Sunday, March 27, 2011

When To Say Goodbye: The Expiration on Wine and Vermouth

Today’s post is more of a public service announcement, and if you’re already aware of the following information, feel free to pass it along to a friend or family member who may still be in the dark. You can send it under the guise of an “interesting article about bottle stoppers.”

For those of you who don’t know it, wine actually does go bad! It’s not like that dusty bottle of Jack in the back of your pantry. As soon as you pull the cork (or twist the cap) and air is introduced to your juice, the clock starts ticking. A couple of non-wine drinkers gifted us some wine a few months back after a party they’d had. It was very kind of them, however a couple of days later, they said, “hey, we found some more wine, do you want it?” I never say no to free booze, so of course the answer was yes. But what they had were half-full bottles of wine that had been open for at least a week. I had no choice but to accept the wine with thanks and later pour it out in the sink. So sad.

Oxidation is defined by The Oxford Companion to Wine as being a “wine fault resulting from excessive exposure to air.” If at the end of the night you fail to finish the bottle of wine, which I must admit is seldom a problem in this household, then you’ll want to protect it as much as possible from oxidation. You can do this by putting the cork back in the bottle, or use a fancy little wine stopper. Now I’m not going to get overly technical, so let me just say that after you put that stopper back in, your precious wine has about 24 to 48 hours to live. Personally, I think that whites hold up a little better than reds—they seem a bit more forgiving. Storing your opened wine in the refrigerator also slows the oxidation process, but for reds, you’ll need to remove the wine hours before drinking so it can warm up. (I almost never refrigerate red wine because I can never remember to take it out of the fridge until I want a glass.) If you haven’t finished off the bottle by the next day, it’s time to decide: cook with it or throw it out.

It’s also important to understand that air is not always the enemy, and in fact when a bottle of wine is first opened, a little air is actually good for your wine. Most wine has been stuck in the bottle for at least a year and sometimes many years; it often needs a little time to open up in the glass. This is true for both reds and whites, and you’ll notice that both the aroma and taste will change the longer the wine is in the glass. But that’s another subject altogether…

**Another important thing to keep in mind: vermouth!! People, vermouth is just fortified wine. Bad vermouth can ruin lives, so don’t take risks. After opening, all vermouth should be stored in the fridge. This goes for Lillet and Cocchi too. I think it’s fair to say that stored properly with a secure stopper, you can keep your vermouth for 3-6 months. Why am I stressing this? Alpha Dad has a 20 year old bottle of dry vermouth he opened…20 years ago. It was sitting in the “wine cellar.” Try imagining my look of horror. I had a customer recently in the bar who was telling me that she didn’t care for Hangar 1 vodka. I asked her what she disliked about it, since it’s about as clean and neutral as they come. She then told me about a martini she had at another bar that was made with Hangar, and that it tasted just like dirty socks. I pulled the bottle down to let her taste it again, and assured her it was no fault of the vodka, unless it had in fact been infused with actual dirty socks. The vermouth, which had clearly spoiled, was to blame for the skunkiness in her cocktail. Lesson learned.

Bottle Stoppers

Bottle stoppers aren’t absolutely necessary; you can always put the cork back in the bottle. But for screw top wine or storing vermouth for a while, they can be handy.

Vacuum Pump

The wine vacuum pump is supposed to remove most (but not all) of that pesky oxygen from the bottle, slowing the process of oxidation. Just put the stopper in and pump out the air. I’ve also heard people say that it also sucks out some of the character from the wine. I rarely use it, but if you consumed more than half the bottle, this can be helpful. Try looking at places like BevMo! or other wine shops.

Vacu Vin brand $9.99 for set

The Rabbit

Inexpensive and simple! I like this one a lot, because of the little rubber thingies that help it stay put and also make a better seal. Usually come in packs of two for those of us who misplace things. You can find them on Amazon or Cost Plus World Market.

$6.99 for two

Jo!e Expanding Stopper

This one is my favorite. When you pull the top down, the rubber on the bottom expands, creating a seal. I’ve used this one for resealing larger bottles of beer and, despite the warning not to, bottles of sparkling wine. Also available at Amazon or Cost Plus World Market.

$1.99-$2.99 for one


  1. Thanks for the tipple tips, mind you, ours doesn't tend to hang around for long!

  2. I've been using those bottles stoppers for awhile now, and I love them! I was wondering if you guys have began using vaporizers with your food and cocktails yet, and if you have developed any good recipes?

  3. What about an un-opened bottle of Vermouth that is about 20yrs old?

  4. I would say that it heavily depends on how the bottle has been stored. Has it been in a cool, dark place for the last 20 years? Left in any hot cars? If it's been forgotten in the wine cellar, it might be drinkable. But most likely that unopened vermouth looks better on your bar, sporting its vintage label and playing the part of of a conversation piece.