Breathing experiment no. 4

As a reminder, I am working on the hypothesis that the main effect of allowing wine to breathe is a slight loss of complexity in the nose. I’ll relieve the suspense and say right now that this experiment confirmed the hypothesis (as did experiments nos. 2 and 3, at least as far as my own perceptions go).

This experiment was conducted 20 May 2017. I used a wine that is often said to benefit from air, a red burgundy.  The methodology was the same as experiment number 3. The wine breathed for 3.5 hours, whereas in previous experiments it has been more like 6. (I realize I should be recording these numbers.)

My three glasses had wine from the decanter, decanter, and bottle, respectively. Here are my notes (written before the reveal):

ddb at first because the right one seemed bit funky on the nose

second thoughts the middle seems slightly spicier, so maybe dbd

right one seems to have a fruitier palate
no difference in tannins or acids

left two more floral on the nose

going with first instinct

This result is consistent with my theory that breathing causes the nose to lose complexity, although in this case some might find the unmasked floral character of the decanted wine more appealing. It is also consistent with the observation that the effect is quite small; note the uncertainty and wavering.

By the way, my friend and colleague Phil Daro sent me a link to this blog post, which in turn has a link to this 1999 article from the New York Times. Reading them almost made me think I don’t need to bother with any more breathing experiments. They confirm my preconceptions. Except Science! Let’s go from preconceptions to statistical evidence. It will take a lot of breathing experiments to do that. The things I do for Science.


Interesting addendum: my daughter wandered in about an hour after the bottle had been opened, and wanted to try the experiment. She identified the configuration correctly (dbd). Her reasons were entirely from the nose: she thought the middle wine had an aroma that was more mushroomy and gamey, whereas the other two she said were more metallic. Possibly my “funky” had evolved into her “mushroomy and gamey” in one hour. Maybe I need to do an experiment with multiple decanting periods.

Breathing experiment no. 3

IMG_0309This was my first breathing experiment using the Coravin, on May 4, 2017. The methodology is the same as before, except that it uses one bottle instead of two. I poured half the bottle into a decanter 6 hours in advance using the Coravin, and left the other half corked under its blanket of argon. I used a Barbaresco because of this tasting note on CellarTracker, which says that “Over an hour or so, pepper and astringent tannins on the palate overcame the fruit.” This suggests a different hypothesis from mine, that breathing causes the nose to lose complexity. Here the author describes a change in the palate.

The only experimental subjects were me and my wife. I rolled the die for her and she for me. Here are the results:

Person Configuration Choice Identification
A dbb 1 b
B ddb 3 b

We both chose the odd wine out correctly, and I correctly identified it as the wine from the bottle. I tried using both the nose and the palate: the third wine had a spicier more complex nose, so according to my original hypothesis it was the wine from the bottle. On the other hand, I fancied at first that the second wine had less fruit on the palate, which would have suggested a configuration of dbd. After a few sips I lost that difference so went with my first instinct. More evidence for my hypothesis.

But! My wife described the difference between her wines so:

No. 1 is different, sharper and more distinctive, with more acid, whereas the other two seem a little more soft.

This seems somewhat consistent with the tasting note on CellarTracker, in that it can be seen as describing a loss of fruit with breathing. Note that I described the same thing in my very first breathing experiment using this methodology. There, however, I also described the nose of the decanted wine as spicier and more aromatic. Which contradicts my hypothesis.

Obviously, more experimentation is necessary. I think I need to tighten up the descriptors a bit and apply them more consistently. For future experiments I will limit the descriptors to more complex/less complex for the nose and more (fruit, tannin, acid)/less (fruit, tannin, acid) for the palate.

Setting up some long term experiments


First, on April 15, 2017 I put a bottle of Chablis outside my treehouse. It is in the shade but will experience the full summer heat otherwise. I will compare it with a bottle of the same wine from inside the treehouse some time in the fall. (The treehouse is my temperature-controlled storage facility.)

Second, on April 23, 2017 I moved 9 bottles from the treehouse to a cupboard in my wine room inside the house. I have more than one of all these wines, so each has a companion in the treehouse. The wine room can get close to 80º F in the summer, compared with 60º F in the treehouse.  I will monitor the temperature and humidity in both places and do a comparison every so often over the next 10 years or so.


After taking this photograph I put all the wines into a horizontal position, the same as the wines in the treehouse. The complete list is:

2013 Arnot-Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon Fellom Ranch
2012 Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cherbaudes
2010 Château Branaire-Ducru
2012 Clusel-Roch Côte-Rôtie
2012 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros
2010 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino
2015 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett
2014 Rhys Pinot Noir Alpine Vineyard
2010 Stony Hill Chardonnay

Breathing experiment no. 2

It was to be over a year before my second breathing experiment. This time I used an inexpensive (but absolutely delicious) Spanish garnacha, and conducted the experiment with my wife, my daughter, and her boyfriend. The methodology was the same as described in the previous post. I asked people not only to choose the odd wine out, but also to identify whether it was from the bottle or the decanter. Here were the results:

Person Configuration Choice Identification
A bbd 1 b
H bdd 3 b
B bbd 3 d
S dbd 3 b

Once again I was the only person to choose correctly, and, unlike the last time, I correctly identified the source as well. It would be strange if this trend continued; random guessing would lead to one third the people getting it right in the long run. But it is too early to make a big deal about it. Here are my notes:

Aroma on 3 seemed slightly faded. Palate indistinguishable.

This experiment confirms my hypothesis that one effect of breathing is decreased complexity in the nose.

One thing I worry about is that bottle variation can confound the results of these experiments. So after this experiment I purchased a Coravin™ (for Science!) and will use it next time to decant half of one bottle. Stay tuned.