Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

I'll Probably Get Kicked Off the Forum for This Heresy . . .

Posted by EMark, Mar 12, 2014.

. . . but has anybody participated in, or read about, a blind tasting of multiple samples of the same wine that have been opened for varying amounts of time?

Many years ago I subscribed to Stereophile magazine. Not that I could afford the high-end equipment that they reviewed--heck, I could barely afford the magazine subscription--but I enjoy music as much as the next guy, and I wanted to learn what was out there beyond the consumer level equipment that I had--Sony/Dual/Akai/AR.  I thought it was amazing that when they discussed their testing protocols--or even when one of the letters from a reader reported on his just-sit-down-in-the-evening-to-listen regimen--they would turn on the equipment two hours ahead of time to warm up.  Of course no diehard stereo buff would stoop to having equipment with transistors.  I guess the warm up was for the vacuum tubes.  

Two hours to warm-up those tubes to maximize aural enjoyment?  Give me a break.  In order to sit down and list to an hour of music, they would plan ahead, and turn on their equipment two hours prior.  Would it sound so horrible if I just turned it on and put on a record?  Probably not to my less than perfect ears.

Well, you know where I'm going, here.  I read a lot here about "making sure you open up a bottle hours before plan to drink," and, maybe, even decant it.  I get the decanting bit when it comes to removing trying to avoid sediment, but in all honesty, I never do it.  I am to lazy.  It's easy enough to stop pouring into my glass when I see sediment about to come out.  Yes, some does get in my glass, but it really doesn't bother me.  I even chew it, sometimes.

I do agree that as I am drinking a wine, it does seem to improve over time.  I have to ask, though, did some reaction occur in the glass that changed the taste, or am I deceived by my palate and taste buds that have been anesthetized by alcohol?  (I know that the answer to the question posed in the previous sentence is, "Yes.")

I can also report that there have been times where an unfinished bottle of wine tastes better on the second day.  However, I can also report that there are times where an unfinished bottle of wine does not taste as good on the second day.  So, that is pretty inconclusive.

So, again, has anybody experienced some sort of test that has a blind methodology in which a taster is offered, say, six random tastes of the same wine--two of the tastes are from a just-opened bottle (or, maybe, bottles), two of the tastes are from a bottle that has been opened for, say, an hour, and two of the tastes are from a bottle that has been opened for, say, more than two hours?

I am hopeful that GregT pops in here and provides a link to some paper by some dedicated researcher that gives me more confidence in this regimen.

OK, I just did some searching and found this blogger's article.  I'm not sure that this article is definitive, but it is enough for us to discuss.

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Reply by duncan 906, Mar 12, 2014.

Wine often changes with time. I have one or two bottles of red wine a week and usually open it to have with my dinner in the evening and only drink half and often think it has changed when I finish it off the following night. However you have to remember that there are a thousand and one variables that affect the taste of the wine so this is not really a scientific discussion. The food you are eating will affect your perception of the taste of the wine. Even more important is what mood you are in and how relaxed or otherwise you are as well as the company you are in and the ambiance of the occasion.. I have had wine in the sunny South of France in a good restaurant with nicely cooked food with a pretty lady who is smiling and laughing and thought the wine superb, bought a bottle of the same wine, had it at home and then thought it was OK but not all that good

Reply by dvogler, Mar 12, 2014.

Amen Duncan.  The pretty lady adds a lot to the experience  :)

EMark, it's not a bad idea.  But I find with my tastings that it evolves enough that we can sense those differences within an hour and a bit.  I don't always decant for tastings, unless they're big brutes.

I find that I'll enjoy them better the next day (like spaghetti).  Okay, not great doesn't make it to the next day, but the ones I'll open for myself for a glass or two...they're typically not what I'd call great.


Reply by Bluegirl, Mar 12, 2014.

I too will drink a couple or three bottles of wine in a week, half one night and the other half the next night. It seems to taste the same as when opened. I'm thinking it may clash with what I've had to eat that day, but the taste of any wine I drink can change from time to time. I'll like it one time and not another. I'm bad, I won't wash a wine glass before opening up a different bottle and sometimes I'm surprised at how good it tastes. Go figure. 

Reply by Lucha Vino, Mar 13, 2014.

Well, I do this all the time.  Not blind.  But tasting and comparing wine over a consistent period of time. 

The way wine changes over time (typically improving) is one of the things I love most about it.  Wine is also one of the few beverages that you can say improves after being opened and sitting around for a while.  I just posted a new entry to my Lucha Vino blog where I compare a Washington wine to the same wine from a different part of the world.  I taste and compare the wines when first opened, an hour later and a day later.  I am getting back in the weekly wine writing groove.  Which also means I am getting back in the wine tasting groove too.  Just in time for Washington Wine Month!


Reply by JonDerry, Mar 13, 2014.


The experiment you propose has a bit of a flaw I wouldn't feel comfortable with, and that's bottle variation.

One thing that could be done to circumvent this issue I would suppose would be to get a large format (preferrably) bottle of a given wine and create different samples based on different decanting techniques. You might leave one sample in the bottle (slow ox), another in narrow decanter, another in a wide bottom decanter, another maybe just left in a glass. Taste the samples after an hour, then two hours, etc.

Reply by EMark, Mar 13, 2014.

You are absolutely right about the bottle variation problem, Jon.  I was, in fact, thinking about that when I proposed my test scenario, and I alluded to it by suggesting that multiple bottles be used, but that is not the best solution.  The best solution would be repeated tests, with multiple wines and with multiple tasters.  That way bottle variation cold be statistically eliminated as a factor.

I really wish that some university researcher would get a grant to perform rigorous, statistically definitive tests and publish the results.  I would think that this would be appropriate research for any number of university enology or, even, hospitality programs.

In the meantime, we have to rely on conventional wisdom that tells us that young tannic wines "open up" when exposed to air, and anecdotal reports like the one I linked, above, that suggest that conventional wisdom is not as wise as we think.

Lucha, why don't you just wear your mask backwards so that you can taste blind?  

Reply by GregT, Mar 13, 2014.

Emark - how could I resist? The answer to your question is yes, some of us have done these kinds of tastings on multiple occasions. In fact, when I'm pouring at an event, it certainly happens. We may have a wine that's open for hours and another that's just opened and I taste them all, mostly to see if they're flawed but also to see if it really makes a difference.

I should say that I open more than just two or three bottles a week and I pretty much never decant or open ahead of time, not because i'm opposed to the idea but because I don't know what i'm going to open until I open it.

That said, the blogger isn't entirely correct. He is correct in that many, and even most wines, probably can be popped and poured.

So why do you decant or open ahead of time?

The most obvious reason would be to get rid of sediment - you carefully pour the wine into a decanter and leave the sediment in the bottle - people do this with vintage Port very often.

But there can be other reasons. As we know, wine has sulfur compounds in it. Sulfur is found naturally in the grapes and it is also added by winemakers to prevent oxidation. So what exactly happens with that sulfur?

When a compound looses electrons, we call it "oxidized". When it gains electrons, we call it "reduced".  Sulfur goes either way. Oxygen is very reactive so we put sulfur in the wine to mop up excess oxygen. When you combine burn something, you oxidize it so combining sulfur and oxygen by burning gives you sulfur dioxide.

Oxygen reacts with phenols and other compounds in wine, turning your wine brown. It helps create acetaldehyde, which is what you get from rotting apples as they oxidize. It reacts with sugars and other things that we want in the wine.

So people add sulfur dioxide to the wine. When that's added to your wine it dissolves into an ionized form and creates sulfites. 

Now sulfur is also pretty reactive, although not as much as oxygen. But the dissolved SO2 reacts with various compounds to prevent their further reacting with oxygen. The interesting thing is that the sulfur compounds don't react with the oxygen itself, because at the pH of wine, there aren't a lot of free sulfites.

Howoever, when you have more sulfur than you have oxygen to deal with, you can get different things. You might get a reduced form of sulfur, or sulfides,. For example, you might get H2S, or hydrogen sulfide. That is also what you get in rotten eggs. It stinks. Most sulfur compounds stink. H2S is usually formed by yeast, but it can occur from any number of sources, including use of sulfur in the vineyard.

Those sulfides can form larger sulfur compounds called mercaptans. Those stink too - smell some fermenting cabbage for example, or saurkraut.

What does any of this have to do with letting wine breathe?

If you open a wine, you have some aromas that have developed in the bottle. Some from the sulfur added, some from things like brett. The bottle is a reductive environment, i.e. there should not be oxygen available. Some of those aromas will simply dissipate into the air. Others react with the newly-available oxygen to form new compounds. Small molecules like H2S are very volatile, so we detect them. When they combine with oxygen and other things to form larger molecules, they become heavier and less volatile and guess what? We don't smell them any more. They fall back into the wine and we don't detect them.

So it's absolutely untrue that nothing ever happens by letting a wine breathe.

Because of that however, it can be a serious mistake to let an older wine breathe. Some of the aromas and flavors can become very fragile. Having been locked up for many years, the wine may have only whispers of what it was left. If you decant one of those wines, by the time you get to it, it may simply be dead.

Between those poles there is a spectrum of possibilities.

My advice is to decant, or let breathe, only wine that you know well. If you're certain that the wine needs breathing, or that it won't be harmed by being open, then do it. Very often a wine does change over time. But for the most part I figure why not let that happen in the glass?

Note that this ignores bottle variation and our own changing perceptions over time.

Reply by EMark, Mar 13, 2014.

Outstanding, Greg.  Thank you, very much.  I will, of course, be checking your science with my brother, the  chemist (U.S. chemist, not British chemist).  ;-)

Let me ask this question.  It appears that the reactions that occur when opening a bottle to let it breathe are primarily affecting only the odors/aromas that we perceive through smell.  Is that correct?   If that is case, and since the sense of taste is tightly coupled with the sense of smell, then I can see how a change in taste can be observed.

BTW, like you, my choice of wine is usually a "game time decision" that is made right after I realize that I'm getting hungry and am ready to nosh while preparing dinner.  That is why "prepping" the wine usually is not a part of my plan.  I am, however, getting close to opening some of Outthere's recommendations (I'll put up with his calling me a baby killer.), and, so, I will take his advise and try to open them up well before my stomach wakes up and starts to get cranky. 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 13, 2014.

Damn, GregT, you beat me to it.  ;-)

We've learned some valuable things already on this thread:  Probably a pretty woman sitting across from you in a sunny bistro is Southern France has more impact than aerating, especially if she is wearing a chic summery dress and has really nice legs.  (Okay, that adds a couple points to any wine IMO.)  Bottle variation could throw things off.  GregT opens waaaay more than a few bottles a week. 

I'm pretty sure I knew those things already, but repetition solidifies our knowledge.

Here's an informal way to test this theory:  You are at a reception, say wedding or bar mitzvah, where they have many bottles of the same wine.  Go up to the barkeep as he/she is getting to the end of a bottle that's been open for a while and is about to run out.  Get one glass of that one and then, as he/she opens the second bottle, ask for a second glass "for Mrs. Emark."  If you really want to test this theory, ask him to let you take a bottle back to the table, then wait quite a while and repeat the first stage--get a couple glasses, one from the just opened, one from the about to finish, and grab an empty glass for your long-open but sequestered bottle.  Crash enough weddings and the like and maybe the experiment becomes somewhat scientific. Designate a driver.

What we can say is that opening a bottle with a high fill level and leaving it to sit for twenty minutes probably has no meaningful effect. My parents did that with mediocre wines when I was a kid, and I'm pretty sure it slowed my wine education down quite a bit.  I forgive them, of course.

And I definitely agree that the wine tastes better as the bottle goes down, and it has a lot to do with the effect the wine is having on us, not the air on the wine.  Clever evolutionary trick--no wonder humans became the greatest source of grape propagation so quickly.

Reply by EMark, Mar 13, 2014.

Fox, the problem with your suggested wedding reception test, and, in fact, with Greg's experience of testing on the fly at tastings is that it is not blind.  You know/he knows which one has been open to the air.

It is hard for me to argue against conventional wisdom, and Greg's explanation is wonderful.  On the other hand, I think this is an area that can be researched scientifically.  it is worthwhile for somebody to put it a rigid test.

Reply by GregT, Mar 13, 2014.

It can be researched but there are a few problems with the research. (And with my post - for some reason the edit function isn't working)

Anyway, there's research enough to know that what's happening when people says certain aromas "blow off" is that they're not blowing off, they're just becoming bigger molecules and are therefore not as noticeable.

But there's the more important issue of subjectivity. We all perceive things differently, and things like "good" and "bad" are highly subjective. So the perception of improvement over time is not going to be objective and it will still be up to you whether the changes, if any, are worth the air time or not.

As far as whether the changes are due to the sense of smell or other, that's a whole thread and a whole treatise.

We "smell" through our noses. Dogs do too. An odor molecule locks onto a neuron, that goes to our olfactory bulb, get's processed, and goes to the cortex. Dogs have lots of odor receptors and they can sniff about 8 times per second. Their nostrils are configured so that the exhalation goes out those little slits on the side, while the inhalation goes through the round holes in the center. Their noses are tuned to gathering information by sniffing.

A rat on the other hand, has fewer receptors, but has a more complicated olfactory bulb, so they can match more molecules than a dog and maybe 10 times the number of molecules that a human can.

But humans are not lacking. The retronasal passage for a dog is long and small. The retronasal passage for a human is short and open. It allows "smells" from our mouth to get to the olfactory bulb very quickly. Even more interestingly, some of those nerves go directly to the frontal cortex and some go to the emotion centers of our brains. No other sense does that. Sight, touch, and hearing go thru the thalamus only.

The sense of smell/taste for humans is one of the most complicated and takes up a large part of our genome. 

More importantly, humans get most of their information from retronasal "smells". Because those come from inside the mouth rather than outside, the brain locates them in the mouth and we mix things up and call them flavors. Moreover, the exact same odor molecule stimulates different parts of the brain depending on whether it comes through the nose or from the mouth. So we need to be careful when we talk about "smell".

While dogs get information from sniffing through their noses, there isn't much processing done beyond that. OTOH, humans get most of their information from their retronasal passages and they process it in their cortex, which is vastly more advanced than that of any other creature. We enjoy flavors and aromas and tastes more than any other creature but we create most of those things in our brains. Some of the nerves that bring the information in go directly to the parts of our brains that deal with emotion.

Some people think that the extraordinary development of the human brain, particularly the cortex, has to do with food itself because as humans discovered cooking, which changed and improved their foods, and as they applied it to a wider variety of foodstuffs than most other animals, and as they sat around the campfires talking, they were talking about and analyzing their food.

Who knows? All we know is that we perceive things through many mechanisms and we need to be careful when we talk about "smell". Most people use it to mean orthonasal smell, or sniffing, but the information conveyed to our brains by that route is only a small part, and a different part, of what we convey through our retronasal route. So those sulfur compounds - we can pick them up as aromas, but we can also "taste" them as metallic, bitter, etc., because our brains conflate smell and taste.

Going back to the old wine - whether it's a "smell" or a "taste", we can miss it if we let it get away before drinking the wine.

For younger wines it may be different but in any event, many of the reactions with wine have to do with oxygen and most can probably be measured, but Fox points out something that is absolutely correct - many of the changes have to do with ourselves!

Reply by edwilley3, Mar 14, 2014.

This is a topic on which I have strong feelings. I have had wines that were dramatically worsened by air such as a disgusting Patz & Hall 2007 Zio Tony chard. It was unimpressive (for $60 at retail, to make matters worse) at the open, but after a night at half fill in my Eurocave it was awful. A 2012 Arietta "On the White Keys" didn't deepen at all in the Eurocave and just tasted a bit more oxidized. (It tasted sort of New Zealand like in the beginning which in my book is not a good thing.)

In general I have found that the greater the intensity the wine the more likely it is to open up with significant air. For something like a massively intense Marcassin or Peter Michael chard, a full daytime decant helps to draw out nuances and perfumes. The nuances on the nose and overall level of perfume are increased by orders of magnitude. For really large zins and big Bordeaux blends from California, the magic point in a decanter seems to occur around 9 hours. Eight hours in a magnum size decanter on a Verite La Joie doesn't cut it  - the wine still seems brooding and dense. But give it another few hours and the wine seems much nuanced. Yet I wouldn't decant an old Bordeaux or Burgundy for 9 hours. 

Look, if I'm going to drink a true premium wine (ignoring marketing speak and segmentation) with a retail price of $100 or more I don't want to miss half the flavor. I won't reject a tasty wine that has not been decanted, but I'm inclined to pop almost anything I drink at home (including chards) into my decanter. Lest you think I'm crazy, try decanting a bigger Sonoma chardonnay for a couple of hours and see what you think. 

Reply by napagirl68, Mar 14, 2014.

I agree with EdWilley3- this is bottle, or more importantly, winery dependent.   Take a bigger, fruity wine from Lodi or Amador, CA....   That is probably NOT gonna improve with hours opened.  The way I judge it is by my first taste out of the bottle.  If it tastes "tight" or tannic, it will prolly improve with time- time being on the few hours realm (not days!).   If I don't finish a bottle of any wine (red or white), I do a crude thing and put it back in the refrig to stop oxidation. When I am ready the next day, I let it come to room temp on the counter.   It CAN be great that next day, under those conditions.  It may open up, even under those low storage temps.  But I have found most wines will oxidize to the point of undrinkability, even under cold storage, after just a few days. Also,  I NEVER leave a bottle open at ambient room temp.  I have found almost all of them, regardless of RS, tannins, etc,to be undrinkable (or somewhat changed in a negative way) at a little over 24hrs at room temp.  Of course restaurants and bars can utilize special storage with N2, other gases (O2 displacement), etc for longer term storage.  Most of us don't have that at home. 

In the end, I don't know if this has been scientifically approached in a quantitative manner.  Sometimes, and at some point, one has to abandon science and fall into an embrace with the art of things.  I think this is that time.  Good winemakers form a relationship with their wines and taste over time.  They can then advise on drinkability windows, and how a wine progresses.  But there are just too many variables for what goes on at home, once the wine leaves the winery, for anyone to quantify.


Reply by dmcker, Mar 14, 2014.

Mark, good choice of subject  since you've obviously generated a healthy response. Wine does evolve, in many ways, so why would you think discussing this is heresy?  ;-)

However, seems like we're discussing a smorgasbord of issues and practices here, that could even be the subject of their own threads:

  1. ageability of a wine after bottling
  2. drinkabie window of wine from a bottle once opened
  3. how to deal with an unfinished bottle once opened
  4. winemaker styles and how they impact the above
  5. grape variety and how they impact the above (not just single varietals but blends, too)
  6. wine oxidation dynamics in general
  7. personal taste as to how 'mature' a wine one likes
  8. value and purpose of decanting (amongst other purposes can it instantaneously telescope the wine's aging process, to whatever degree?)
  9. structuring of wine tastings (blind, how long kept in individual glasses, and so on)
  10. etc., etc. (too fatigued on a Saturday morning to read through the whole thread once more)

Perhaps we might drill down a bit more on each issue before skipping on to several more all at once? Sorry if this comes across too snippity. Haven't had my coffee yet today...  ;-(

Reply by GregT, Mar 14, 2014.

Cripes D - you just generated 10 different threads.

I've been reading a lot lately on neurological issues, but you have completely different areas to explore.

However, I can talk about #9 with some small degree of authority. Tastings are 12 - 15 people and a glass for every single wine. No flights, or 1 glass for everything. That way there is absolutely no issue with the order of wines, etc. You should be able to taste every wine against every other wine. And shut up until every person is done tasting all the wines. I don't want to know that you found pepper on this one and heat on another.

Once everyone is done and has scored the wines, then we can talk. That's what I've been doing a few times a month for many years now. Some people make excuses - e.g. "the wines are changing", etc., but eventually you figure it out.

If a few hours of having a wine in your glass does not make a dif, then maybe decanting isn't really going to help.

Number 7 is extremely important. Some people like wines older than others. I had 2 really close friends. One called the other a necrophiliac. They both had excellent palates but one kept his wines at 52 degrees and he liked them young. The other loved wines that were at least 30 years old. Both were right.

Good list except that as for #5, don't limit it to a specific grape. A blend is a very different thing and we dont' drink monovarietal wines exclusively now do we?

Reply by napagirl68, Mar 15, 2014.

Here we go!

Reply by dmcker, Mar 15, 2014.

Heh, heh. Love that editing function (remember those years when it didn't exist?). Just added your very pertinent comment, Greg, about how blends behave differently than single grape varieties. Duh.

So do you honestly want to spin these out to 10 different threads, or continue discussing them here?

Gonna need a LOT of coffee (to stay on point that is; lots of wine might work, too, but expect plenty of meandering after awhile...).

Reply by GregT, Mar 15, 2014.

Different threads yo.

And NG is going to contribute!

Reply by dmcker, Mar 15, 2014.

OK, Greg, will get to the thread generation by tomorrow.

Have to respond to your California-confliction in that other thread before then...  ;-)

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Mar 19, 2014.

No way.

We burn heretics.

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