If you open a bottle of a young red wine and leave a half-full bottle without refrigeration, chances are it’ll be oxidized by Day 3.
To keep reds a bit longer, refrigerate leftovers. They’ll be fine for a few extra days, allowing them to warm up a bit before retrying. Cold slows down chemical reactions; heat speeds them up.
Most of today’s red wines aren’t made for long aging. Oxidation is the prime reason. Wines with high acid and low pH withstand the ravages of oxidation better than most. Some even improve and are candidates to age for years in a cellar.
This topic is complex and even challenging to wine scientists around the world. Winemakers often disagree about what’s at play here.
In the last 11 years, I have discussed this with winemakers and scientists and have done much informal analysis leading to a personal theory that involves a new idea about aging that no one else, to my knowledge, has ever propounded.
In 40 years evaluating wines, the one thing I’m proudest of is consistently choosing wines with great aging potential. I can count on one hand the number of wines that we aged without success.
But it’s not guesswork. I cheat. I analyze wines for their chemistry. High acid and low pH are two vital issues for all wines to age well. This is well known. Low-acid, high-pH wines generally are doomed to die young. Another key: wines that taste great when they’re young frequently are not for long aging.
My latest theory, I believe, adds a parameter to the aging argument that science has yet to prove: Wines with rotundone age better than most.
Rotundone is a naturally occurring chemical that’s rare in wines but seems to either block or mask oxidation. When present, it can benefit red wines by giving them a sort of insurance policy against premature aging.
Rotundone is created in certain grapes, from certain cold regions, and especially in cool-to-cold vintages. Simply put, any red wine that smells like it has both black pepper and violets in its aroma probably has rotundone, in varying concentrations.
It seems more common in syrah, grenache, gamay noir and a few other red wines. I have only occasionally seen it in pinot noir and only once in cabernet sauvignon (from British Columbia.)
I was one of the first to write about rotundone (2007). It was identified in 2006 by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) after much costly research. Since then I have sought examples to prove my theory that rotundone, especially in large amounts, either blocks or masks oxidation and assists wines in their aging.
I have discussed this theory with key scientists at the AWRI. Most suspect my thesis is accurate, but because the research is so expensive, they haven’t investigated it.
California winemakers generally agree with the idea, including some star winemakers such as David Ramey of Healdsburg. He suggests there is something to the idea that black, peppery wines resist deterioration.
I have had several wines that display rotundone’s “black pepper and violets” aroma. They can be more evident in the red wines of France’s northern Rhône, reds from Australia’s cold Victorian highlands and in syrahs from parts of New Zealand.