Put a Cork In It: Tips to Save Your Leftover Thanksgiving Wine

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/24/16


The year’s most bountiful meal usually comes with one conundrum: how long can we make our leftovers survive?  Your turkey dregs (and all the trimmings) are one thing – simply store properly and enjoy for days to come.  But what about all that wine?

As you know, there’s no wrong Thanksgiving wine.  With so many flavors and textures on the table, you can pretty much open whatever you want – it’s bound to match something.  But wine in excess means you’re likely to have half-empty bottles on Thanksgiving night.  Wouldn’t it be nice for it to still be drinkable when you have yet another turkey-stuffing-and-cranberry sauce sandwich three days later?

At our house, we’re never really concerned with preserving wine.  The best way to ensure wine does not spoil is to make sure there’s none left.  Consider that Tip #1.

Also, keep your wine standing up, rather than on its side – that’ll minimize how much of your wine’s surface area is exposed to oxygen, fresh wine’s biggest culprit.  And avoid temperature extremes, especially heat (i.e., don’t keep your bottle by a window, where sunlight can find it).

For other unique ways to lengthen your wine’s lifespan, I turned to a few friends who are in the business of making reds and whites last as long as possible.  Restaurant and winery folks, mostly, like Stephanie Varner, who manages the Rusack Vineyards tasting room in Ballard Canyon.  “Don’t forget to make ice cubes with leftover wine!” she told me.  Love it.

Laura Booras, general manager at Riverbench Winery, tells me that a wine’s age will make a difference.  If a wine is aged, say more than 15 years, it will definitely show signs of aging faster if you leave it open longer. In fact, many older wines will lose their freshness, delicacy, and nuances overnight, so it’s best to finish them the night you open them.”  And she has a warning for those who decant.  “The surface area has been more exposed, so it’s going to oxidize and age much more quickly.”

Riverbench runs tasting rooms in both Santa Maria and Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, where several commercial products have proven successful, including vacuum seals.  “But what about bubbly?” I ask Booras, well aware of the winery’s fabulous annual sparkling wine production.  She says she’s kept bubbles fresh for up to three days with a stopper called Tablecraft 398, which you’ll find at the Riverbench tasting rooms and on Amazon.

Tatiana Konovalov, assistant food-&-beverage manager at Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore in Montecito, touts this stopper, too.  “It fully seals the bottle, but be careful,” she says.  “It becomes pressurized!”

“If you consistently find yourself unable to finish quality wines,” Konovalov adds, it may be worth investing in a Coravin system, which can cost a couple hundred dollars.   “It uses a sharp needle to puncture the cork and uses argon capsules to pressurize and release wine,” she says.  “This system can only be used on cork sealed bottles and never on Champagne.”

Larry Schaffer, winemaker at Tercero Wines in Los Olivos, eschews gadgets because “the best solutions to any problem are the simplest.”  He touts refrigeration.  And, to minimize oxygen exposure, he tells his wine club members to have screw-capped half-bottles handy at home.  “The next time you’re not able to finish a bottle, put what’s left into the 375-ml bottle and fill as much as you can,” he says.  “Your leftover wine will now be in a vessel that has a lot less headspace – open air between the wine and the top of the bottle – and will be under a much tighter closure.”

Tom Dolan manages a spectacular wine list at his Toma Restaurant in Santa Barbara.  But at home, his wine preservation solution involves multiple bottles, too.  I always marry one bottle to another and fill till it overflows out the top, then seal it!” he says, thereby creating his own special blend.

I met Jon McDaniel when he ran the program at the Los Olivos Café a few years ago.  These days, he’s beverage director and sommelier for LessLaw Hospitality, the group that runs Chicago foodie hotspots like The Gage, Acanto, Beacon Tavern, The Dawson and Coda di Volpe.  “Wine is a living, breathing thing, so the moment you open up the bottle, the clock starts ticking,” he reminds me.

If you like big reds with your Thanksgiving bird, like cabernet and zinfandel, you’re in luck.  “The tannins and the higher alcohol are going to help maintain the structure of the wine and keep the taste for a couple extra days,” McDaniel says.  So if your last bottle is a light red, “like Beaujolais or pinot noir, it’s best to know you only have a day or so left.”

In the rare occasion when I do have to keep wine an extra day or two, my go-to solution is sticking the cork back in.  But not so fast, says McDaniel.  “Put in the same end that was touching the wine first.  I have seen corks that didn't taint the wine with TCA (a bacteria that will 'cork' the wine) initially.  But when you put in the other end of the cork first, you can come back the next day and have a corked or spoiled wine.  So even though the cork will expand a bit, try and put the wet end of the cork back in first.  And save your money on fancy wine stoppers with jewels or turkeys on them, they just don't work.”

If all else fails, refer back to Tip #1.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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