Zacharkiw on wine: To pump or not to pump?

Putting the cork back in it is one way of preserving open bottles of wine, but there are also some gadgets to help the preservation process

How best to preserve open bottles of wine? Putting the cork back into it is one tried and true method. Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

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One of my favourite wine stories comes from a book called Passion on the Vine by a New York wine importer named Sergio Esposito (Broadway Books, 2008). His account of meeting Barolo master Bartolo Mascarello is etched in my brain.

Mascarello was sitting at his desk when Esposito, a self-described wine “whiz kid,” walked into the room expecting a full portfolio tasting of recent wines. Instead, Mascarello reached behind him for a half-empty magnum and poured Esposito a glass. The old man then immediately went back to reading his newspaper.

Insult turned to anger as Esposito felt jilted because he was being served a wine that he had no idea how long had been open. But as he swirled and drank, he began to lose track of time.

“The wine was no longer what I’d first perceived,” he wrote. “I wasn’t in a world of recognizable perfumes and sensations. I was in a complex labyrinth in which nothing made sense.”

They finished the bottle in silence. Esposito thanked Mascarello and left. He wrote that “the whiz kid did not come with me.”

I am often asked how to best preserve open bottles of wine. While I would have gladly exchanged a couple of my vineyard trips for the chance to meet one of my favourite winemakers, the idea that a good wine will get better over time simply by putting the cork back into it has always been the way I have preserved my open bottles.

There do exist some gadgets to help the preservation process. The best is probably the Coravin, which allows you to pour a glass of wine via a thin needle. It adds a layer of argon gas, which protects the wine from oxygen. It sells for about $400.

If you are going to drink the same wine over more than three or four days or are not finishing a well-aged wine, then the Coravin or other oxygen-pumping devices might be a good idea. But for most people, I would guess that the bottle won’t be around for more than a few days.

My suggestion is that if it’s a bottle of white, then just put it back in the fridge. I have kept whites for more than a week in the fridge and they have still been great. For red wines, keep your open bottle in a cool place. My experience is that if it’s a quality bottle, you will find that it is actually better if you give it a day or two with a breath of oxygen.

While it might not be as intoxicating and life-changing as the bottle Esposito drank, you never know. Allow it to breath and evolve, and give your wine a chance to tell its own story.

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