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Dear Dr. Vinny,
In order to bring an unopened bottle of wine home from a restaurant, our server pulled the cork out about half an inch, so that that the bottle appeared to have been opened. How long will the wine last with the cork pulled halfway out?
—Brian, Seekonk, Mass.
Massachusetts, like most states, distinguishes between on-premise and off-premise retail alcohol licenses. Off-premise licenses are for supermarkets and convenience stores—places where you’d buy the wine and consume it elsewhere. Restaurants, taverns, hotels and such will have an on-premise license, meaning the wine will be consumed where it’s sold.
It’s an important distinction, because those licenses mean you can’t open the bottle of wine you bought at the supermarket while you’re still in the store, and restaurants and bars are technically not allowed to sell wine that’s not going to be consumed there. By pretending the bottle of wine is open and you’re just taking the leftovers home, the server was skirting the law.
Unfortunately, by breaking the seal even a little bit, there’s a good chance that some oxygen has gotten into the bottle, and you should treat it as any other open bottle of wine: Consume it within a day or two, and store it in the fridge until then to get some extra life out of it. Eventually the fruit flavors will start to fade and take on nutty notes. It won’t make you sick, but it might leave you disappointed.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading this and wondering about the legality of traveling home with an open bottle of wine, Massachusetts has an “open container” law, but people are allowed to take a partially consumed bottle of wine home from a restaurant if it was purchased with their meal and the bottle is resealed. The bottle also needs to be in a part of the car inaccessible to the driver, like the trunk.
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