Most food leftovers can readily be reheated and eaten or turned into something else. But what about old leftover wine?
Can you cook with old wine? Leftover wine that you originally opened a couple of months ago isn't drinkable, but you can still use it for cooking. As it reaches a certain age, wine becomes almost vinegar-like.
But just because it's no longer drinkable doesn't mean you should throw it away. With a little bit of knowledge and know-how, you can put it to good use.
Can you cook with old wine?
You can use "uncorked" old wine for cooking for up to two months, and it can turn an ordinary dish of food into something quite special.
If once you've opened a bottle of wine, you've got some leftover which you'd like to save for another day, here's what to do:
- Push the cork back into the bottle. It's okay to leave some of the cork sticking out. All you're doing is sealing the wine off from the outside air.
- If you threw the cork away thinking you wouldn't need it anymore, you could reseal the bottle by wrapping plastic food wrap around the neck and holding it in place with a rubber band. Alternatively, you can use a wine stopper.
- Once sealed, lay the bottle on its side in your fridge. This is for when you reseal the bottle with its cork. It keeps the cork moist and stops any air from escaping. It's not advisable if you've used plastic food wrap, of course.
- You can also use a vacuum wine saver pump to keep the wine drinkable for several days because it pumps the remaining air from the bottle. It's also fine for keeping wine for much longer than a few days, although it may not be drinkable.
If you've got more than one type of wine leftover, there's no reason you shouldn't combine different wines into one bottle to save space. If you're keeping it for cooking rather than drinking, blending other wines doesn't matter.
Wherever you store your leftover wine, make sure it's not going to be near a heat source such as:
- Near the stove
- On top of your dishwasher
- Next or on top of your fridge
- Inside a hot car
Any wine, leftover or not, will quickly become undrinkable if stored near a heat source. However, it will still be useful for cooking so don't bin it.
How long can I keep an opened wine bottle?
Immediately you open a bottle of wine; the wine inside starts to oxidize. Oxidization is a process that triggers chemical breakdown and results in the wine fading in color and change in flavor.
Most wines can be left for between 3 and 5 days after opening. Even longer if resealed with a vacuum wine pump. However, it does depend to a certain degree on the type of wine.
Red wines tend to last longer than whites as they're more sturdy. So, use up your Pinot Grigio before turning to your Malbec.
The age of the wine also has a part to play. Younger wines will last for around three to four days, whereas older wines can last for about a week.
Exceptions to these guidelines are dessert wines and fortified wines like port which will still be good anywhere up to a year after opening.
Good and bad news time. First, the bad.
- You can't significantly increase the life of wine once it's been uncorked.
- The good news is that there are many ways you can extend its peak drinking quality over a short time.
The time itself varies according to the different types of wine.
1 For lighter, sweet whites, and rosé wine
When re-corked, light, white, and rosé wines will be okay to drink for 5 to 7 days if you store them in your fridge.
Yes, the taste will subtly change after a few hours because the wine will oxidize. It'll lose some of its "nose," and the flavor will tone down.
Depending on the grape, it might taste a little sour or acidic.
The character signature of the wine won't be quite as prominent.
2 Sparkling wines or champagne
Because sparkling wines are fizzy, you need to use a sparkling wine stopper for storing opened bottles. If you do, you should be able to store the wine for between 1-3 days in your fridge.
The problem is that once you open a bottle of fizzy wine, the carbonation evaporates pretty quickly due to exposure to oxygen.
Most people are aware of the short life of sparkling wine, so it tends to get consumed pretty quickly once it's been uncorked.
Sparkling wines made in the traditional way, like Cava and Champagne, tend to last somewhat longer than wines like Prosecco, which are made using the tank method.
Traditional ways of making sparkling wine involve higher atmospheres of pressure resulting in more bubbles, which makes them last a little longer.
3 Full-bodied white wine
An opened bottle of fuller-bodied white wine can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 5 days if the cork is replaced. Whites like Chardonnay and Viognier will oxidize quicker because they contain more oxygen than other types before they were bottled.
Keeping the wine corked and stored in a cool fridge is essential. But there can be little doubt that the best resealing method of all for prolonging a wine's life, as even sommeliers will tell you, is a wine vacuum pump.
4 Opened red wine
Opened bottles of red wine can also be stored for 3 to 5 days providing, having been re-corked, they are kept in a cool dark place. Wines that contain more acidity and tannin tend to last longer after opening.
For example, a lighter red wine with a small amount of tannin, such as a Pinot Noir, won't keep as long as a richer red wine such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
It is good practice to allow richer red wines to breathe a little after being uncorked. The taste begins to improve even beyond the first day of being opened.
If you've got a wine chiller, that is a good place for storing opened (re-corked) bottles of red. If you don't, you can keep them in your fridge, but you will need to remember to take them out and allow them to get up to just below room temperature for the best flavor.
5 Fortified wines like Madeira, Port, and Sherry
Fortified wines may be stored for up to 28 days in a cool dark place when re-corked or the screwtop resealed. Thanks to the brandy added to all fortified wines, you can actually store them for longer than 28 days.
Madeira and Masala will keep more or less forever after being opened because they've already been oxidized and cooked.
But don't be tempted to store them on a high shelf out in the open. Continuous exposure to light and heat will accelerate the loss of their vibrant flavors.
The sweeter wine is, as a dessert wine, for example, the longer it will last after being opened. The longer storage life is to do with the fact that they contain a higher alcohol and sugar content.
However, the same temperature rules apply. It's best to keep them stored in a fridge.
The shelf life of various types of fortified wines varies according to type.
- Fino Sherry or Manzanilla is best drunk within 7 days of opening. Just make sure they are properly sealed and stored in your fridge.
- Port will easily last up to between 2 and 4 weeks after opening. Again if it's properly resealed and stored in your fridge. The shelf life of Ruby Port is longer than that of Tawny.
- Madeira, however, can last up to years after opening, providing it's resealed and stored correctly in a refrigerator.
Should I keep opened wine for cooking?
Yes, it most certainly is. In fact, I think the best use for open wine is for cooking rather than drinking.
I seldom throw old wine away. Red or white (or even rosé) is great for deglazing a pan to make a quick sauce. Or you can use it to prep up a pasta sauce or add some flavor to a casserole.
When it comes to using old wine for cooking, it doesn't really have a particular expiration date. Therefore, there's no reason why you can't keep it stored for several months as long as it's been resealed.
Don't bin it - cook with it.
You only need to add a small quantity of wine to a recipe most of the time. It means that if you don't have any leftover bottles stored away, you're going to have to open a new bottle.
You'll probably only use a glass or two and have to drink the rest - mind you, that's never really much of a problem - not in my house anyway.
But if you don't fancy drinking any wine or you're temporarily abstaining from drinking alcohol, having some leftovers you can use is just the job.
If I do find myself with an open wine bottle of leftovers, I used to use two approaches for using it up.
- Search for recipes that call for the addition of wine.
- Refrigerating the leftovers intending to drink it in a few days, only to find out I'd left it too long, and it was beyond drinking.
Can you freeze wine for cooking?
I recently came up with another way of storing wine. I wonder why I never thought of it in the first place, goodness only knows. Do wine freeze!?
Having come up with my brainwave, I thought I'd better do some research, and this is what I discovered.
Because wine contains alcohol (usually somewhere between 11% and 14%), it doesn't freeze as hard as ice. Once you take it out of your freezer, its texture becomes similar to that of a Popsicle on a warm summer's day.
But once it's semi-frozen, it keeps in shape. You can freeze leftover wine in an ice cube tray. After then, pour the frozen cubes into plastic bags and pop them into the freezer. Mind you, you need to do it quickly, or you're going to have a pool of melted wine to deal with.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Some leftover wine
- An ice cube tray
- Some plastic bags
- A freezer
Pour the wine into the ice cube mold and slot it into your fridge's freezer compartment. Try not to spill any! Allow freezing overnight.
Transfer the frozen cubes of wine into a sealable plastic bag and pop it straight back into the freezer.
A plastic bag is not only an economical way of storing cubes of frozen wine. It also prevents them from absorbing the flavors of any other foods in the freezer.
- If you don't have an ice cube tray or don't want to bother going down this route, you can pour the wine into some small container (about half cup size) and then freeze it. It doesn't have to look pretty.
- You just want to freeze a small portion of wine. Once frozen, you can transfer the frozen chunks of wine into larger plastic bags ready for future use.. You can even use small zip-top plastic bags and stand them upright on a tray.
- Another little tip - If you suddenly realize you haven't got any wine cubes left, and you're halfway through a recipe, you can use that instead if you've got some leftover vermouth lying around. Trust me; it's amazing in casseroles, risottos, and sauces.
The reason wine goes bad
Generally, an opened wine can last for one to five days. The key to maintaining its freshness is to lessen how much oxygen touches the surface. Minimizing the oxidation process is crucial when storing the open wine bottle.
Once opened, any wine leftovers can go bad one of two ways.
- The bacteria in acetic acid can consume the alcohol in wine, metabolizing it, giving the wine a sharp vinegar-like smell and tart taste.
- Also, the alcohol can oxidize, creating a bruised fruit, nutty taste that overtakes the fresh fruit flavors of the wine.
The above scenarios are chemical reactions, but you can slow them down if the leftover wine is kept at a low temperature.
How to tell if wine has gone bad?
If you want to keep the wine in good condition, you need to be careful with how you store it and avoid exposing it to extremes of temperature. Here's what to look out for.
- If you notice the cork protruding from the top of the wine bottle, it is probably because of fluctuations in temperature.
- If you look at the cork with wine stains around its rim, the wine was likely exposed to hotter than average temperatures.
- Short changes in temperature that don't reach higher than 80°F won't affect your wine. However, the temperature rises above 80°F irreversible harm can happen.
- If you spot wine trickling out of the bottle, it's a sign that bacterial growth has taken place.
You may come across someone saying that a particular bottle of wine is corked. Typically a wine connoisseur will tell you this by smelling the cork that has just been taken out of the newly opened bottle.
A "corked" cork will have a slightly tangy smell. The flavor of the wine itself will be slightly spoiled, but it won't be dangerous to drink.
How does bad wine smell?
When wine goes off, it has an unpleasant moldy aroma. I have also heard the smell of bad wine described as:
- Burnt rubber
If the wine has an acidic smell rather like sauerkraut or vinegar, then it's a sign that it's been open for too long and won't be pleasant to drink.
If you notice that wine has got a nutty type of smell, it means that it's turned stale, and while it's not best for drinking, it can be used for cooking.
This type of smell I've heard of as being described as:
- Apple sauce
- Burnt marshmallow
What does bad wine taste like?
If you don't trust your nose having smelt the wine, the only other way of checking whether it's good or bad is to taste it.
A sip will soon tell you what you want to know, and don't worry - it might not taste very nice, but it won't make you ill.
If it has a chemical taste, it will be best used for cooking and not drinking.
Other taste descriptions include:
- An astringent alcohol taste
- Burnt apple sauce
- Paint thinner or paint stripper
- Being sour or tart
If the wine is very sweet, rather like a dessert wine, but it isn't supposed to be, the likelihood is that it's been exposed to too much heat.
You may also come across a wine that has a sort of fizzy taste, but we're not talking about sparkling wine. When you come across this, the wine has likely begun to ferment in the bottle, and once again, it's really only good for cooking with.
Uses for leftover wine that's gone off
Just because your leftover wine has turned, you shouldn't just throw it away.
Here are some things you could use it for:
1 Use It As a Marinade
Using leftover wine that's well past its best as a marinade is quite common. It adds a new dimension to the flavor of any dish. It's an excellent way of adding taste to something you might be grilling or for casserole.
Red wine is excellent for marinating steak, and white wine is ideal for marinating chicken. But hey, go get creative - try it with other meats or even fish.
2 Use It As a Fabric Dye
Most of us know that when you spill red wine onto a tablecloth, it's bad news for the tablecloth. It usually sets people off frantically searching for some salt to pour onto the stain to prevent it from seeping in.
But if you actually want to use wine as a fabric dye - why not? Of course, it all depends on how much wine we are talking about, how much fabric you want to dye, as well as the color you are trying to achieve.
The boiling time to achieve a successful dye can vary too. But all you need to give it a go is a generous amount of red wine, a big pan, and your kitchen stove.
3 Use It to Trap Flies
Flies are attracted to red wine that has gone bad, so why not use it to make a DIY flytrap?
Pour a small quantity of the vinegary red wine into a glass or jar. Cover it with paper or plastic wrap and hold it in position with an elastic band.
Poke a few holes in the top (big enough for the flies to crawl through), position your trap in an appropriate place, and it's job done. The flies are good at getting in, but they can't get out again.
4 Use It As Vinegar
As I mentioned earlier, if you leave leftover wine for long enough, it turns vinegary, so why not use it as just that? All you have to do is leave the opened bottle in a warm place and wait two or three months.
To stop fruit flies from getting in, you should tie a small of muslin or cheesecloth over the neck of the bottle to keep the little devils out. Homemade red wine vinegar is so much better than the shop-bought stuff.
If it's something you want to do regularly, you'll need to make what is referred to as "the mother" vinegar." It's pretty straightforward, and once you've done it, you can use the vinegar to carry on making more batches of wine vinegar. Follow the instructions here on the preserveandpickle.com website.
5 Wine Jelly
Did you know there was such a thing as wine jelly? I must admit that I didn't until I started researching how long you can keep wine without it going off.
Anyway, you can, and having discovered it and made some for me, I can promise you it is well worth doing. You can take that useless, leftover wine and turn it into something very tasty.
Take a look at this recipe. It's a great addition to any cheese board or an alternative to cranberry jelly with turkey. Alternatively, you can simply spread it lightly on some crackers. Try it for yourself and see.
6 Red Wine Reduction for Steak
If you're going to be serving steak, a red wine reduction sauce is a must. I just love the rich and delicious texture and is the perfect accompaniment to any pan-seared or grilled steak.
Basically, it's the drippings from the steak with some leftover wine plus a few other common ingredients. It's simple and quick to make, and there is a great recipe on the liquor.com website.
Recipes to use for leftover wine
While doing my research, I came across some great recipes on the greatist.com website, which I thought would be nice to share with you.
Take a look; they include:
- Creamy scallops in white wine sauce.
- Red wine braised short ribs
- Dan Dan noodles
- Chicken Marsala
- Beef Caldereta | Beef Stew in Slow Cooker
There is all this and more. Do online research, and you'll see what I mean.
I hope that now you've read through this post, you'll think twice before you throw your wine leftovers away, not when there are so many things you can do with them.