Breathing experiment no. 7: Does white wine breathe?

I was wondering this the other day, so I googled the question and found this article. I took the following quote as a challenge:

Gregg Wilson of The Artisan Cellar in Chicago said a “nice, fat, buttery” chardonnay will “definitely become more so” as it stands.

“You’ll lose some of the acidity, naturally, if a wine is open for a while but you will gain some tertiary flavors and aromas,” he said.

Lose some acidity? How is that possible? I mean, does a glass of Coke lose anything but bubbles over two hours? And HTF does a wine gain any tertiary anything in that time? OK, sorry, putting my science hat on now. I don’t have any fat buttery chardonnays, and if I did I wouldn’t want to make them fatter and butterier, but I do have this interesting 1995 Chardonnay from Kalin Cellars (which I bought for $36 in 2016; they don’t release the wines until they think they are ready, and although the wine is aged the price isn’t).

So Amy and I sat down to a Saturday lunch of prosciutto and melon and a nice aged California Chardonnay, and conducted a breathing experiment using the usual protocol (with 2.5 hours of breathing for the decanted wine). I guessed the configuration correctly, on the usual grounds: the wine straight from the bottle had a richer aroma and, in this case, a richer more honeyed palate. This experiment also confirmed a pattern I have noticed, which is that my very first impression after three quick sniffs, without tasting, is the best guide. There was not a lot of difference between the decanter and bottle; they were both delicious. My tasting note on this wine is here.

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What a lovely nut-brown honied color

Heat experiment no. 2: Shocking!

A couple of months ago I yanked a nice bottle of Chablis from its companions in my treehouse and placed it outside in the torturous conditions of an Arizona summer. Here are the temperature records for the two places:

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Inside the treehouse

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Outside the treehouse

(If you are wondering about that dip inside the treehouse around May 27, that’s when we turned the treehouse into a temporary storage for all the produce and meat for Abby and Brendan’s wedding party.)

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I was going to leave it out all summer but after noticing the bulging cork I decided to have mercy. So Amy and I had a blind tasting experiment, using the same protocol as for my breathing experiments. We both easily identified the odd wine out. But I misidentified mine as the abused bottle. Here are my notes:

The middle one has a slightly dry acrid note, less fruit on the nose, more acid on the palate. Generally a lost of fruit and thinner, less interesting.

So I figured the middle one was the abused one. I was wrong. Of course, after the reveal, I started second guessing, and wrote the following notes (warning, this is no longer Science):

After experiment tried to find a flaw with the abused one. Maybe a slightly toasty funky note on the nose. Maybe a little flabby on the palate. Maybe a slightly sour milk note. And as I taste the wines more, I think the unabused wine has a little more spine and structure.

The abused wine is a little more viscous. More like yummy syrup than a complex structured juice.

This should all be taken with a grain of salt (oh no, yuk) given my prior expectation that heat would wreck a white Burgundy. I was thinking there would be some clear oxidation and discoloration. Maybe I should have left it all summer as originally planned. Tasting the abused wine again tonight (June 12), a day after the experiment, I agree with myself that it is o.k. but kind of nasty. I’m going to pour it down the drain just as soon as I have confirmation on that. Really I am.

The big takeaway is that this exposure to heat did not make the wine undrinkable. Although in this case the difference was much clearer than it was for my previous heat experiment.

Breathing experiment no. 6

You know the procedure by now. The wine was an aged cru bourgeois Bordeaux, which I chose in response to this tasting note:

Initially, the wonderful black fruit is completely dominated by oak, tannin, and acidity. It takes at least an hour in the decanter for the black fruit to start showing.

The decanted wine was aged for 3 hours. Everyone did very well:

Subject Order Notes
Jim ddb 3 decanter more alcohol
Housten bdd 1 bottle had not opened as much
Bill dbb 1 bottle richer aroma
Sally bdb 2 decanter decanted one has less aroma
Amy bdb 2 bottle less bright than the other two

Everybody correctly identified the odd wine out. Housten and Sally also correctly identified the source, although for opposite reasons. Sally chose 2 as the decanter because it had less aroma, Housten choice 1 as the bottle because it had not opened up as much.

I, it seems, agree with the tasting note that the decanted wine is fruitier. This doesn’t support my hypothesis that decanting the wine depletes the aroma, unless you invoke the masking theory proposed in this post.

[Added after posting] Amy’s note, however, agrees with the hypothesis, although she misidentified the source.

Breathing experiment no. 5

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I love this label

For this experiment last night (May 29) I chose an older wine, a 2004 Rioja.  I was interested in whether we would witness the effect described in the 1999 article I mentioned in my previous post:

All four wines [1945 first growth Bordeaux] were dead. Letting them breathe had not improved them; it had killed them.

We followed the usual protocol, with the decanted wine receiving 6 hours of air. Here are our notes on the experiment:

Very difficult to tell. Middle aroma seems a bit richer, so I’m guessing dbd based on aroma.

On the palate very similar.

Amy is guessing 1 is the odd one out.

This time we were both right (Amy’s configuration was bdd), and we both used the aroma alone to make the choice. I’m intrigued by the following tasting note that appeared on CellarTracker this morning:

Classic Rioja with floral tinged red fruit and gorgeous cured tobacco. Fragrant, yet quite tightly wound. This needs hours and hours in the decanter to open things up and let the acidity calm down; it becomes soft and supple when it does. Lovely.

I didn’t notice any difference in the acids, but I have another bottle of this and might try again. Although I should admit up front that I do find it hard to believe that the acid-tannin composition changes much over a few hours. My tasting note on the wine is here. I agree the wine is “tightly wound,” and maybe did not give it enough attention to see past that.