Taste It, Don't Waste It: Wine

Wine is a terrible thing to waste. Often I find myself, after having friends over, with a little vino lingering post-party. Perhaps we switched to a different course and abandoned part of a bottle for a new varietal that better matched the meal. Or we simply reached the end of our time together and there were a couple swigs, or even a couple glasses left in an open bottle. I never pour them down the drain. Why waste? Wine, like food, takes significant natural resources to produce - don't want to waste those. And a lot of hard work goes into make good wine- don't want to fritter that away either. But all altruism aside, wine is delicious. And good taste should never be squandered. Here's what I do to savor every sip.

Save the Juice

A little air is a good thing for wine. You may have heard of bottles being opened up ahead of the meal so they can "breathe." The brief breath softens sharp flavors and gives long-bottled wine a chance to stretch its legs, so to speak. However, extended exposure to air oxides the wine, giving it a vinegary taste. To extend the shelf life of an open bottle, reduce the wine's access to air by decanting the remaining juice into a glass bottle, such as a half wine bottle, just large enough to hold it. 

Refrigeration will also delay the wine's deterioration, so put the wine, in its smaller bottle, in the fridge. If it's a red, you might allow it to come to room, or almost room temperature, before serving. Enjoy the last of the wine within a few days. 

Freeze It

If you're not going to down it in a day, I suggest freezing your wine. It won't be suitable for the glass, but there are lots of ways you still enjoy it. I keep two quart-sized mason jars in my freezer at all times, one for red and one for white. When I have a little bit of wine leftover, I tip it into one or the other. Combining wines is ok. cabs, merlots, pinot noir and more all live happily together in the red jar; sauvignon blancs, chards, pinot grigio, etc. all in the white jar. 

Because of the alcohol and sugar in wine, it never freezes completely solid. It always stays sort of slushy. So it's easy to scrape off a few tablespoons if that's all your recipe needs. If you want to use it in liquid form or need it pourable for measuring, you can defrost about a pint of frozen wine in the microwave in a minute or two or by setting it in a pot of warm water for about 10-15 minutes. Or just let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. 

Using Up Leftover Wine

Oh, let me count the ways. There are so many. Some sweet. Some savory. All delicious. Here are a few to get you started. 

Deglaze Pans

This is by far my number one favorite thing to do with a little bit of leftover wine. Using a wee bit of wine to whip up a silky pan sauce or gravy makes any meal feel and taste really special. It's easy to do anytime you have sautéed or roasted a cut of meat or vegetables that have left a nice coating of caramelized brown bits (also called the fond) on the bottom of your pan. Set the empty pan over medium heat, add a bit of chopped shallot or onion and sauté in the pan drippings until translucent (add a nob of butter if the pan is dry), whisk in a sprinkle of flour, add a cup or so of wine, reduce until it's thick and syrupy, remove from the heat and whisk in another nob of butter. Drizzle over your entree and serve. 

Make Wine Syrup

Deglazing sound like too much work? Then just simmer the wine in a small pan until reduced to a syrup, remove from heat and whisk in a bit of butter. Drizzle over steaks, chops or sautéed mushrooms.

Use as a Marinade

Puree 1/2 cup wine, 1/4 cup vinegar (red wine vinegar with red wine, cider or white wine vinegar with white wine), 1/4 cup neutral flavored oil, two garlic cloves, one tablespoon of any fresh herb you like (rosemary, thyme and oregano are nice), and one tablespoon of mustard to make a great marinade (use red for beef, lamb or pork; white for pork or chicken). 

Make Vinaigrette

Substitute wine for half of the vinegar in a basic 3:1 oil to vinegar vinaigrette to enhance the dressing's flavor.

Add to Soups and Stews

Low and slow soups and stews, such as Boeuf Bourguignon, benefit from a bit of wine in several ways. Added at the beginning of cooking, the alcohol releases flavor compounds that are not water soluble, so your taste buds can access them. Wine also adds its own flavor, which brings another dimension to your soup or stew. Stirred in toward the end of cooking, the acid in wine will give your long-cooking concoction a boost, livening up flavors that may have dulled from the long turn on the stove.

Poach Fruit

This works with lots of different kinds of wine, but is a lovely use for dessert wines that might be too sweet to use in savory preparations. Pears and peaches are a delight prepared this way. Peel, halve and seed them and arrange them in a single layer in a sauté pan. Pour in a 2:1 mixture of wine and water just deep enough to barely cover them. Add some some sugar and a few warm spices, such as cloves, star anise and/or a cinnamon stick and perhaps a handful of dried fruit - prunes, raisins, currants or apricots would all work. Simmer until tender and serve over ice cream. Divine.

Make Wine Granita

Another great dessert to make out of wine is a frozen granita. You can serve it after the meal, of course, or you can serve it between courses as a sophisticated palate refresher. Couldn't be simpler. Bring half a cup of water to a boil and whisk in half cup of sugar until it dissolves. Combine in a shallow container, such as a glass brownie pan, with two cups of wine and freeze. Use a fork to scrape the freezing mixture every half hour for two to three hours, until frozen but still slushy. Best served the same day it is made. Any more than a day or so in the freezer and you will loose the delicate shards of ice that make the granita so fun to eat.

Make Wine Jelly

Bring two cups of wine to a boil, add one tablespoon of lemon juice and one packet of powdered pectin and stir to dissolve. Add two cups of sugar and simmer until dissolved. Ladle into jars, cool and refrigerate for up to three weeks.

Ferment into Vinegar

For this recipe, you'll need to start with some non-pasteurized vinegar, such as Bragg's, which contains a living mother. Dilute your wine 2:1 with water. In an impeccably clean container, combine the wine mixture 2:1 with Bragg's vinegar. Cover with a lid of cheesecloth or paper towel sealed with a rubber band to let air in but keep bugs out. Set in a cool dark place for two months and you'll be rewarded with some of the best vinegar you've ever tasted.


Sherri Brooks Vinton  wants you to have a more delicious life. Her writing, talks and hands-on workshops teach fellow eaters how to find, cook and preserve local, seasonal, farm friendly food. To find out more, visit www.sherribrooksvinton.com

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