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Got Leftover Wine? These Tips Can Help You Make Use of It

From vinegars to gnat-catchers, there are plenty of ways to use old wine

Janice Williams By July 8, 2022
man pouring a glass of white wine into the pan with chopped vegetables while preparing a meal in the kitchen
Man pouring a glass of white wine into the pan with chopped vegetables while preparing a meal in the kitchen. Photo credit Svitlana via AdobeStock.

While wine lovers like to joke that they could never leave a bottle unfinished, the odds of having a leftover glass or two after a night of tasting isn’t all that farfetched. Opening more than one bottle throughout the week? Trying a new wine for the first time, only to decide it’s not for you? 

The chances are good that even the most dedicated wine love will have some unwanted wine lurking around in the fridge at some point. Before pouring it down the drain, consider a few other ways to put old wine to use. 

Cook with wine

If there’s a splash of wine left over in a bottle, use it as a cooking ingredient. Many recipes call for wine, particularly sauces and stews. Even wine that’s been hanging out in the fridge for longer than three days can turn up the flavor of a dish. 

“Most of the time, what we’re looking for when we’re cooking is the balance of the five things you can detect on your tastebuds: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Wine can add a little bit of that acidity to help balance those five things. Depending on the style of wine, it can bring out the sweet characteristics of a dish and certainly some bitterness if using red wines,” Chef Sandy Sauter, owner of Spork Kitchens in Napa Valley and the vice president of culinary creation at Playte Kitchen, a virtual cooking class service, recently told The Drop.

Sometimes wine can be used as a background cooking ingredient, as when a recipe calls for a few tablespoons of liquid to help deglaze a sauté pan. Or wine can serve as the star of the show, like in French-born American chef Jacques Pépin’s famous red wine beef stew, which calls for an entire bottle of dry red wine. Dessert guru and cookbook author Jesse Szewczyk uses fruit-forward red wines as the main wet batter component for cookies and brownies

Red and white wines can also be used as poaching liquids or marinades, to enhance the flavors of fruits and meats. Or leftover wine can be frozen in an ice tray, after which the cubes can be used as stocks for future dishes. 

Do-it-yourself vinegar

Why buy red wine vinegar when you can use that bottle of Syrah that you’re never going to drink?

Wine will begin to turn between a day and three days of opening. If exposed to enough oxygen, microbes in the wine will activate the process of turning the alcohol in wine into acetic acid, the main chemical component of vinegar. 

But just leaving the wine alone isn’t enough to turn it into a quality vinegar. For that, you need a vinegar mother, which forms when acetic acid bacteria turn alcohol into acid. You can either buy one and add about 20% of the raw vinegar mother to the wine or, if you’re up for the challenge, make it yourself:

  • Pour leftover wine into a wide-mouthed jar or jug.
  • Cover the jar with layers of cheesecloth, but don’t seal the covering too tight.
  • Place the jar in an area with good air circulation that is warm but not in direct sunlight.
  • Shake the container a few times a week.
  • Wait.

It can take between two weeks and two months for the vinegar mother to form, depending on the temperature and the amount of oxygen it is exposed to throughout the process. After a while, a gelatinous film will develop at the top of the jar. That gooey substance is the mother vinegar, and it will break apart and sink to the bottom of the container over time and with a few shakes. 

The wine will start to smell like vinegar, and that’s when it’s time to give it a taste. When it reaches an acidic profile of your liking, the vinegar can be strained in new bottles and popped into the fridge to stop further growth. 

There are some things to bear in mind when making a vinegar mother from scratch. Low-alcohol wines ranging between eight and 10% ABV work best here.

Make a cocktail

An easy fix for bringing new life into a not-so-great wine is to use it as a base in a cocktail like a red or white sangria, which can be done by adding a spirit and fruit to the wine, o. Or you can use the leftover wine to make a warm and cinnamon-scented mulled wine

Has an opened bottle of Champagne lost its fizz? Use the leftovers to make a syrup for cocktails. Just take one cup of flat Champagne or sparkling wine and add one cup of granulated sugar. Then heat and stir the concoction until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cool down, then bottle it up. The syrup can be later added into a shaker with ice to make a Champagne Daiquiri or another easy-drinking adult beverage.

The ultimate gnat trap

Humans may not enjoy the smell of stale red wine, but gnats do. An old red wine can be a clever tool for killing pesky fruit flies and gnats that may be in your home.

The trick is to use red wine that’s almost turned into vinegar. Pour a small amount in an open-top vessel or bowl, and add a few drops of dish soap. Place the liquid near the area overrun with gnats. Let it sit for a few days and wait for the gnats to pick up the scent. As they near the area, they’ll start to drop in the liquid, but they won’t be able to fly out.

There are few things more disappointing than opening a bottle of wine and not liking it – or worse, completely forgetting that it’s even been opened. But at least there’s no need to worry about wine going to waste when there are so many creative ways to repurpose it.