Aging vs Airing: difference in flavor?

I rarely have the opportunity to cellar an ‘age-able’ bottle for more than a few years, and I rarely have the opportunity to buy wine that has reached its optimum drinking window. Yet I enjoy ‘good’ bottles, even if opened way too early, and I appreciate their difference in taste versus non age-able (aka lower quality) bottles. So, I air/decant age-able bottles for several hours that I believe would otherwise improve with years in the cellar. This usually results in an improved taste, especially on the second day. But too what extent does such short-term airing mimic or allow for the change in flavor that would occur during extended cellaring? And what variables effect that outcome: varietal; ABV; acidity, etc.? How can one best enjoy the taste differences between cellar-able wine versus PnP wine when the cellar-able wine is opened long before its drinking window?

Decanting a young wine is nothing at all like drinking a properly-aged wine.

definitely a difference between the two, and it differs bottle to bottle even sometimes. in general, what I feel like I notice and how I try to describe it to friends that ask is in general theres new flavors that tend to develop that weren’t there before with cellar age, whereas air time helps a wine express flavors that are currently present. for example: last night we opened a 2014 Produttori. I slow ox’d it for 4 hours and double decanted it before I served it. That helped the bright red cherry and fruit notes shine through because it softened the tannins a little and (in the right wine) allows reductive notes to blow off, both of which tend to mute nuances. No matter how much air time I would have given it this week though, it never would have developed the mushroom, forest floor, and leather aromas that a 20 year old bottle of Produttori likely has, or that the 10 year old bottle of brunello that we drank beside it had developed with some bottle age.

there are people on this board much more versed in the chemistry of why they differ, but all of the variables you mentioned effect the ability to develop with cellaring (develop I think is a better word than improve, because not everyone loves the tertiary notes that develop with bottle age). Definitely tannin structure and acidity are the two classic markers. both help protect wine from spoilage as it ages.

As far as how to enjoy those cellar-able wines best, I think what you’re doing is the best way (obviously short of actually cellaring them).

Time does something to a wine that just giving it more air won’t do. Most wines that are made to go the distance are not so good young, air time helps but it’s never going to be the same as a long rest at the right temp. A good test would be to find a properly cellared Dunn Howell Mt that has twenty five to thirty years on it and try it next to their new release Howell Mt that you gave your normal air routine. Both should be relatively easy to find and the difference will be obvious.

John – Decanting a wine can help bring out aromas but, as Kyle said, that’s nothing like aging a wine.

In the bottle, wine undergoes changes with time. Some of those involve very slow reaction with the small amounts of oxygen in the bottle. Some involve reactions that take place without oxygen. They change the chemistry of the wine over time. They alter the aromas and flavors, and the tannins are softened.

Decanting does two things:

  1. It introduces oxygen by the pouring/splashing. (Very often people here assume this is the only thing that happens when you decant.)
  2. It helps aroma compounds that are dissolved in the wine to evaporate.

A wine that is relatively young (for its type) may not show much aroma. The decanting may help bring out the aromas. In that way, it may be like fast-forwarding the wine to a point of aromatic intensity it might not otherwise reach (if undecanted) until few years out. But only sort of. The flavors won’t have changed. And even a lot of mature wines need decanting to open up.

Decanting won’t speed up the slow shift in aromas and flavors, nor will it soften the tannin. But as more aromas emerge from the wine with air, often the structure (tannins and acid) will come into balance with the other flavors. So, in that sense, it’s vaguely similar in one respect to aging a wine.

That’s a great idea but very expensive experimental material! Also, Dunn’s wines are famous for evolving at a glacial pace, so I don’t think that’s a good choice for showing what extended bottle aging can do.

You could do the same thing with Rioja or Olga Raffault’s Chinons, or a Mondavi cabernet or a moderately priced Bordeaux. Back and current vintages of those wines are available for far less than Dunns.

It’s as different as searing vs slow braising.

So I got into a argument/discussion on this issue at a DC Italian grocery store’s wine guy. He literally looked at me with a straight face and said decanting a young Barolo, or any wine, has an identical taste as one that has been aged properly. After my vehement disagreement, he pulled the “I’m in the trade, and drink hundreds of wines a year”. Needless to say, I don’t talk with him when I go there, and only buy wines when I see the weird rare Italian varieties.

The quick answer - we simply do not know. And those who are ‘confident’ one way or another - can you point me in the direction of ‘objective data’ to prove your point?

I get asked all the time how my wines will age, and I tell folks that I certainly cannot guarantee anything - but that after seeing an evolution of my wines over a 3-5 day period after opening, I’m confident that they will age at least a few days :slight_smile:

Conjecture, folks . . . the only way to know would be to test, test test - and then again, every bottle is different (so there’s THAT to contend with as well).


I agree with Larry on this one. Sometimes the best part of the bottle is the first 30 minutes. Sometimes the wine is best in the first year or two. Sometimes a marginal bottle becomes wonderful after 15 years. I have had wines that tasted great in the first couple years. So I put them away thinking they would “improve” only to find out they just became different, but maybe not better.

I was thinking Dunn because of how astringent they can be when young compared to how they come together with a lot of time and their availability, still easy to find old ones. I haven’t had a new release since the 02 vintage so I’m not sure if they are more tame now, learned my lesson on that one. They might be expensive but still a relative bargain compared to most Napa Cabs these days. Get some steaks and have some friends over!

My experience with old Dunns is that most vintages stay very tannic for decades, so I was thinking they would not be a good choice for this purpose.

I saw the original question and was struggling with what a good answer would be…and you nailed it.

I can now be lazy and simply say, +1! [cheers.gif]

I like Larry’s answer as it gets to one of the most interesting issues or questions - what’s going to happen? And the funny thing is I have almost never heard a wine maker in any country make a prediction with real confidence. They always hedge somewhat, even people who have been making wine for decades.

That said, many of the things that happen to a wine with time only happen with time and they don’t depend on air and oxygen. Kind of like that guy in the wine store who said he knows - with time he will figure out that reps aren’t bringing him 30 year old wine to taste.

The observation that some wines are better younger vs older or with less air vs more air or that it’s impossible to predict how a wine will age are not relevant to the original question, which was whether airing can produce the same flavors as aging.

The answer depends on what you mean by aging. Aging causes chemical changes in the wine. Airing causes preferential evaporation of some substances more than others. It also gets oxygen into the wine but I’ve seen no convincing evidence that that makes a significant difference chemically unless you are airing out for a day or more. And even then, that oxidation is a different chemical process than what occurs over years in a properly sealed bottle. They are completely different processes.

Yet airing can produce some characteristics (e.g. softening of tannins, a more forward nose and open palate) that are indistinguishable from aging over the short or intermediate term. This is the unpredictable part. Sometimes the tannins come more to the fore with air on a young wine.

What IS predictable is that airing cannot coax a young wine to produce those complex sweet aged flavors and aromas of a 30-year old wine. Not every 30-year old wine will do that either. There are duds even among the ones that are supposed to. But it never happens to a young wine just with airing alone.

Larry, you ask for objective evidence. Without a time machine it is impossible to create a perfectly controlled head-to-head comparison. But over many hundreds of bottles of young wine, aired out from 2 to 5 days, I have never seen one turn into a 30-year old Bordeaux, Napa cab or Chateauneuf. I suspect none of the posters here have either. And while absence of a counterfactual does not prove the premise, the evidence is overwhelming.

I have no argument with the position that airing can produce some characteristics that are indistinguishable from short or intermediate term aging. But the transformation I look for with long-term cellaring does not happen with air alone.

I’m pleased to be of service.

I would think we would need some evidence why they should be the same, rather than assuming they are the same unless someone can post objective evidence to the contrary.

Some wines develop substantial secondary/tertiary characteristics with time. Have any of us had a similar experience from decanting?

Aging involves a lot of chemical reactions, not all of them involving oxygen, and some of them requiring time. Wines in bottles sealed by crown caps still evolve (although in a different way from a wine sealed with a cork).


Tertiary elements in wines don’t develop from airing the wine but time in the bottle. I’m not even sure there is a comparison. I have done both with wines over the last 40 years and have never noticed airing to create tertiaries.

To an extent (hopefully not very much) aging will oxidise a wine. More so if sealed with a poor cork. Leaving a wine to air will do the same - oxidise the wine to a greater or lesser extent. So there are some similarities. Significantly, both may also remove some reductive note.

But with age, a whole raft of other chemical changes take place, and those cannot be mimicked by airing.

Larry’s answer is a very good answer to a slightly different question, which is how do we know whether any given wine will age. I don’t think the problem is subjectivity but simply insufficient evidence. We make guesses base on our experiences of like wines that we have tasted with age that we also tasted young. The nearer the likeness, the better the guess. But all these guesses are based on analogy, which is the best evidence we have, but not ever great evidence.

The OP, however, was asking whether airing makes wine taste is if it had age on it, and to that question, I think the question is pretty clearly no. I am surely not the only one here who has many times tasted a young wine that had been given a lot of air and then the same wine 10 or 20 years later. I can understand some people preferring young wine, but I can’t understand anyone thinking they tasted similar.Steve rightly notes that, to the best of our knowledge, oxidation plays a role in both the transformation effected by airing and the transformation effected by cellaring.Chemists will have more to say about the differences, but that there is a difference is evident.