The most important thing to remember is that grape juice and wine are perishable products. Without proper storage and/or preservatives, they will be ruined, just like any other food or beverage. Wines are normally bottled when the winemaker deems it bottle ready. This can mean a number of things, all depending upon the winemaker and producer. They may bottle it when they think it is ready to drink (RTD), when it has gained enough complexity through barrel aging and is ready for bottle, or government laws (ie. Brunello di Montalcino legally must be aged at least 2 years in barrel and 4 months in bottle before release). All of this does not mean that the wine is at it's optimum tasting. Some wines, like Bordeaux blends or California Cabernet Sauvignon, may need to stay in the bottle for a number of years to gain more complexities that only slow aging can bring. Others, like Argentine Malbec, may only need to be decanted and left out for 30 minutes or more.
Here are a few tips on how to handle different wines.
- No breathing for sparklings. Most have already gone through enough aging before release and are RTD. Besides, the longer they are out, the more bubbles you lose!
- Whites can change very quickly. They will most certainly change with air though. Also, remember cold constraints (aroma and flavor is muted when it is cold) and the whites will open more while they approach room temperature.
- Reds- especially young, need air. They were bottled young, can be tight and inexpressive at first, then change to be aromatic and delicious within 30min- 2 hours. Red wines the next day can be even better!
- Dessert wines are minimally affected by open air contact. They have a higher amount of acid, sugar, and alcohol, which will protect them from oxidation. You can keep them on the shelf much longer.
Oxidation is when oxygen molecules combine with other chemical elements and start to take electrons. This greatly changes many substances (ie. metal to rust, wine to vinegar). The wines will change to brown and become unpleasant and ruined. Desirable smells and flavors (primary from the grape, secondary from fermentation, and tertiary from aging) will be destroyed. Do not let your wines reach this point.
When you purchase a wine, check it out on Google. Many experts will give you bottle aging recommendations and if the wine is ready. Most of your higher end wines (Bordeaux, Burgundy, north Rhone Syrah, Tuscan and Piedmonte reds, Ribera del Duero, Napa, and some Barossa Shiraz) will need time to gain complexity in the bottle. Most of your more affordable wines, under $25, are RTD and need only some decanting.
So open those bottles, let the wine breathe, and send the Windy City Wine Guy your feedback!