When people find out I'm a professional sommelier, they usually can't wait to ask all of their burning wine questions -- one of the most popular is 'how long after I open a bottle do I have to drink it?' Before I answer the drinkability-limit question, here's a little chemistry lesson:
The Oxygen Effect
Wine is a living and breathing thing that grows and evolves through time. The key to this evolution is oxygen. Wine is organic matter just like any other product of nature. Think about what happens when you slice an apple open and leave it out for a bit and it starts to turn brown: that's the effect of oxygen. Letting the wine 'breathe' is incredibly effective in helping a wine reach its full potential of deliciousness: the second you open a bottle, the oxygen starts rushing in and working its magic, unlocking and 'opening up' all of the flavor molecules that have been forming inside the liquid. The trick is that wines exposed to oxygen reach a flavor peak then start to decline as they have too much air: first tasting stale and flat, then becoming sour, and eventually turning to vinegar -- and nobody wants to drink vinegar.
In terms of how long the wine is drinkable after the bottle is open -- it really depends on the wine. Generally speaking, I advise drinking whites within 3-4 days of opening and reds within 2 days.
Keep those ranges in mind and use my tips for extending your drinking window -- without the use of any fancy gadgets.
How To Enjoy Your Wine for Longer
1. Just Chill
The first essential for preserving wine in peak form is to refrigerate open bottles -- yes, even the reds! By storing the open bottles in the fridge and lowering their temperature, you're putting the molecules to sleep and pretty much halting the decline. The fact that it's also dark in your refrigerator helps prolong the integrity of the wine as well, UV rays can speed wine spoilage. Don't want to drink your reds cold? Simply move them out of the refrigerator and onto your counter for about 30 minutes before drinking and you should be all set.
If your wine bottle is only partially full, a great trick is to pour it into a smaller airtight container to store. That means there will be less headspace of oxygen. I love Mason jars for this but tupperware also works. The more full of wine any container is, the longer the wine will last because you are reducing the percentage of oxygen that's coming into contact with the wine.
3. Mix it Up
If your wine just doesn't have the vibrancy it had on day one or you think it is starting to turn sour -- you can still use it by mixing it into other beverages to mask the not-so-fresh flavor. Oxidated wine, unlike expired food products, is not harmful if consumed. Have fun by mixing it with brandy and fruit for a festive sangria! This time of year, mulled wine is also very welcome. Feel free to add a splash or port of even apple cider to expand the flavor profile even more.