Ever wonder what oxygen does to your wine? Take a guess at which one of these bottles has been opened longest. (*Answer at the bottom of this post.)
When a wine is “tight” or “needs to breathe”, oxygen serves its best purpose. Its aromatic compounds are waiting to grab onto an oxygen molecule and blossom into the savory tastes and aromas we enjoy. How long this takes depends on the wine and the speed of the chemical reaction. Aerating wine accelerates oxygen’s access to these molecules so it can work its magic.Is the oxygen in wine its best friend or worst enemy? The familiar pop of a cork and glasses clinking announce it’s time to see what a winemaker’s art + time has produced. Does this wine need to “open up”? Do we need to “lay it back down”? Is it at the perfect drinking age? These are all questions that venture into the complex chemistry of wine and its development over time. Sitting squarely at center stage in this complex evolution is a seemingly simple molecule – oxygen or O2.
As wine sits in the glass or bottle melding with oxygen, it continues to evolve. If we wait long enough and pay attention, there is a “perfect peak” in which that wine will be at its best on that day. If we put the cork back in the bottle and come back a day or two later, we’ll find those pleasurable aromas and flavors have been replaced with pungent “vinegar” notes and the wine has deteriorated to a point it will meet its inevitable fate – down the drain. Other things happen as well. In the photo above, you’ll see the effect of oxidation on wine that has been opened for an extended period of time. The opened wine has yellowed, indicating the wine (or vinegar) has oxidized.
So while oxygen is both a friend and a foe to wine and we often focus on the evolving reactions, it turns out the real culprit for our favorite wine turning to vinegar isn’t chemistry at all. Stay tuned as we begin a series on the oxidation of wine and how best to prevent wine from being poured down the drain.
- Tom Lutz, Scientist and Creator of Repour Wine Saver
*All of the bottles are the same wine, same vintage, and same varietal. From left to right: 1st bottle was opened on 9/16/16 (not a typo). 2nd bottle was opened and closed with its original cork on 1/19/19. The 3rd bottle was also opened on 9/16/16. And the bottle to the far right has never been opened.