Wines that improve with DAYS of air - what's the chemistry?

A 1989 Monchhof BA, opened Thursday of last week, was OK, but real funky on the nose - almost in a gym sock way. Good, but interesting more than delicious. Put a cork in the half bottle, stuck in fridge and then forgot about the wine. Went away for the weekend. Came home last night and whoops, there it was in the fridge, half full. Poured a glass and the funk is mostly gone, and suddenly its this very appealing mix of very ripe riesling fruit (of the apricot/pineapple type) and botrytis. Infinitely better than it was last week. No sign of oxidation or any muting whatsoever - the opposite, in fact.

How does this happen? Presume it must be some sort of oxididation of molecules-that-arent-very-appealing, but how does it work?

The burg I opened on Sunday, a 2002 1er, was shot with less than 24 hours of air (at room temp, but still). The contrast was remarkable.

Maybe more to do with brain chemistry ?? …

Some people are blending their wines and swear that it does a world of wonder. And I believe they believe it’s true.

I found that in some cases Pinot improves over the course of the evening before all of the interesting volatile aromatics fade to black.

Perhaps, with sweet wines, you don’t notice the hyper-oxidized flavours because they intermingle with the RS and botrytis spice to produce the “ripe” fruit (ripe as in Calvados to apple)? Maybe it just works with sweet wines… I do find that, as opposed to almost every other type of wine, sweet wines remain fairly constant in the glass.

Large fortunes are made/lost dabbling with the chemistry of flavors and fragrances. Jamie Goode is probably your best bet wine info-wise.

It seems like funky wines throw off (volatilize) sulfur compounds and/or brett-like stink early on (mostly during the first few hours). Some of the more pleasant volatiles (i.e: certain esters) are probably lost, but sometimes they seem to build, emerge and overtake “the funk”. Sometimes it never happens and the wine is just bad. Sometimes there’s a brief window of enjoyment (hours)…and sometimes the pleasing flavors/aromas (which usually morph) provide enjoyment for days. The chemistry is undoubtedly very complex. I’m an undergrad Chemist and wouldn’t want to speculate on the details, compounds, reactions and physical processes involved.


Interesting question.

Nicolas Joly, the noted biodynamic winemaker, swears that his wines improve with extended oxygenation (several days). I’ve read a couple of “experiments” where people drank one of his wines (Chenin Blanc) over several days and the wine was reported to have changed character, and perhaps improves, but the wines never became oxidized.

Sadly I cannot contribute my own experiences on the matter as I have but two of his wines in my cellar, but have yet to taste one.

Eric Texier probably knows a thing or two about this.

If only he used that knowledge. With great power comes great responsibility.

Really Brian? You had to do that?

Anyway, 99.9% of the time I find for my own palate that no wine improves with a day or days of air. David Schildknecht and I had this conversation at one time, where he noted that he often had opened bottles in the fridge for days/weeks that improved or at least held strong. I have not seen that happen. The only instances (rare) where I have seen that happen is with German wines dominated by sulfur. Perhaps that was the issue with the '89 Monchof BA?

I’ve seen people claim that this is true for Riesling Auslese, but I’ve never tried it. Could do, there are a couple downstairs…

Generally I’m the same way - I find wines usually to degrade very rapidly with air, and I almost never prefer a wine on day 2; let alone day 4.

It’s certainly possible, I would think, that a 20-year old Mosel riesling would have too much sulfur. If any wine would . . .

Off-dry Riesling and bubbly are the only wines I can confidently put in the fridge and be 95% sure of enjoying on day 2. Oh, and of course fortified wines that last a varying number of days/weeks/(centuries, lol Madeira) when open. Everything else goes in the Wine Saver Pro and smothered in Argon…

A good friend and I have been on the opposite sides of this argument for years. He’s got a cellar full of nicely aged Bordeaux (all purchased on release). He doesn’t believe in opening a bottle unless it’s going to be finished.

I’ve been regularly putting opened bottles in the Fridge (Vacuvin) for 10+ years. Probably several hundred bottles by now. Some wines get better, a few get worse. Most good bottles are still good after 24 hours, not to say they don’t change. To my palate, the quality (especially balanced structure) is still there.

Try this blind tasting:

  1. Get 2 bottles of the same enjoyable and somewhat ageworthy wine. They don’t need to be pricey.
  2. Open one, enjoy a glass or two, recork it and put it in the fridge.
  3. Put the unopened 2nd bottle in the fridge at the same time.
  4. The next night, open both bottles and pour a glass of each
  5. Have someone disguise the glasses.
  6. Determine which you prefer (as they both warm) and identify the previously opened wine.


Other than very young, very tight reds that improve on Day 2 (really, this isn’t a common experience?), I recall one bottle that really seemed to fit this bill. Or at least I think it did, as perhaps I was in the thrall of groupthink and simply insisted that it must be the case. At any rate, and whether improved or not, the wine was vital, even explosive on the last night… um, this was more like weeks, not days.

2005 Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon Cuvée Le Paon October 30, 2011 - A gorgeously rich, hedonistic, very involving wine. Cracked on October 17th, finished on the 30th, evolving from a warm and satisfying, faintly cloying sugar-and-spice sweetness to a searing, pulsating, technicolor-acid intensity that was decidedly best on its last night. Take seriously the decanting advice: 7-9 days strikes me as a minimum for experiencing all this wine has to offer. Decadently forward yet gauzy, haunting, full of guile.

But what do I know? And certainly even less then! [training.gif]

Count me in the camp of those who are pro mucho oxygen for many many wines. I find that Riesling seems to be the most impervious to oxygenation; I often use the word “bulletproof”. When trying young Riesling, I find that their primary character can mask the layers under the baby fat; without air, you get the fruitiness, but less of the tension of elements, which is really what i’m after. For a tasting that I staged on Monday, with 15 great 2011 and 2010 German wines, I double decanted at 10am, and then left the bottles to slow ox. They showed beautifully.
As a broad swath rule, I often refer to oxygen as the great revealer; if a young wine is spoofilated disjointed poo, it will show so after a day+. A harmonious and balanced young wine will still be harmonious and balanced on day 2…
How to treat old wines is another question.

Good to know I’m not the only one - I can’t think of a wine that I thought was better on Day 2 (or beyond) and to me none of the wine preservation methods are that great. Sweet wines can hold up better, but I can’t think of an instance where I saw improvement in any wine. I suspect strongly that we are in the minority.

I have one of these laying down — sweet!

KR Rombauer routinely let’s his wines sit for days on end before he fully consumes them.

OK, but does he claim that makes them taste better?

I did a “vertical” tasting once with Coulee de Serrant–Same vintage.

  1. open 24 hours
  2. open 48 hours
  3. open 72 hours

The tasters, all pros, didn’t even think it was the same varietal. I opened 05 for the CT Charleston Offlineorama (decanted 24 hours of course [cheers.gif] )

Do you remember which one(s) were preferred?

I have found that , as Rob posits, most Alsace riesling benefits from lots of aeration. (Just did that with a Barmes-Bucher GC “Hengst”…tasted it on days 2 and 3.) And, I think that almost every Dauvissat Chablis I’ve ever had became better on the second or third day, though I almost always try to enjoy them with a meal on the first day (so this development is not the goal) . I’ve also found the effect with Georges Vernay viogniers, surprisingly. I’ve had all of the above happen to me so many times, that I know it’s not a rare occurance. And, I don’t often even try to vacuvin wines.

Reds are iffier, particularly the more mature ones. Sometime they’re a whole lot better the following days…sometimes not. I’ve never really figured out a pattern, particularly with wines at 15-20 years and above.

I have been so intrigued by this effect that I , almost invariably, make sure to leave some wine in the bottle or a glass just to see what happens. I usually evaluate them in the morning, when I have no interest in drinking them and no food to blur their states. Some pretty knowledgable skeptics have been surprised at the results, particularly with the Dauvissat and Vernay wines.