By contributing writer Steve Gross
Does wine really “open up?” And, if so, what does the phrase mean? These are questions many newer wine drinkers ask, and the simple answer is “Yes.” Let me explain.
Though I’m sure that there are several definitions of opening up, quite simply, it means that the full range of a wine’s aromas and flavors only become noticeable after the bottle has been opened for some period of time.
If you store your wine in a regular kitchen refrigerator and not a temperature-controlled wine refrigerator, have you ever noticed what happens to a white wine when it’s been out of the refrigerator for a bit? Often white wines right out of the fridge taste thin and watery, with little aroma. Only after the wine has warmed up a bit do the true characteristics of the wine show themselves. By the time you finish your second glass, the wine really shows what it’s made of.
Red wines, however, often benefit from a bit of chilling. U.S. room temperatures of around 70 degrees make some reds taste flat and lifeless. When red wine is just a few degrees cooler, around 65 degrees, you can really taste its true qualities.
Now, I don’t expect you to stick a thermometer into your wine (though there are wine thermometers out there) or pay great attention to the actual temperature of your wine, but the mere fact that wine’s temperature makes a large difference in its taste will help you drink wine under the best circumstances.
Exposure to Oxygen
Wine also interacts with oxygen, even when it’s in the barrel. For the average wine drinker’s purposes, though, “opening up” occurs after the bottle has been uncorked for a bit.
I remember taking a date out to dinner several years ago. I’d ordered a bottle of Cote du Rhone, and since we were having a leisurely conversation, it took a while to finish even my first glass of the wine. It tasted very different than it had when the waiter had poured the glasses. It was so much more flavorful, with more complexity. I’ve noticed that most wines change taste after being open for a while. This does not just apply to red wine, either.
You may have read about decanting, but that’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that as wine is exposed to oxygen, it changes character, often for the better. Some wines taste best the next day, or even two days later (provided that the cork is put back in the bottle). Most wines last a day, maybe three, before starting to taste raisiny and flat.
So, have you ever noticed the difference in a wine’s taste and smell after having been open for a while? Do you sometimes like a wine more the next day? Tell us about your experiences.