Oxygen is the great catalyst of Earth. Wherever air can reach, it combines with chemicals and minerals to make enormous and microscopic changes across the planet.
When you inhale oxygen, your body uses it to oxidize carbohydrates, which releases the energy stored in molecular bonds. This is the energy you’re using right now to breathe, pump blood, and read this article.
When oxygen finds iron, they combine to form rust. This is why bridges corrode and iron-rich clays and sandstones turn rust-colored. Under the same circumstances, copper turns green.
And when oxygen interacts with wine, it releases the aromas and flavors that are bound up in the chemicals and compounds in your glass. Until the peak of oxidation, the more smells and tastes that are released, the more you can enjoy your wine. After the peak has been reached, the continued oxidation of the wine will result in spoilage.
So what does this mean for how you enjoy wine?
If your wine is simple, young, and white, then it’s meant to be enjoyed right away. You can pour it from the bottle into your glass and consume immediately. An open bottle of white wine will not stand up to oxidation very well, and may become vinegary before the end of the week.
Robust, complex, aged red wine, on the other hand, needs to be aired to release all of those intricate bouquets and tasty notes that are waiting to be liberated. Such a wine will be very different an hour after it is opened. When serving one of these vintages, it is good to decant it for up to an hour or two. More than that, and you will have passed the ideal oxidation.
Of course, you may want to simply pour the wine and enjoy it from the bottle right away. As you do so, let the rest sit open, or in the decanter, so that you can experience an enhanced version of the same wine thirty minutes later. These types of wine may last longer in an opened bottle, but don’t expect it to keep more than two weeks.
There are a few products on the market that will assist or expedite the decanting process. Keep an eye out for them at some of the larger Hill Country wineries. One fun option is the Menu Wine Breather Carafe, which aerates the wine as you pour it into the decanter, and then you can pour it back into the bottle; this forced aeration is equivalent to thirty minutes static decanting. There are also aerating funnels to put into the neck of your decanter, or aerating pourers that are inserted into the opening of the bottle.
Finally, heat is also a factor in maturing a wine. Some white wines are truly refreshing and enjoyable on a hot summer day when they’ve been chilled. But chilling a red wine will mask a significant number of its characteristics. Ideally, all wine should be served at no less than 60 degrees, so you don’t miss out on everything it has to offer. A good rule of thumb is to chill white wine in the refrigerator fifteen minutes before you’re serving it, and to take red wine out of the refrigerator at least fifteen minutes before serving.
Now that you know how to best enjoy your wine, what will you be drinking tonight?