Wine Talk

Snooth User: Ga vino

How long does it take for a wine to lose it's taste?

Original post by Ga vino, Jul 25, 2008.

Good afternoon everybody

I am originally from Dublin (Ireland) and am currently working in a vineyard in The South of Italy. I was having a dinner with some friends of mine the other night, I had bought a bottle of wine for the occasion (a nice bottle of Amarone not too expensive). My friend saw an opened bottle of Saint Emilion (which fell into my bag at Vinitaly in Verona) in my kitchen, he then asked me why don't we drink that instead of the Amarone. I said why not as I couldn't remember when I had opened the bottle and thought that the taste couldn't have changed that much. I remembered opening the bottle about a week before, drank a glass and then put it back on the shelf. The wine was excellent a week before, very fruit driven and round on the palate. When my friends tasted the wine, they said it wasn't a good wine and that I was "ripped off" paying €35 on the wine. These patriotic Italians also concluded that in general French wine is overpriced (btw I love Italians).

I thought about this some days later and felt that their opinion of this wine was unjust given to the fact that it was opened one week before. I then spoke to a professor of enology from the University of Udine who told me that 3 to 4 days after opening most wines begin to lose their flavour.

I wonder should there be a system to see if the wine is too long out of the bottle, or if something exists to avoid these problems. I have tried the taps that you put on the bottles before but it seems that they lose the taste all the same (they might last one or two days longer max).

Have a great weekend to all

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Reply by GregT, Oct 16, 2010.

OWL - not sure exactly what you mean by causing "this" but yeah, a good part of it is oxidation. The reason for cold cellars, sealed bottles and all that is largely to prevent oxygen from getting into the wine.  In some cases, a little air/oxygen is good, but not usually and not in the amounts you'd get by leaving an open bottle on the counter for a few days.

Now as to EXACTLY what is going on, that's more complicated and the surprise is that not a whole lot of research has been devoted to that.  Many different reactions are taking place, and as you know, adding heat to an equation usually speeds things up, so by leaving the open bottle in a warm place, you accellerate everything, both good and bad.  But they don't sych right and you ruin your wine.  Think about what happens when you put a frozen steak into a super hot pan.  You'll char and burn the outside before the inside has thawed.  In a perfect environment, those things don't happen with such radically different schedules.

So in your red wine, you have things like tannins, which give color to the wine and "grip" to it - those are what makes super-strong overbrewed tea seem bitter.  Over time, those polymerize and drop out of the wine.  Or so it's thought - that may not be entirely true either.  But they mop up some oxygen too. However, they do so slowly over years and if you leave the wine in a warm place with plenty of air, they can't work nearly fast enough so you don't "age" your wine, instead you let the oxygen react with things you didn't want it to work with and the tannins are still sitting there.  So your wine will seem bitter and messed up.

Wine contains sulfur as well, and winemakers usually put in a touch because that too mops up oxygen. But again, oxygen is very aggressive and it overwhelms the bit of sulfur that's in the wine, attacking other molecules that should have been protected.

Also, there are many small molecules that are quite volatile - that's why you can smell the wine after all.  Various esters and phenols and similar things disappear or appear as a result of other reactions, or themselves react with new compounds and new ingredients that you've introduced, again usually oxygen.

Larger molecules that are relatively stable, like some of the carbohydrates for example, may not change as quickly.  And the alcohol, which you'd imagine would pretty much dissipate, doesn't necessarily go away as quickly as some other things.  Also, some of the smaller sulfur compounds that give the wine a bit of its aromatic interest combine with oxygen to form newer, larger molecules that you don't detect as readily.  It's what's usually happening when people say that the funky aromas of a freshly opened bottle "blow off".  They actually don't but you can't tell they're there any more.

Most importantly, the ratios of all these things to each other changes.  It's not that there's one single optimum ratio of everything to everything else, but to use another cooking example, you generally don't want more salt in your dish than anything else. If someone served you a pound of salt with a little sliver of beef, you'd wonder what the hell, but a pound of beef with a bit of salt would work out pretty well in most cases. 

Sometimes a young and powerful wine will seem better after a day on the counter, but as a general rule, if you have decent wine, don't leave it there. The fridge is the best place by far because it slows down the reaction rates.  Your wine will warm up quickly enough in the glass once you pour it anyway.  I frequently have several open bottles around and I never leave them out if I think I'll drink them later.  But even in the fridge they don't hold up perfectly.  They've been shaken around and air has been beaten into them and that's enough to start things going.  The best bet is to gently decant into a 1/2 bottle immediately and stopper that bottle and put it in the fridge.  You'll get the most time out of that method.  Interestingly, good tasters can still pick up the fact that the wine has been opened for a while.  I've had people ask me if they could taste a fresh bottle because the wine tasted like it had been open for a day or so. 

The Vacuvin doesn't really accomplish anything because first, it doesn't really make a perfect vacuum, but second and more importantly, the air that's going to damage your wine has already been mixed in by the decanting or by sloshing it around as you pour glasses.  You can do an experiment - get 2 bottles of wine.  Open one and immediately put the cork back, open the other and immediately put the Vacuvin in.  Keep them in the same spot and see if you can tell a difference in three days.  In fact, the tiny bit of air that was exchanged in the neck is unlikely to make any real difference.  It's air that you beat into the wine that matters.

So the moral is - don't ever leave your open bottle of wine on the kitchen counter for a week or two!

Reply by OWL, Oct 16, 2010.

Greg T,

Wow, thanks for all the info.  I appreciate you taking the time to break down oxidation for me.  This is one of the things that makes Snooth such a great resource.

The 'this' I was referring to was, "why does the oxidation" factor not seem to effect my Sav Blanc and other whites"? 

I do make it a point to refer my reds aftering opening.  It does help quite a bit to preserve certain diserable characteristics.  I seldom will leave a bottle on the counter overnight (unless forgotten) and when I do, I usually pay the price with a substantially compromised bottle the next day.  With a few exceptions, I have found almost every red to be undrinkable after 48 hours (left at room temp).

I do like your idea of only decanting half the bottle, and then quickly sealing and referring the rest.  In the past, I have decanted and then returned the unconsumed portion back to bottle & fridge.  Keeping the oxygen contact to a minimum appears to be the key.

Once again, thanks for all the info.


Reply by dmcker, Oct 16, 2010.

OWL, the whites do deteriorate quickly, too, even with the differing level of tannins. Perhaps because their flavor profiles tend to be more subtle than many reds, the degradation may not seem as obvious. But it is definitely happening. For me, whites seem to go bad more quickly, since there are those few reds that do taste better the next day, while that's never the case with whites.

Of course if you're talking about those chemlab experiments that come with NZ sauvignon blanc labels, all sorts of ungodly, unnatural things may be going on and they may actually taste better the next day or even a month later. But that's because they started from a hellish place and never will taste as good as an SB from the Loire or Graves, anyway... ;-)

Reply by GregT, Oct 16, 2010.

OWL - what D says is true, at least the part about the whites deteriorating.  However, in my experience, they actually seem to hold up a little better than reds and I'm not sure why other than to surmise that we're looking at them differently - we're focused on the acidity more than other things and that tends not to change as much.  And in the case of Sauv Blanc, it's usually overwhelmingly full of methoxypyrazines that make it smell and taste like bell peppers, on top of that citrusy acidity.  A little of that bell pepper molecule goes a LONG way - I don't remember the exact figure but humans can detect it down to some ridiculous level, so that may account for your experience with those.

But whites are in a sense more fragile in they don't have the tannins to act as anti-oxidants.

That is one of the problems I'm having with a case of wine I got from someone who wanted to make it sans soufre or w/out sulfur.  And the wine is now oxidized after 3 years thank you.  The corks are good and so was storage so it's what was in the wine at bottling.

Here's an abstract of a study from 1990

Reply by dmcker, Oct 16, 2010.

As you yourself state, Greg, the acidity may hold up, but I'm looking for a lot more than that in my whites. I find the nuances of many whites are quite fragile compared to many reds. Thinner layers to peel off the onion, and a smaller onion to start with. So two days later there are more lesser-damaged reds, in my experience, that are still somewhat drinkable, than is the case for whites.

But they both, frankly, suck by that point, and this is just a relative comparison. Unless we're talking about those crazy winemakers from Sardinia and Sicily whose wines may be bizarrely drinkable in a different way even five days later than they were on day one....


Reply by GregT, Oct 17, 2010.

D - yeah but you drink those whites from the Loire - tooth enamel stripping acidity and herbs.  I fear you're asking too much if you're looking for nuances too.  Sheesh, waddaya want?

Great for sauce tho.  I have too many green tomatoes that are too hard to really use so I chopped them up w some shallots and herbs and capers and poured in some Muscadet and used that for my chicken. 

Reply by The Gourmet Bachelor, Oct 18, 2010.

Buy a bottle of scotch with every case of wine. You want a glass, drink the scotch. You want a bottle, drink the wine.

Reply by rolifingers, Oct 18, 2010.

I think wine looses complexity not flavor.

Reply by napagirl68, Oct 20, 2010.

Read Greg T's replies of recent.  they are absolutely correct.

Reply by JMacey, Oct 20, 2010.

Thanks GregT and Dmcker good to know. Great read. But the best thing is to drink the wine that day. But if you do have any left over. Using red wine for cooking Beef is always good.

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