Keeping fresh: which wines last longest?

Newsletter: FT Weekend

I am often asked how long you can keep a bottle of wine that has been opened. Currently I taste on average between six and 10 different wines a day at home, a number that has increased dramatically since Covid’s crippling effect on the usually crammed London wine trade calendar. This means I have a great many opened bottles to find homes for.

My grown-up children and neighbours have benefited considerably. But how fast should they drink my leftovers before they “go off”?

At least I’m allowed to share them. When I visited the famous American wine critic Robert Parker at his home deep in the woods of Maryland, he told me that because it was against state law to transport an open container of alcohol, even to the house next door, his leftovers had to be poured down a particularly well-wined hillside in front of Château Parker.

The answer to how long to keep an opened bottle of wine before it loses its fruit and freshness depends on what it is, how you store it and how empty the bottle is.

The best way to prolong the life of the wine is to keep it cool, preferably in the fridge, even reds. In fact, especially reds because they tend to lose their freshness faster than whites, perhaps because white wines generally contain higher levels of preservative sulphites.

The reactions involved in ageing are slower at low temperatures and red wine warms up surprisingly fast out of a fridge. Besides, most reds are better served a little cooler than room temperature initially — about 16C or 17C — to highlight their fruit and refreshing qualities. They warm up soon enough.

The enemy of wine as it ages is excessive oxygen. (Sulphites are antioxidants.) So the more air there is in the bottle — the less wine — the faster it will oxidise, taste dull and flat, and start to brown. Some people add marbles to half-full bottles of wine to occupy the space that air would otherwise. Care is obviously required when serving.

But which wines last longest? I’ve asked colleagues and people I know who drink a wide variety of wines. All are agreed that unoaked white wines made with maximum effort to preserve the youthful fruit, often with a fairly high level of acidity, last longest in an opened bottle. In my experience, Rieslings are almost immortal. The grape has a very low pH and wines with concentrated acidity keep notably fresh and can remain youthful for decades in an unopened bottle, or weeks if not months in an open one if kept cool enough.

I have come home from many weeks away to find half-full bottles of German wine in my fridge that taste virtually the same as when first opened. For this reason, and because the successful 2020 vintage of German wines is currently on offer, I am concentrating on Germany, mainly Rieslings, this week. Germany’s dry whites in particular are so exciting now that grapes ripen fully there — a rare benefit of climate change.

The word trocken on a label guarantees a wine that tastes bone dry. Halbtrocken or feinherb mean medium dry, although the acid level tends to be so high in German wines that it can counterbalance this amount of sweetness. Riesling, in general, has the virtue of delivering a huge amount of flavour without a huge amount of alcohol.

On the whole, German wine is underpriced but I have tried to highlight the very best-value bottles. Unfortunately for UK-based wine lovers most of the best wines are offered strictly by the six-pack “in bond”, meaning UK duties must be paid on top. Bless Uncharted Wines for selling the beautiful, certified-organic Mosels of Sybille Kuntz by the single bottle online. The WineBarn is a useful online German wine specialist. And Londoners can find a selection of handpicked modern dry German wine available by the bottle at The Winery in Maida Vale.

In the US, Crush Wine & Spirits and Chambers Street in New York, and Dee Vine Wines and K&L in San Francisco have some of the best German selections. I am also a fan of the single-vineyard, colour-coded bottlings of dry Rieslings from Martin Tesch in the Nahe region, but these can be devilishly difficult to track down outside Germany.

German vintners are increasingly using screwcaps rather than corks, which are delightfully practical (a tall flute bottle with a cork sticking out of it can take up a lot of room). They are also particularly efficient at keeping out oxygen.

Open bottles of oaked whites such as white burgundy and most Chardonnays don’t last nearly as long as German Rieslings — a few days rather than a few weeks. Champagne and other sparkling wines can last pretty well provided you have a really effective sparkling wine stopper. The best one I’ve found is sold by The Finest Bubble and costs £4. These stoppers are worth every penny and have kept my leftover sparkling wines fizzy and interesting for longer than I care to confess in print.

Wines that seem to lose their fruit and charm quickest in an opened bottle are generally red, and typically made from the delicate Pinot Noir grape. So red burgundy is not a good candidate for hanging on to for more than two or three days. The younger and tighter the wine, the longer it is likely to last. Perhaps this is a good excuse to drink any older Pinot Noir that comes your way as fast as possible.

I can hear many a connoisseur asking, but what about Coravin? This is the leading preservation system that allows wine lovers to extract, via a needle and expensive cartridges of neutral argon gas, only as much from a bottle as they want to drink. Since its first appearance in 2013, several new iterations have been launched, including a preserver for screwcapped bottles and, most recently, a gadget to preserve sparkling wine.

In my experience, Coravin does a brilliant job in allowing fine wine to be served by the glass in good condition in bars and restaurants, and in allowing wine producers to test bottles before offering them to customers and media. There is no longer any need for them to take a spare in case of cork taint.

But I don’t find Coravin that useful in my own wine tasting. I generally like to share whole bottles from our cellar. And if I took only a small sample from each bottle I tasted professionally without pulling the cork, my home would be completely taken over by an army of bottles, and I’d have none to give away. I don’t think my neighbours would be pleased.

Great dry German whites

Ib means in bond, so UK duties must be paid on top. GG stands for Grosses Gewächs, dry expressions of top vineyards by members of Germany’s elite VDP producers’ association.

  • Battenfeld-Spanier, Mölsheimer Riesling trocken 2020 Rheinhessen 12%
    £90 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

  • Fritz Haag, Juffer Riesling GG 2020 Mosel 12.5%
    £96 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • Heymann-Löwenstein, Kirchberg Riesling GG 2020 Mosel 12.5% (or Stolzenberg for £126 or, even better, Röttgen for £150 for 6)
    £120 for 6 ib in Howard Ripley

  • Knewitz, Gau-Algesheimer Goldberg Riesling trocken 2020 Rheinhessen 12.5%
    £114 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • Kühling-Gillot, Oppenheim Riesling trocken 2020 Rheinhessen 12%
    £78 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • Sybille Kuntz Riesling trocken 2019 Mosel 12%
    £18.78 Uncharted Wines

  • Peter Lauer, Ayler Kupp Riesling Fass 18 GG 2020 Saar 12.5%
    £126 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • May, Retzstadter Langenberg Alte Reben Silvaner trocken 2020 Franken 12.5%
    £72 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • J J Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2020 Mosel 8%
    £125 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks, £126 for 6 ib Howard Ripley

  • Rebholz, Vom Muschelkalk Riesling 2020 Pfalz 12.5%
    £110 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

  • Willi Schaefer, Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett 2020 Mosel 7.5%
    £90 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

  • Schloss Lieser, Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 2020 Mosel 8%
    £65 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

  • Emrich-Schönleber, Lenz Riesling trocken 2020 Nahe 11.5%
    £75 for 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

  • Josef Spreitzer, Oestricher Doosberg Alte Reben Riesling trocken 2020 Rheingau 12.5%
    £85 for 6 ib, Justerini & Brooks

  • Tesch, Laubenheimer Karthäuser Riesling trocken 2019 Nahe 12.5%
    $24.95 Bounty Hunter, Napa

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of More stockists from

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