Pump Your Wine to Keep Your Wine

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Opening a bottle of wine presents itself immediately with a conundrum.  If you open a bottle of wine (especially a tannic red) you want to let it breathe for an hour or more to let the tannins oxidize a little so that the wine becomes a little mellower and more round.  The problem is, if you let the wine breathe too long the entire thing oxidizes and just ends up tasting bad.  So the question arises of how do you keep half a bottle of wine around for a few days?  The answer ranges from the simplistic "Put the cork back in" to the space-aged "inject it with an inert gas then seal it up".  There are really 4 approaches to keeping wine around for a few days:

Re-cork / re-cap the bottle:  The easiest and cheapest approach is to simply push the cork back in the bottle or put the cap back on.  This prevents the fruit flies from getting to it.  However, it does not prevent the wine from oxidizing (reacting with the oxygen in the air) because by r-corking the bottle you have trapped a lot of air in the bottle with the wine.  In fact the more empty the bottle is, the more air there is to react with the wine. 

Use a fancy attractive bottle topper:  These bottle toppers are either a bit of cork with something cute on the top (like Santa, or a wino who seems to be swallowing your bottle) or they are made from a cone of glass, stainless steel or even gold.  The gold version does nothing but signify a need to waste money on bobbles.  The problem with these toppers is that they do nothing for the wine that re-corking or re-capping wouldn't do.  They still trap air in the bottle with the wine, and as a result promote its degradation.  They make great gifts. If you get one, re-gifting it can be a good idea.  ;-) (prices range from $1 to $100)

Inject some Nitrogen into the bottle: The Space age solution to preserving an opened bottle of wine is to inject some Nitrogen gas into the bottle then seal it using your favorite cork, cap or attractive topper.  The Nitrogen in theory sits like a gas blanket on top of the wine and displaces the Oxygen, preventing it from touching the wine.  The cans of Nitrogen are supposed to last for 100 or more bottles of wine and cost around $10.  It might be a good solution for really expensive wine.  I'm not a big fan of adding the cans to the landfill (they aren't recyclable yet)  so I want be jumping to this high tech solution to preserving wine.

VacuVin Wine PumpVacuum Pump:  (My Favorite!) The Vacuum method removes a large portion of the air from the bottle and thereby prevents it from reaching the wine and spending time with it.  It consists of a rubber stopper and a small hand-pump that is slightly larger than a roll of quarters.  The stopper is pushed into the bottle and then pump is used to pump most of the air out of the bottle.  The more wine your remove from the bottle, the more you have to pump to get the air out.  For example, pouring only one glass of wine will need only 3 pumps to create the vacuum, but if you pour 6 glasses from a magnum (1.5L) bottle may take 12-15 pumps.  It takes a few seconds and it easy to do.  The pump and a couple of stoppers cost around $10 for the simple ones.  More advanced ones can be purchased for more money, but their is little to be gained.

I have examined and tried several pump and stopper combinations on the market.  I like the VacuVin because it is the least expensive AND the most reliable.  Actually, even the VacuVin comes in two varieties.  VacuVin stoppersOne has a stopper that has a simple slit in it where the air is removed by the pump.  It is easy to clean and has no parts to become damaged or lost.  It seals tight and simply squeezing the stopper on the ends of the slit releases the vacuum seal.  The newer version has a more advanced stopper that makes an audible "click" when the appropriate amount of air has been pumped out.  The problem (as I see it) is that the click stopper has to be taken apart to clean it.  This makes it nearly inevitable that one of the small parts will get lost or damaged and the stopper will be useless (similar to how socks disappear in the dryer).  So the click stoppers are a little more complex, a little more expensive, and more prone to failure.  Be sure to check out the photo of the stoppers so you know which one to look for.  I am sure the "click" is meant to be an important feature, but I don't see the value.  As you pump the bottle it gets harder to pump as you remove more air.  You can feel when you've removed enough air.  In the 6 years we've been using the pump, we've had no problem judging when enough was enough. 

My only complaint with the stopper is that they don't make them bright orange.  There have been several times over the years where the stopper was pushed back into an empty bottle to keep from losing it on the deck or the beach or to keep the dog from stealing it.  Then, while cleaning up, someone tosses the bottle with the barely noticeable gray stopper in it into the recycling bin.  A nice day-glo-orange stopper would probably keep that from happening...and then I wouldn't have to feel stupid for sending another stopper on walk-about.

Additional Benefit to Pumping Wine

If you happen to have a bottle of wine that when you open it has a bit more sparkling to it than you would like, you can actually reduce the amount of sparkle with a wine pump.  Just put the stopper in it, pump it a few times to remove some air from the bottle, then give it a shake or two.  Immediately you will see bubbles fizzing to the surface as a result of the reduced pressure and the jolt.  Repeat this process a few times and the wine will be very close to still if not completely still.  Two words of caution though:

  1. If you have a bottle of wine that is a bit on the sparkling side (unintentionally) and you go to store it with the vacuum pump, you will find that it seems to lose its seal.  It doesn't, what actually happens is that you remove the air from the bottle, but then the CO2 in the bubbles actually come out of the wine and fill in where the air used to be, which brings the bottle up to normal pressure again.  So if the wine is a bit bubbly, pump it, then pump it again a few hours later.
  2. You can't use the vacuum pump to store wine that is actually sparkling wine (Champagne) as all you will do is end up making it very flat or it will pop the stopper out of the bottle.  You are better off storing sparkling wine using one of the spring loaded caps that is actually designed for sparkling wine.
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