste. Above all, it combines with nothing. Argon is also 2½ times heavier than air, and heavier than the other gases discussed for this. Every very high-end, refrigerated, closed dispensing system I've come across (some costing as much as $15,000 for an 8-bottle unit) recommend Argon use. I can tell you, as well, that Argon is only very slightly more expensive than Nitrogen or CO2, though it's often quoted as being much costlier.

              1. re: Midlife

                I'm sorry but nitrogen and CO2 are also colorless, flavorless etc. From kinetic theory the diffusion rate of Nitrogen is only 1.195 times greater than Argon, which is not going to be a significant factor given the other, probably uncontrolled, variables. And CO2 is more massive than Argon, so should even be slightly better from a density and diffusion standpoint. I doubt that the oxygen displacing ability of these three gasses could be distinguished in any well-designed blind expriment.

                If you really want to take this to extremes, we should use Xenon!

                1. re: jmoryl

                  I'm sure your analysis as a chemist is correct but I'm basing my choice of Argon over other gasses on the recommendation of the most recognized Enology academicians in the US (at UC Davis), as well as information from two different multi-national specialty gas producers, and the recommendation of several highly respected California winemakers. I'm gonna have to side here with the folks who actually use these gases in conjunction with wine. That's my 2¢ and I'm stickin' with it.

                  There's also a flexible disc on the market that is inserted in the bottle and sits on top of the wine as a physical barrier. It supposedly works too, though a small, completely full bottle, is certainly best if you can make it work. I just never seem to have just the exact amount of wine left over.

                  1. re: jmoryl

                    You’ve cited Graham’s Law, which says gases diffuse at rates inversely proportional to the square root of their molecular masses. But it’s mass and reactivity that are the most important properties in wine preservation, not diffusion rates.

                    When introduced into a bottle, nitrogen gas is lighter than the air in the bottle and goes to the top of the ullage. When carbon dioxide is introduced into a bottle, it's quite heavy and sinks below the air in the bottle to the bottom of the ullage, on top of the wine. But carbon dioxide is problematic: It reacts easily with wine, affecting its acidity, aromatics, and tactile properties. Which goes against the entire idea of preservation. That’s where argon comes in. It doesn’t react with wine in any way, and it’s almost as heavy as CO2. What’s more, it’s cheap. Of the non-reactive / inert / rare / noble gases, argon is the cheapest.

                    That's why Private Preserve with its mixture of gases (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and argon) is not as good as a product that is 100% argon. Even though we don't know the (proprietary) percentages of each gas that in PP, we can safely assume that its mixture is more reactive than 100% argon, and probably not as heavy as 100% argon, so less a barrier against oxygen.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        I'm sorry but some of you argon proponents must have a vested interest in the stuff. Carbon dioxide blown into the top of a bottle at 1 atm. is not going to have significant organoleptic effects on wine. It is a natural byproduct of fermentation and young wines are often saturated with it (let a cool young white warm up a bit and you might see some bubbles of CO2 being released). And while I haven't done an experimental study, working in labs tells me that blowing some pure nitrogen over the top of a solution in a closed container is going to purge 99% of the gaseous oxygen out of the headspace. I'm betting that more oxygen is dissolved in the liquid of a bottle that has been open to air for any significant time. And yes, I've been around plenty of wineries where gasses other than argon have been used regularly to purge oxygen. What I'm trying to say is that argon, nitrogen or carbon dioxide are probably all about equal, given the other uncertainties.

                        1. re: jmoryl

                          You've been quite clear about what you're trying to say. Some of us obviously disagree. I DO have something of a vested interest in Argon for this use and I've been open about that. But that interest came after a lot of research and development in the world of wine preservation. I'll leave it up to you academicians to debate the scientific proof of what SHOULD work and why. All I can tell you is that a whole lot of respected people in the wine industry agree that Argon has significant advantages over other gasses for this specific purpose.

                          A lot of wineries DO use nitrogen. No argument there. When I went to my trusted sources, however, there was extremely impressive argument in favor of Argon.

                          One thing I would agree with is that a majority of people do not have educated enough sensitivity to perceive the differences of using one gas vs. another. But then there's the guy who used to come into my winebar and routinely tell me which bottles had been open more than a day, no matter how I had preserved them.

                          1. re: jmoryl

                            Jmoryl, what you're saying is inaccurate, and I’m surprised you did not check the scientific literature before you kept insisting that argon, nitrogen and carbon dioxide are all about equal when it comes to wine preservation.

                            Scientific study after study, textbook after textbook, compare argon to nitrogen in food packaging systems and wine preservation. Carbon dioxide was never considered a preservation gas – proven to be too detrimental to wine.

                            In the scientific studies, argon inhibited oxidation when oxygen was present, whereas nitrogen did not. When the sensory preservation qualities of argon were compared to nitrogen and other gases, argon always won. Moreover, argon displaced oxygen 10 times more more efficiently than nitrogen (.5% residual O2 for argon compared to 5% residual O2 for nitrogen).

                            The studies were carried out by the academic wine community, packaging companies, food technologists and food manufacturers looking to preserve freshness and shelf life. The tests weren’t only done on wine, BTW, but also on cheese, coffee, produce, potato chips, nuts, pizzas, processed meats, poultry, orange juice and fresh pasta.

                            To find the studies and documentation, check out the textbooks and published articles by Jung Han, Kevin C. Spencer, Gordon Robertson, Robert Steele and others. Search terms at Google Scholar or Google: Each of the author names *with*: argon vs. nitrogen, argon, nitrogen, wine, wine preservation, food packaging, etc.

                            Re: CO2
                            Carbon dioxide is reactive and affects wine. While carbon dioxide *is* created during fermentation, winemakers work like heck to get rid of it *after* fermentation. Carbon dioxide has a direct, immediate effect on the organoleptic qualities of wine, so much so it's used (this is an industry trick) to magnify the acidity, aromatics and the sense of freshness of inferior, low-fruit, low-acid wine. Do this to good wine, though, and the effect is detrimental.

                            Re: Nitrogen
                            Nitrogen historically has been used in wineries (to sparge dissolved oxygen, to prep tanks and hoses, to fill the ullage on the bottling line) because argon was thought to be more expensive (3x the cost). However, this idea has been revised since you can use far less argon (about 1/5th the amount of nitrogen) to do the same job more effectively.

                            Nitrogen has no blanketing properties - it won't settle on the top layer of the wine and prevent oxidation. It will help, as will any forceful stream of air sprayed into the bottle, to sparge dissolved oxygen from the undrunk wine, to which you refer. Carbon dioxide will immediately affect the wine, as stated above. Argon – scientifically proven -- is still the best product for wine preservation.

                    1. re: jmoryl

                      Purging oxygen isn't what's taking place as much as moving oxygen away and up from the level of the wine. What's different about argon is its weight -- it's heavy and it sinks below other gases in the ullage so that it is the gas in contact with the wine, not other non-noble gases. The amount of oxygen dissolved in the wine seems minimal to that in the ullage.