Wine will oxidize — that is, become brandyish and taste funny — within 24 hours after you open the bottle. Oxygen gets into the bottle, and the same thing happens to the wine that happens to a cut apple. This has been true for decades, and the wine preserver industry, including Coravin, nitrogen systems, and vacuum pumps, has become a multi-million dollar business because of oxidized wine.
But what if post-modern winemaking technology has made oxidation less likely? What if the wine business has discovered how to keep wine from oxidizing with 24 hours, so that it will last days or even a week? In fact, this seems to have happened, and especially with bottles from Big Wine. That has been my experience over the past 18 months — bottles, red and white, left on the counter for several days and closed only with their cork or screwcap, tasted just as fresh as they did when I opened the bottle.
So I checked with a well-known and award-winning California winemaker, and he said I was right. He asked not to be named for this post, given that he was letting us behind, as he called it, the wizard’s curtain. “The science of wine has advanced immeasurably in the last 20 years,” he told me. “And, in part, that is why a $6 bottle of wine does not taste like crap anymore.”
There is lots of science in his explanation (“build stronger chains of anthocyanins and phenolic compounds”); more than we need here. But wine is oxidizing less quickly because:
• Grapes are riper than ever when they’re harvested. This has led to more stable phenolics, which is the compound in grapes that adds color, taste, and helps preserve it.
• Adding more tannins to the wine, either oak, grape-derived, or from other exotic hardwoods. I actually have a bottle of liquid tannins in a desk drawer that I got at a trade show. If your wine isn’t tannic enough, you can dump it in.
• These added tannins, combined with a technique called micro-oxidation, which adds oxygen to the wine at certain times during the winemaking process. This means, said the winemaker, better wines with improved color, richer flavors, and better shelf life. “This is a novel idea,” he said with a laugh, “since the industry has for so many years maligned oxygen and taught the exact opposite. But oxygen is good.”
Is this true with all wines? Probably not. But for the majority of wine that most of us drink, oxidized wine is apparently one less thing to worry about.