Published on July 14, 2019

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Photo by Meghan McNeer

Every now and then, I find myself unable to finish a bottle of wine before it starts to taste a little off. A younger version of me would probably dump the bad booze down the drain, but older me knows better. That vino may not be worth drinking anymore, but I’m definitely going to use it somehow.

After opening, a bottle of wine will usually stay good to drink for one to two weeks if properly sealed and refrigerated. And when it “goes bad,” that just means that its flavor, color, and odor have degraded from too much exposure to oxygen (aka, oxidation). Basically, a bottle of wine that’s been open for a few weeks isn’t going to make you sick but it’s not exactly suitable for drinking either. 

It is great for cooking, though. When wine is heated its flavor totally changes, so you can use a bottle that’s a little too old without having to worry if it will make your food taste funky. There are also a bunch of fun ways to make use of leftover wine that don’t involve heat at all, from brewing a batch of homemade vinegar to whipping up a cocktail. Here, chefs break down all their favorite ways to make the most of that bottle you were tempted to just throw out.

1. Make Wine Ice Cubes So You Always Have Cooking Wine

Before your wine has a chance to get really old, pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it! This trick is especially great because it portions your wine out into servings that are perfect for cooking—all you’ll need is a cube or two to deglaze a pan or make a braising liquid, says Michael Balboni, executive chef at db Bistro Moderne in New York City.

Alternatively, you could freeze leftover wine with fruit and juice into Popsicle molds for a fun, edible spin on sangria, says Enrique Limardo, chef at Seven Reasons in Washington, D.C. He recommends infusing the cubes with different spices—like cinnamon or star anise—if you feel like it. Just be sure to soak any spices you do use in the wine for a couple of hours before you plan to do any freezing to guarantee their flavors are fully infused.

2. Use It While Cooking Meat, Seafood, or Veggies

If you’ve never cooked with wine, you’re missing out. Just a splash of the stuff is enough to bring balance and depth to tons of different recipes. This is even true for any old bottles of wine you have lying around, says Balboni. “The longer you cook it the more that oxidized flavor fades and you are left mainly with acidity and tannins,” he explains. And that acidity is what makes wine such a special ingredient. If something you’re cooking tastes flat, whether it’s a soup or a sauce, just a splash of wine can be enough to punch it up. 

If you’re not sure exactly how to start cooking with wine, let a few classics guide you. Balboni frequently uses leftover wine to make coq au vin (a French chicken dish whose name that translates to “chicken in wine”). “We marinate chicken legs in the red wine and port, then braise the legs in that wine and some stock,” he explains. “This braising liquid is reduced down into a sauce and it is served with bacon, mushrooms, and onion.” 

You can also use a bit of wine and butter to whip up a quick sauce that’s so good, you can pour it over anything. Start by cooking the wine with shallots, thyme, and garlic until it’s reduced to one-fourth of its original amount, he explains. Then add a splash of cream, slowly whisk in some cold butter, and season with salt and pepper, and just like that, you have a sauce that’s great for poultry, beef, seafood, veggies, and beyond. Feel free to use whatever wine you have on hand, whether that’s red or white—just maybe not rosé. 

3. Mask the Oxidized Flavor in a Cocktail

If the thought of not finishing a bottle of wine gives you pause, there’s still a way to turn your leftovers into a cocktail. Chef Fabio Vivani says that sangria is a great vehicle for old wine because fruit and sugar do a good job of masking any unpleasant flavors from oxidation. Alternatively, heat it up and turn it into a mulled wine like Dieter Samijn, executive chef at Bar Boulud in New York City, does. 

4. Use It to Poach Seasonal Fruit

“Recently for a party, I added additional sugar to a wine I had opened and used it to poach apples and pears,” Samijn says. “They were a huge hit!” Simply bring a pot of wine, sugar, and spices to a gentle simmer, and let your fruit of choice cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until fully tender and deep red in color. Apples, pears, and quince are the best fruit to use for a project like this because of how firm they are, but you can poach any fruit if you put your mind to it—just remember to use the firmest options you can find. 

5. Leave It Out and Let It Turn Into Vinegar

“When I was young, my grandparents always kept a stone pot with cheesecloth over it to make red wine vinegar,” Samijn says. “If I ever have leftover wine, that’s how I tend to use it up.” The older wine gets, the more it tastes like vinegar—it’s only logical to go the extra mile. 

To turn your old wine into vinegar, all you have to do is leave an open bottle in a warm place for a couple of weeks, says Samijn. “It’s really that simple. The natural oxidation process will do all the work,” he adds. If you’re worried about fruit flies, cover the opening of the bottle with a bit of cheesecloth and you won’t have any problems. 

6. Reduce It for a Boozy Homemade Syrup

If you’ve always wished your desserts could be a bit boozier, consider turning your leftover wine into syrup, says Limardo. To do it, simply combine about 1 cup of sugar for every 3 cups of wine and let the mixture cook at a gentle heat until it’s mostly reduced. Cool it, pack it up, store it in the fridge, and try serving it over everything, from ice cream to pastries. 

See more food and drink ideas:
I’ll Admit I Used to Think Oatmeal Was Boring, But Then I Tried These Recipes
Life’s Too Short to Drink Gross Coconut Water
11 Healthy One-Pot Lunch Ideas You’ll Want for the Week Ahead

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