Readers tell me all the time, "I don't know what to do with leftover wine."
I feel your pain.
Ross' choiceName: Cabernet Sauvignon
Availability: Wide availability, $16.
(Distributed by Breakthrough Beverage, Cicero)
In the 1980s, before "growing green" was even a thing, Bonterra Founder Jim Fetzer and Winemaker Bob Blue farmed organic grapes. Fetzer cited, "good business sense, worker liability concerns …" as his rationale, after all, it was unknown whether organic farming techniques yielded better flavors than conventional means. Today, Bonterra is America's #1 selling organically-grown wine and consistently receives top critical acclaim, including the Wine Enthusiast's "American Winery of the Year." This Cabernet is a crowning example of holistic technique yielding expressive fruit, with lush cherry, raspberry and blueberry flavors, baking spice accents, defined by a palate perk-up of acid and pleasingly firm tannic grip. Maybe "happy vines make better wines" after all. Serve with rich poultry and red meat dishes.
Try as I might, it's nearly impossible for me to drink up all the good and not-so-good wine delivered to my doorstep for review for my retail, restaurant and journalism partners.
So, to keep wine waste at a minimum, I recommend strategies I've devised based on the eco-principles, "reduce, reuse and recycle."
First, to reduce overbuying for any size gathering, use this catering industry formula: Per each wine drinking guest, figure two glasses during the party's first hour; one glass for each subsequent hour. Multiply by ounces per glass (I recommend a five-ounce pour); divide by ounces per bottle (generally 25.4 ounces).
So, for twenty-five wine lovers throughout a three-hour party, using a five-ounce pour, purchase 375 ounces of wine, or about fifteen standard bottles.
Before purchase, check return policies with your merchant. Some stores refund the cost of unopened bottles with receipt; some don't.
To reduce spoilage of opened bottles, treat wine like fresh fruit.
Many folks, for example, wrap a half-eaten apple and put it in the fridge. The next day and the next, the apple won't kill anyone, but flavors diminish. After several days, most of us will pitch that apple.
Likewise, wine's life is extended with protection from oxygen and a good chill to retard deterioration.
I used to swear by handheld pumps that remove oxygen from bottles. Now, I feel that wine's aromas (and therefore flavors) are sucked out with each pump. Use sparingly.
I've switched to wine preserving sprays that blanket wine with a layer of protective gas.
Sommeliers learned the science in the 1980s: Argon gas is both inert and heavier than oxygen; a thin layer sprayed into a bottle floats on top of the wine, protecting it from oxygen, just like plastic wrap protects that cut apple. Wine dispensing machines, such as Cruvinet, gave birth to wine-by-the-glass and revolutionized the industry.
Argon tanks, unfortunately, don't fit neatly into most people's kitchen design.
Now, the same principle is available to consumers with small spray cans such as Private Preserve (at local wine shops, about $20 per can promising 120 uses) and ArT Wine Preservation (available on Amazon and company website, about $15) founded by Purdue University chemical engineering graduate, Ryan Frederickson.
Preserving sprays can extend an opened wine's life about a week, with variables including the wine's style and your finicky palate. Try to keep from jostling the bottle.
Whether you use gas or not, replace cork in the bottle and stand all open bottles in the fridge. Before service, allow wine to "chamber," traditionally meaning come up to room temperature (back when 50 degrees was the average room temperature.)
Wine's best protection after opening is no opening at all, provided by wine kegs, available at a few local restaurants, and bag-in-box. While the quality of keg-dispensed wine has risen steadily, bag-in-box quality is slower, but it's moving in the right direction.
To reuse wine at a later date, freeze into ice cubes, especially handy to chill cold wine punch.
For warming recipes, too, gently leftover wine can be your secret seasoning, in pan sauces for meat and poultry, fish stews such as ciopinno, coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine, mushrooms and onions) and wine-poached pears.
Even a simple canned mushroom soup brightens with a dash of chardonnay or pinot noir; store-bought pasta sauce inspires cheers of Brava with a spoonful of Chianti.
Remember, heat cooks off most, not all alcohol. Notify zero-tolerance guests about any alcoholic ingredient.
Keep mulling spices on hand to turn leftover wine into a winter treat. The basic recipe combines cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, brown sugar and orange juice, heated and garnished with orange zest. In this case, heat just to brief simmer or you'll boil away the fun.
To begin your wine sustainability, turn to the label that introduced sustainability to wine -- Bonterra, (see Ross's Choice).
And after reusing, for the final step of sustainability, (see above), well … Mother Nature takes care of that.
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Her classes on wine and food are offered through The Chopping Block, Chicago. Write to her at food@daily herald.com.