Keeping wine overnight
First, the social niceties: Happy New Year! May 2005 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for you all, and may you greet the new year at midnight with something very good in your glass.
For today's discussion, let's touch on a couple of points related to keeping leftover wine after the bottle has been opened.
First, following up on Monday's discussion about keeping what's left of your Champagne fizzy in the bottle, with or without the mythical silver spoon trick, I was intrigued to hear from a number of you that this topic mirrored a recent report on Discovery Channel's "Myth Busters" program. I'm glad to know that the results were similar, and I hope it goes without saying that I didn't see the show or steal, er, borrow their idea - I wouldn't do that without giving credit.
One point bears following up: I'm told that the Myth Busters conducted a "blind" tasting and concluded that their bottle kept with a silver spoon was less fizzy than bottles kept by other means. Unless they left the test bottle so full that the spoon actually dipped into the liquid, creating an "enucleation point" that prompted fizzing, I can see no reason for this other than random variation. A spoon hanging above the open wine should neither help nor hurt - it simply isn't necessary. With or without the spoon, it's actually the blanket of heavy carbon dioxide (CO2) in the bottle that confers short-term protection.
Another reader asked an intriguing E-mail question: What about soda? A bottle of Coke left open in the fridge will certainly go flat overnight, CO2 or no. Why is quality sparkling wine different?
The honest answer to this is, "Gee, I don't know." But here's my best guess: Champagne and other fine sparkling wines made by the traditional process are packaged at much higher gas pressures than soft drinks, and this is why your Coke doesn't go BANG! and send its cap flying across the room when you pry it off. There's more CO2 in Champagne in the first place, and it's integrated into the wine by a difficult, labor-intensive and costly process that's intended to make the carbonation last. Just as the fountain of bubbles that rises in your glass of Champagne persists far longer than the short-lived fizz in Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew, the wine's intense carbonation is made for the long haul.
Finally, speaking of keeping wine overnight, I got a useful - if unintended - lesson on Christmas Day, when we indulged ourselves by opening two bottles with our small rib roast (featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor FoodLetter). With two half-full bottles of exceptionally fine red wine left at the end of the evening, I wasn't comfortable with the usual process of dumping the leftovers down the drain.
So, resisting my hard-core opinion that fine wine starts to deteriorate under the effects of oxidation within hours after it's opened, I stuck the corks back in and left the bottles upright on the counter overnight. We poured them on Sunday evening with a light meal of Christmas leftovers and ... huh! They kept just fine. Although they weren't infants - a 1995 Right Bank Bordeaux and an exceptionally fine 1999 red from Friuli in Northeastern Italy - both were on the tannic side; and 24 hours in an open bottle seemed to soften the astringency a bit while allowing the flavors to open up. If not qualitatively better on the second night, let's say that they changed in subtle and interesting ways and were certainly no worse.
I still don't recommend keeping wine in an open bottle for more than a day or two. But the experience did serve to remind me - and I pass it on to you - that sturdy and tannic reds don't really suffer from just a day's exposure to air, and may even benefit from the process.
I regret that the wines I chose for the holiday - the Bordeaux received as a gift from a friend, and the Friuli wine hand-carried home from a visit to the winery - won't be readily available at retail nowadays. Accordingly, I'll post only abbreviated tasting reports, recording my initial and second-day impressions of these collectible wines.
Livio Felluga 1999 "Sossó" Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Rosso Riserva
A blend of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Friuli's indigenous Refosco, this is an inky, black wine with a bright reddish-violet edge. Black plums and fennel dance together in the aroma, the fruit forward but with a distinct anise note in the background. Mouth-filling and tart, ripe black fruit - juicy sour cherries with a dash of anice - is laced up with lemony acidity. The wine is distinctly tannic, but the tannins are smooth and palatable, and the rare roast prime rib of beef ameliorates them well.
SECOND DAY: The wine has opened up a bit, the anise flavors seem even more distinct, shading toward licorice, and a whiff of blueberry has joined the black fruit in an increasingly complex aroma. Lemony acidity remains a signature, but the tannins are resolving into something like pleasantly bitter dark chocolate. An excellent wine, demonstrating that Friuli's eastern hill country, best known for its whites, is nonetheless capable of producing world-class, ageworthy reds. Hand-imported. (Dec. 25, 2004)
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Chateau Monbousquet 1995 Saint-Emilion
This opaque, blackish-purple wine's clear-garnet edge shows no sign of age. Its rich black-fruit aromas add a subtle touch of earthy "barnyard" and just a whiff of a less attractive, high-toned "dusty" note that suggests volatile acidity at first but that quickly blows off. Full, tart blackcurrant fruit is joined on the palate by just a hint of a warm, nutlike note that suggests incipient oxidation, normal in a 10-year-old Saint-Emilion, and that give way with time in the glass to more pleasant "roasted" old-Bordeaux flavors reminiscent of black coffee. Tannins are still present, but they're subtle and smooth. Despite its minor quirky notes, it's fine, balanced and mature, more traditional in style than I had expected from this maker, who's best known for his high-end offering, the controversial if highly Parker-pointed Chateau Pavie. A blend of 60 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Franc and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. U.S. importer: Signature Selections (Jeffrey M. Davies), South Kearney, N.J. (Dec. 25, 2004)
SECOND DAY: I was more concerned about this one's fate because of the possible age issues detected on the first day, but happily, it, too, held up well. Indeed, it seems much the same - earthy and roasted notes adding complexity to a well-balanced Bordeaux that still shows plenty of fruit, elegance and balance, and the less attractive hints of oxidation and volatile acidity have fled.
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Friday, Dec. 31, 2004