Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I’m trying to understand the difference between preserving an open bottle of wine versus an open bottle of Champagne. My understanding is that with wine you ideally pump the air out and with Champagne you pump the air in. Is that correct, and what are the stoppers for each?
—Sharon, Melbourne, Australia
You’re kind of correct. When it comes to preserving still wines, it’s important to eliminate as much exposure to oxygen as possible. It’s not necessary to “pump” the air out; simply transferring the wine into a smaller container will work, or introducing an inert gas like argon, which creates a barrier between the wine and any oxygen in the bottle. There are wine-bottle stoppers that use a pump to attempt to create a vacuum inside the bottle, but a lot of experiments and comparison tastings suggest they don’t remove as much oxygen as you might think, and many are prone to leaking. I’ve given up on them.
When it comes to Champagne and other sparkling wines, you’re not trying to get more air in the bottle (I’m not even sure how that would work), but you should try to minimize the escape of carbonation. The concern here isn’t so much limiting the wine’s exposure to oxygen, but giving it as tight of a seal as you can to delay the wine going flat. I recommend buying a hinged bottle stopper specifically designed for sparkling wine bottles.
With both still and sparkling wine, it's best to keep the wines in the fridge when you're trying to extend the life of an open bottle, especially sparkling wines, because the carbon dioxide gas is more soluble in the cold, making it less prone to escape.