If you want to keep wine fresh a few days after you open it, we think Private Preserve is the best way to do that. After 20 hours of research and testing, we can say it’s the only tool we tried that was better than recorking and refrigerating a half-full bottle of wine (or that didn’t cost hundreds of dollars). It beat out seven other preservation methods in head-to-head testing by two certified wine experts, maintaining flavor and aroma over a five-day period.
A mixture of inert, nontoxic gases that are denser than air, Private Preserve goes into your open bottle to create an invisible protective blanket between your wine and the oxygen inside, and then you seal it with a cork. Store it in the fridge for good measure. The technique of combining gas with refrigeration is a trick that commercial wineries use all the time to keep half-poured bottles in their tasting rooms vibrant and fresh for sampling the next day.
A few spritzes of this gas mixture (which includes nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide) create a protective barrier between the top of your leftover wine and the oxygen that plots to destroy it. The can feels empty, which is a little off-putting, but it’s capable of preserving up to 120 bottles of wine. This means that if you and a partner in crime open a bottle of wine, say, every Friday and finish it Wednesday, one canister will last more than two years. It’s a totally safe method that has no effect on taste; it’s even FDA approved.
Whether you get a wine preserver or not, make sure to put the bottle in the fridge. In our tests, we found plain old refrigeration was more effective than most preservation systems at reducing oxidation and keeping a wine’s bouquet intact. “It may sound overly simple, but recorking a bottle and storing it in the fridge can elongate a bottle’s life span for a day or two,” said Jordan Salcito, beverage director for Momofuku, in an interview.
A Coravin is an indulgence, but an effective one. It uses a thin needle to pierce the cork of a bottle and extract wine while simultaneously filling the void with 99.9 percent argon gas, preventing oxygen from getting inside. After you remove the needle, the cork self-seals the tiny hole, and you can even return the bottle to its sideways position in a wine rack without its dripping. When we used the Coravin Model Two Plus, our professional taster said a five-day-opened bottle tasted the closest to a new bottle of wine. The owner of the company claims to have preserved personal bottles for up to five years. But such a tool is excessive if you’re not really into wine.
Nick Guy has written about cocktails and drinking culture for Serious Eats, and he has worked behind the pine at one of Buffalo’s top cocktail bars. Eve O’Neill has written all of The Sweethome’s wine, Champagne, and tabletop glassware guides. She has spent several years working in both wine tasting rooms and wine cellars.
To supplement our own knowledge, we spoke to a rock-star cast of award-winning wine professionals—eight in total—including Jill Zimorski, wine director at the Hotel Jerome; Jordan Salcito, beverage director of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group, and formerly of Eleven Madison Park, where she was part of a James Beard Award–winning beverage team; James Beard–nominated sommelier Michael McCaulley, wine director and partner at Philadelphia’s Tria; Tracy Howard Garton, senior editor at Imbibe magazine; Seth Box, the private client director at Moet-Hennessy; and Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier.
In addition, two certified wine professionals performed a blind taste test for this guide. Tony Rials is a certified sommelier and beverage director at Bourbon and Butter in Buffalo, New York. Tommy Lombardo serves as general manager and beverage director of Ristorante Lombardo, also located in Buffalo; he holds an advanced certificate from the International Wine Center.
Sweethome wine drinkers are laid back. We surveyed almost 500 readers and found that 83 percent spend $25 or less on a bottle of wine (including 18 percent who spend less than $10). So preserving wine might at first seem a bit precious.
The best way not to waste wine is to finish the bottle, yet 78 percent of those surveyed said they drink half the bottle or less in one sitting. Toss the last glass from a $10 bottle every week, and that’s $2.50 down the drain that you could have saved with an investment of 8 cents, the cost of one use of Private Preserve (as long as you drink the wine that week).
So check your habits. If you regularly enjoy wine at home, even if it’s inexpensive, paying attention to how often the last amount gets tossed could be worthwhile. Nearly half of those half-bottle drinkers in our survey reported not liking the taste of their wine when they finally crack it back open.
Once you open a bottle of wine, oxidation begins. Picture the way an apple starts to turn brown after you bite into it—that’s what happens to your wine when it gets exposure to oxygen. At first this is a good thing, because it brings out interesting flavors and aromas in your wine. But soon after, the quality of the wine degrades and turns acidic and vinegary.
A good wine-preservation system keeps an open bottle of wine tasting fresh for days (or longer) by keeping oxygen away from the wine. Such systems include:
For hands-on testing, we were most interested in tools that cost $25 or less (the top four options above).
Cook’s Illustrated, WIRED, and numerous wine publications have run tests over the years, and in our research we saw three main recommendations from the experts: Vacu Vin, Private Preserve, and Coravin.
While you can’t expect a bottle of wine to last forever, we found five days to be a reasonable expectation, and we ran our tests based on that figure. First we tested vacuum sealers exclusively, since that’s what almost everyone uses—67 percent of surveyed readers told us they used that kind. Our initial test, in which we filled wine bottles with mini marshmallows to potentially reveal leaky vacuums, gave us a result we didn’t expect: completely collapsed marshmallows in three of our five test subjects.
Our in-house physicist John Holecek speculated that the models with shriveled marshmallows had expanded the air pockets within the marshmallows so much that the sweets burst, causing them to collapse. The test didn’t actually reveal which vacuum had stayed intact for the longest time, but it did show which of the five vacuum pumps had the strongest initial vacuum.
So we tested again, this time with water. We pumped empty bottles, left them sealed for 24 hours, and then opened them upside down with the bottle mouth submerged in a bucket of water, measuring the volume of water each one sucked up. The more water in the bottle, the stronger the vacuum. We did this five times for each system.
We took the vacuum models with the best average (the OXO SteeL Vacuum Wine Preserver, the Vacu Vin Wine Saver, and the VinoTru Wine Saver), combined them with two others to create our final testing pool, and set up a taste test. Also in that tasting panel were a few control subjects, including one bottle recorked and kept at room temperature; one bottle recorked and placed in the fridge; and one half-bottle we emptied into a smaller container and sealed (a 1-pint Ball Mason Jar), theoretically reducing the amount of oxygen (and thus oxidation) in the container.
We used 2009 Di Majo Norante Ramitello, an Italian red, for our blind tasting; one of our taste-testers, Tommy Lombardo, recommended it to us since it had a tannic structure that would show signs of breakdown well. Once filled, the bottles sat unrefrigerated in a shady area of a kitchen that averaged 70°F.
After five days, our two wine professionals blind-tasted the wine. Tony Rials is a certified sommelier and the beverage director of Bourbon and Butter in Buffalo, New York. Tommy Lombardo holds an advanced certificate from the International Wine Center and is the owner and general manager of Ristorante Lombardo, also in Buffalo. They tasted the preserved bottles alongside a fresh bottle of the wine.
For our 2016 update, we looked at all the new products our research team could find, but we saw nothing noteworthy enough to test against our original lineup. We also did two additional rounds of taste-testing with the Coravin, and found it effective in one round but less so in a follow-up test.
We think the best wine preservation system for almost everyone is Private Preserve. In our taste test it maintained the flavor of the wine best after five days. It costs only about 8 cents every time you use it, too. The canister is good for 120 uses—two years for anyone who preserves one bottle per week—and it works with an unlimited variety of bottles without needing additional parts, stoppers, or cartridges.
Many experts and publications have lauded it, and our experts Rials and Lombardo agreed: The wine preserved with Private Preserve tasted closest to the fresh bottle. Using descriptions such as “no faults” and “terrific,” the two said the intensity of the flavor was maintained and the aroma was clear. Although the tannins were slightly diminished, it’s impossible to eliminate every bit of degradation.
Gas canisters are a great way to preserve wine because they don’t remove anything from the bottle the way that popular vacuum pumps do. So there’s no issue with aromatics being pulled out or faulty seals letting oxygen in. Tria’s Michael McCaulley told us, “If you use inert gas, you’re going to get a more perfect seal.”
The gas inside the the canister is a mixture of argon, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Imbibe’s Tracy Howard Garton said, “Argon is what a lot of winemakers use to top off their barrels. It’s heavier than oxygen, so it creates a really dense layer of gas on top of the wine, forcing all of the air to go above it.”
The pressurized steel can of Private Preserve feels empty, which is a little off-putting—who wants to spend money on a can of dead air? But it contains 0.29 ounce (8.2 grams) of gas, good for preserving at least 120 standard 750-milliliter bottles of wine. (If you’re regularly recorking magnums, you’ll use more.)
The gas mixture is odorless and doesn’t add off-flavors to the wine. You can find other products that contain 100 percent argon, such as Wine Life, Wine Save, and Vineyard Fresh, and opinions vary over which gas is best. Scott Farmer, owner of Private Preserve, explained in an email interview why he chose this particular blend: “Nitrogen bonds with oxygen, thus naturally taking out the oxidation potential, but it still can have a slight dulling effect on some wines. Carbon dioxide dissolves into wine … using too much causes a slight carbonic acidification of still wine. Argon adds an additional layer of defense against oxygen, which in a high concentration can add a metallic character. Thus, the whole is greater than the parts, and having opened partial bottles of wines preserved very well for as long as four-plus years seems to justify that claim.”
Basically, Farmer hedged his bets, incorporating small enough portions of each gas to take advantage of their best qualities while also avoiding the potential pitfalls of each. This helpful video from Wine Enthusiast explains how to use Private Preserve.
This method is very cost-effective. Yes, vacuum preservers are one-time investments, but they don’t work as well. “As you’re trying to pump the oxygen out and create a vacuum, you’re never going to get a perfect vacuum,” Tracy Howard Garton mentioned to us. “There are seal issues with all of the ones I’ve played around with. Secondly, as you’re pumping, you’re stripping a lot of the aromatics from a bottle of wine. It’s been my experience that the next day you’ll pour it in your glass and swirl and it around and it might not taste bad, but it smells kind of flat.”
But a bottle of Private Preserve will do the job for about 8 cents per seal, and if it fills all 120 bottles as advertised it’ll last you more than two years. In addition, you can use it to save any number of foods and drinks affected by air—cognac, bourbon, tequila, herbs, and olive oil, to name a few. Everything else we tested requires additional parts or additional stoppers for each bottle you’d like to save; Private Preserve doesn’t require anything other than the bottle’s original cork.
In a June 2013 test, WIRED found Private Preserve to be the best system for preserving wine, scoring it a nine out of 10. In a July 2010 Decanter magazine comparison of many popular preservation methods, author Beverley Blanning concludes that “the Private Preserve gas cylinder came out as the best way to keep our three types of wine fresher for longer.” Private Preserve also packages its product under the Wine Enthusiast brand, so if you happen to see that for a lower price, go for it.
It’s almost impossible to tell if you’re using Private Preserve right. The experience is not as satisfying as using one of the pumps, even if this product is more effective. You have to have faith that it’s working correctly.
In its advice column “Ask Dr. Vinny,” Wine Spectator agrees, writing: “[T]here’s something about working with an invisible product that makes me feeling like I’m doing it wrong. But I appreciate the science behind it and know many wine professionals and restaurants that use that method.”
Unlike some pump systems, Private Preserve will run out. How do you know it’s empty? According to Farmer, “Private Preserve makes a ‘hissing’ sound as the pressurized blend … is released from the can. The can is truly empty when no more sound comes from the actuator button. So, in short … a quiet can is an empty can.”
The folks at Cook’s Illustrated were not fans of Private Preserve in their testing, filing it under the “not recommended” category. They observed that “the straw inside the canister flew off the sprayer head and into the wine.” We didn’t have this problem, but we could see how someone might. Although we greatly respect their opinion, our research and testing results didn’t match what they found.
We’ve continued to use Private Preserve to seal up the occasional unfinished bottle seven months since we originally published this guide. We’re still well below the advertised 120-bottle figure, and the canister continues to produce the inert gas that keeps the wine fresh.
No groundbreaking news here. Plenty of pros can back us up on this opinion, including Tria’s Michael McCaulley, who said, “You basically want to cut two things: You want to cut temperature, and you want to cut oxygen exposure.” Or Imbibe’s Tracy Howard Garton: “Refrigeration exists for a reason, and that’s to preserve things.” And Jill Zimorski at Hotel Jerome: “Anything will keep better closed up (whether gassed or not) and in your fridge where it’s cool and dark.”
We recommend combining techniques: Private Preserve first, then refrigeration. Store the bottle straight up instead of lying down, because less wine surface area will come in contact with air. Let the wine return to room temperature before serving.
On a final note, our testers actually preferred the Italian we chose once it had oxidized a bit, the way it might have if stored in the refrigerator for a few days. Wine is a multifaceted thing.
If you’re a true enthusiast and you want to monitor vintage, sample from a collection, or start dipping into special bottles that are gathering dust, the Coravin Model Two Plus is the best tool currently available. The big difference between a Coravin and Private Preserve, other than the price, is that with the Coravin you never remove the cork from the bottle, which allows your wine to keep longer than five days. In fact, it’s the only high-end model that doesn’t require you to take the cork out before inserting a preserving gas, and of the four pricier systems we researched, it’s the only one that lets you extract wine from an infinite number of bottles. Every other device requires the removal of the cork, allowing brief contact with oxygen, and the additional purchase of a costly (usually around $30 to $50) bottle stopper for every wine you’d like to try. Also, with the Coravin, you have no ugly nitrogen tanks that sit on your counter and no spigots or plastic tubing to clean when you’re done.
The Coravin has become popular in restaurant wine programs as a tool for pouring single glasses of expensive wines that otherwise would have to be sold by the bottle. The Model Two Plus is an updated version of the company’s original design, the Model 8, and it includes a needle that pours faster, an easier-to-use clamp that hugs the bottle, and a chamber that screws the argon capsule into the device without leakage.
To see Robert Parker Jr. and Coravin owner Greg Lambrecht demonstrate how to use the Coravin, skip to 6:45 in this video.
The argon capsules currently cost around $10 each (a little less if you buy in bulk). According to Coravin, each one is good for pouring 15 5-ounce glasses of wine, or about three bottles.
Several of the sommeliers we interviewed for this piece said they had wine last months with the Coravin technique. WIRED calls it “[t]op-notch preservation.” Cook’s Illustrated writes: “Tasters found the wines we poured from it, which had been open for a month, as good as wine from freshly opened bottles (and we are continuing to test).”
Since the Coravin relies on the ability of natural cork to reseal itself, the device doesn’t work on synthetic corks or screw tops. You also have the recurring cost of the argon capsules, and unfortunately, Coravin fits the device with a special head, so you can use only the Coravin-branded capsules (which are more expensive than unbranded ones).
The original Coravin (the Model 8) was recalled in June 2014 due to 13 reports that bottles had broken under pressure, injuring at least one person. We contacted the company for an official statement regarding the problem, and representatives said that “the problem was with damaged or flawed wine bottles, not with the Coravin system itself.” The newest product, the Model Two Plus—the one we recommend in this update—has not been recalled.
After pumping a wine bottle full of gas during testing while we were goofing around (and therefore pressurizing the bottle a lot), we figured this seemed like a logical conclusion from Coravin. It would be easy to abuse the device, or to get a faulty bottle that couldn’t stand up to extreme amounts of gas getting stuffed in.
That said, faulty bottles aren’t common and the pressure isn’t that great, and we haven’t had any issues with broken bottles in our tests. The company does include a nylon sleeve in the package that you can slip over the bottle if you want to be particularly cautious.
The preservation methods that kept wine tasting fresh, from best to least effective in our taste tests, were as follows:
Regarding that last-place method, our tasters said that with the room-temperature wine, the tannins had softened and the acid was out of balance—an obvious indicator that bacteria was chomping away at the wine—and the flavor was more muted than the others.
Vacu Vin’s Wine Saver comes recommended by sommeliers and Cook’s Illustrated. But in our taste testing, Rials and Lombardo found the bottle preserved with it to have the most muted aromas, calling it “really underwhelming.” A 1994 Wine Spectator piece concludes that the wine deteriorates quickly, and “recorking the wine worked equally as well—or as badly.”
OXO’s SteeL Vacuum Wine Preserver had a totally broken seal when we opened the bottles for our taste test; we detected no audible rush of air when we removed it.
The Genesis is a $250 system that competes directly with the Coravin, but it’s a costly machine that only gets more expensive the more bottles you try to access with it—each additional head is $50. And while the sizes and prices of the gas canisters are wildly different, we calculated the recurring cost per glass for both the Coravin and the Genesis at an identical 67 cents.
The capacity of the NitroTap Single Bottle Wine Service & Preservation System is fixed at one, meaning you can ever preserve only one bottle at a time, for $110. The NitroTap Wine Service & Preservation System lets you access three bottles, but again that number is fixed—and it costs $400.
You do have one option that will let you preserve multiple bottles (though not an infinite number like the Coravin) at a lower cost, the WineKeeper Basic Nitrogen Keeper. But like the NitroTap, this system has big gas canisters and tons of working parts including tubing and spigots, all of which clutter up your counter and require cleaning. It’s too high-maintenance for $200. If you’re planning to go high end, you really have to go for it.
The Genesis Elite is the Genesis system plus two extra wine-preservation heads and an additional canister of gas. The one advantage the Genesis has is that it can preserve sparkling wine, but that’s niche, and since it works only for an advertised five days, we decided it wasn’t enough of an upgrade to justify the cost.
ReServe is a $100-plus system that you have to buy heads for, yet we can’t seem to figure out where to buy those additional parts.
Although the Platypus PlatyPreserve Wine Preservation System is cool for camping or sneaking into concerts, it isn’t the right choice for home use.
Our tests, like those of Cook’s Illustrated, found the Air Cork Wine Preserver to be a good runner-up. But while it beat out the other commercial options we tested, we got better results by simply sticking the cork back into the wine and tossing it into the fridge.
Going by poor reviews from both Cook’s Illustrated and WIRED, we decided not to test the Savino Wine Saving Carafe.
Originally published: February 9, 2016