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Vacuum Wine Stoppers

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 1999

Before we began our experiment to test vacuum bottle stoppers, we spoke to Timothy Walsh, wine buyer for Marty’s

Fine Wines in Allston, MA. Walsh explained that oxidation, which results from contact between the wine remaining in

a bottle and the air occupying the space vacated by the wine you’ve poured, deteriorates the flavor of the leftover

wine. The vacuum stoppers are designed to mitigate the problem by pumping the air out of the bottle, essentially

creating a vacuum. In Walsh’s opinion, two to three hours of exposure to air is enough time to really hurt the flavor of

the wine, so it is best to put the vacuum stopper into the bottle as quickly after opening it as possible.

For our tests we chose a 1990 Taurino Notarpanaro Rosso del Salento, the Italian “Best Buy” recommended in our

November/ December 1998 tasting of rich red wines. We bought five bottles, opened and poured two glasses from

each of two of the bottles, and allowed the wine remaining in the bottles to stand uncorked for 45 minutes, about the

length of time they might sit open on the table during a weeknight dinner. Then we closed one using the vacuum

pump, and the other with its cork.

On each of the following three days, five tasters from the Cook’s staff (none of whose palates, incidentally, were

trained or extensively experienced with wine) tasted both of these wines, along with a freshly opened bottle. On all

three days, the freshly opened bottle was the most highly regarded, but none of the tasters could distinguish much,

if any, difference between the recorked and vacuum-stopped samples. In fact, on the second and third days, the

vacuum-stopped wine was the lowest rated, though not far behind the recorked wines.

Surprised, we decided to double-check the results by repeating the tests with another red, and, just for kicks, a

white. This time around, we chose a Cline Zinfandel, the 1995 vintage of which was highly recommended in our

January/February 1998 tasting of California Zinfandels, and a Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve, the ’96 vintage of

which was top rated in our March/April 1998 tasting of inexpensive chardonnays. With both wines, the numbers told

the same story again. There was very little, if any, discernible taste difference between the recorked and vacuum-

stopped wines.

We are left to conclude, then, that the vacuum stoppers make no difference for the average wine drinker. This may

not hold true, however, for those whose palates are experienced and well developed.

As an aside, we were discussing this, and other matters, with Dr. Susan Brewer, an Associate Professor of Food

Chemistry at the University of Illinois, and she mentioned that you can mimic the effect of the vacuum stopper by

inhaling deeply, holding your breath for a moment, and exhaling into the bottle. The carbon dioxide you exhale will

force the oxygen out of the bottle, thereby retarding oxidation.