Life-giving air is death to an open bottle of wine. When wine mixes with oxygen, a series of reactions turns the wine bitter and dry. Oxidized red wine turns brown; whites take on a darker, almost amber hue.
CHOW tested four of the most popular wine-preservation systems to see how well they protected a 2004 Bogle Russian River Pinot Noir and a 2005 Jana Napa Riesling from going bad. We chose these young, fruit-forward wines because we felt they’d be more immediately and dramatically affected by oxygen than older, bigger wines.
For the test, we sealed bottles of the two wines with all four of the preservation systems, sipping them each day to see how they were faring and then resealing them with the systems. We also tasted newly opened bottles of both wines each day to remind us of how they were supposed to taste.
Our findings: The white wine oxidized faster than the red (as is generally the case), but in general, when one went bad, so did the other. Three of the systems added an extra day to the life of the wines; two allowed the wine to make it past the third day of tasting. But by week’s end, we had to beg our tasters to continue the test —only one system had preserved something that could pass as wine. Here’s the skinny.
Vacuvin Pump with Two Stoppers
What it is: A vacuum that sucks air out of the bottle through a simple up-and-down pumping motion. This system was the least expensive and easiest to use. However, the instructions were vague —they recommended four pumps, but we wondered if the amount of air (and thus the number of pumps) should vary, given the amount of wine left in the bottle.
How it worked: On day one of tasting, the wines had already lost their fruity aromas, much of their fruity flavors, and their finish. The wines were dead. By day two, the wines had an overwhelming taste of pure alcohol, with no nose to speak of. By day seven, the wines tasted like Magic Markers smell.
MetroKane Rabbit Lever Vacuum Pump with 2 Stoppers
Sur La Table, $29.95
What it is: Another manual vacuum pump, this one looks like a bunny. However, the gadgety design didn’t translate into ease of use. It has an awkward grip and was hard to pump. As with the Vacuvin, there was no way to know exactly how many pumps were needed to suck out all of the air.
How it worked: The Rabbit fared better than the Vacuvin on its first day of tasting. Although the nose of both wines was beginning to fade, the cherry fruit in the pinot noir was bright and lively. The wines still had a faint nose on day three, but by day seven they tasted like rubbing alcohol —only slightly better than with the Vacuvin.
Verdict: Third best
Epicurean Preservation System Plug-in Wine Saver
What it is: This electric vacuum pump system was the most expensive we tested. It was big and vibrated, meaning it was fun to use but might be embarrassing to take in a carry-on. A red light went on to indicate when the air had been sufficiently sucked out.
How it worked: Although they didn’t measure up to the just-opened bottle of wine, day one’s wines were significantly better than those of the Vacuvin and Rabbit. The wines were smooth, with their bouquets intact. By day three, the structure of the wines had collapsed —we could taste very little fruit and smell very little except alcohol. By day seven, there was no nose, and the wines tasted like water.
Verdict: Second best
Wine Enthusiast Private Preserve Wine Preservation Spray
Wine Enthusiast, $9.95
What it is: Instead of vacuuming air out, you use the Private Preserve to spray a mixture of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and argon into your open bottle to displace the oxygen. It’s easy to use: Just spray into the bottle, then put the wine’s original cork back in. One drawback if you drink a lot of half-bottles of wine: It holds enough gas for only 100 uses.
How it worked: This was the unanimous favorite. On day one, the wines were nearly identical to our control sample. By day four, we were still able to taste hints of currants in the pinot noir, and the riesling retained its soft finish and floral nose. By day seven, the wine had begun to taste watery, but it didn’t taste offensive and still had its original bouquet.