From the moment a bottle of wine has been opened, a clock starts counting down until that wine has gone bad. With some red wines, this could be as little as three to four days. White wines typically fare a bit better - up to a week in some cases - because of refrigeration, but beyond that, oxidation has pushed the wine far beyond what is drinkable.
Admittedly this is rarely a problem at home, but it has been a challenge faced by restaurateurs and bartenders for years. It is the number one reason why many restaurants have either a limited by the glass wine selection, usually consisting of a couple examples each of five or six varietals, or, if their list is more extensive, they are all well-known selections that have a much stronger likelihood of selling out before their time is up.
This has been a major challenge for many of the smaller wines and wineries of California. When they are fortunate enough to have distribution and get placement inside restaurants, inevitably as a lesser known winery, they end up on the bottle only list. Unfortunately, most of the one premise wine consumption is done by the glass, and this creates an unbreakable cycle: customers are unfamiliar with the wine, so they do not want to risk ordering a bottle, but the restaurant does not offer it by the glass, so the customer has no way of knowing if they will like it.
Thankfully, modern technology has come to the rescue of this millennia old beverage in the form of nitrogen and argon. There are several different styles of machines, depending on the specific needs of each wine bar, but they all serve the same purpose. As mentioned before, it is the oxidation of wine that "turns it bad." By creating a closed system from the minute the bottle is open, it reduces the amount of oxygen that gets into the bottle initially. Then, as wine is poured off and space is created, nitrogen or argon are forced into the bottle to create pressure, prohibiting any more oxygen from getting in.
These new systems have been a blessing to small batch wineries all across the state. Now instead of relying on people making the trek out to the tasting room, restaurants and wine bars can offer these wines for sale by the glass. Customers can ask for a taste and know exactly what they will be getting. Plus, with the placement on the "by the glass" wine lists, it allows them to increase sales and generate a larger profile in the wine community. Unlike the previous cycle many of these vineyards would have found themselves in, this one leads to greater success.
Jack Terry is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer who lived in California for several years.