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Opening Aged Wine

Looking for some advice from other members. On a recent trip to Tuscany I purchased a bottle of 1988 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello from a small cantina in Montalcino that sold many old vintages of this wine.

I have no idea how it will have held up (1988 was a good vintage in Montalcino at least) but as 1988 is my birth year I thought it would be a fun experiment. The woman in the shop didn’t speak much English but was adamant that I should open the bottle 24 hours before drinking (I assume to slow ox or recork after pouring a small amount) as the wine would be “asleep” and would need a “long time to wake up”. I was surprised to hear this as I had thought that wines of this age should generally be drunk quite soon after opening to avoid further oxidation that could ruin whatever flavour profile is left.

Any thoughts on this?

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Stand the bottle up for a few days, maybe even a week, in a cool dark place before opening. This allows the (probably considerable) sediment to fully sink to the bottom.

I’d then decant very carefully, but not 24 hours before. I’d be tasting it from the off. It’s perfectly possible that it will improve for 24hrs, but also equally possible that it could collapse after 2. Enjoying old wine isn’t always the same experience as tasting younger wines. You sometimes have to march to the beat of its drum.

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As above stand it up for a few days to let sediment settle. If you have a pronged corkscrew use that it open it.

Did she just say open it 24h before, or open and decant? They presumably know these wines well, id personally follow their advice.

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I would be inclined to decant it and taste quite soon after. On that assessment, enjoy 2-3 hours afterwards. If the whole bottle is not to be consumed in one go, transfer the decanted half into a clean 375ml bottle and re-cork and consume the following day.

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Thanks all for the very helpful replies.

@Tannatastic and @AnaGramWords that sounds like the right approach, thanks for the advice. I would hate to taste it 24 hours after opening only to find that it has collapsed!

@Aaronb she did not speak good enough English to get into the nuances of how to open it! I do know that Brunello producers generally prefer not to decant their wines and instead would slow oxygenate the wine (including by pouring a small glass to increase surface area) if it needed air to open up, so I presume this is what she meant.

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TBH, 1988 isn’t that old for a reasonably robust red wine that has been well cellared. I guess the latter point is the main one - there used to be tales of woe relating to aged bottles of Barolo bought direct from the producer which turned out to be shot when opened.

As with others who voiced an opinion, I suspect any reference to 24hrs. would more likely refer to slow oxidation (the “Audouze Method”).

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As per @Tannatastic and @AnaGramWords I’d decant it. It will have deposited a fair amount of sediment over that time. I’d leave it upright for a few days and If possible I’d use something like a claret jug type decanter so that it doesn’t have much space for oxygenation for an hour or so tops, rather than leaving it open for 24 hours.

As @Ghost-of-Mr-Tallis 1988 isn’t that old for something as big and robust as a Brunello, it’s probably still just coming towards the end of its first peak.

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Makes sense - 24 hours in a bottle with a bit poured out would be a lot less drastic then 24 hours in the decanter! I’ve met people in the industry who’ll open a bottle of wine 24 hours before a tasting just by taking the cork out and leaving it, and people who claim that couldn’t possibly make a difference as the surface exposed to air is so small.

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Hervé This did an actual scientific study on this very phenomenon, I can’t remember the exact outcome, but safe to say he was on the side of popping the cork from a bottle of wine makes no difference for a very long time.

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Also having an Ah so or Durand may be helpful.
I’ve opened a few bottles of Biondi Santi from the 83 (my birth year) and whilst the corks have stood up some care is definitely needed

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I’ve done Science on this very thing myself, and it’s very simple to do at home.

  • Get some friends round
  • Have two bottles of the same vintage and wine
  • Open one
  • Wait an hour
  • Open the other
  • Blind taste test

I’ve done it twice; both times the result was that everyone could taste the difference, but most people preferred the one that had been opened, while some preferred the one that hadn’t.

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My bet is that if you found out in advance how long each person liked a wine to be opened before drinking, then poured two glasses at the same time from the same bottle, lying that one was opened close to their prefered time and one wasn’t, there would be a strong preference for the ones they thought was treated correctly.

I say this not so much to make the point that “the whole thing is bollocks”, but rather to encourage everyone to do whatever they think is best. Whether it makes a difference to the wine or not, you will enjoy it more. Or if you are keen to please a guest, do whatever they think is best. And enjoyment and pleasure is the most important thing about drinking wine.

Is it actually all bollocks? Well, I think a lot of it is. There must be some truth lurking in there, but it is very difficult to figure out where it lies.

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The wonderfully complex and compelling science of drinking wine! It’s very rarely the same drink twice. Either the wine changes or we do. Taste buds vary each day so who knows whether it is the wine or the human that has changed. Fascinating subject that beguiles us all!

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…and this is exactly why I did a double-blind taste test.

Single blind, or did you not know which was which until afterwards either?

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  • Open bottle in one room
  • Wait one hour
  • Open second bottle
  • Place A and B cards in front of each bottle
  • Write on a piece of paper in your pocket which is which
  • Everyone leaves room; someone who’s not you goes back in
  • They swap - or don’t - the labels around
  • Everyone can then taste double-blind
  • Reveal which bottle was which
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This could all be down to bottle variation and not infact due to the wine being left open an hour .
I don’t think opening a bottle of wine and leaving it sit there will benefit it greatly . There is too little surface to oxygen ratio to have a meaningful impact on the wine without decanting .
I’m firmly in the “pour a glass” camp or
Decant and drink to alleviate the sediment.

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We did something similar (but probably much more convoluted) doing a blind tasting of ~8 fizzy wines a year or so ago for 10 people covering Aldi Asti to a bottle of Krug one of my more affluent acquaintances contributed. It went something like this:

  • We created a grid on a piece of paper with 8 rows and two columns
  • the grid was then ripped in half with the “pouring” team holding on to one half and the “sticker” team the other (as there was a lawyer in the group we ripped this in a zig zag fashion to prove authenticity at a later stage if required!)
  • 8 groups of 10 glasses (plastic cups) were then set-up in areas with 1, 2, 3…8 in front of them. The pouring team then filled each noting on their grid which wine was in each numbered space.
  • the pouring team left and the sticker team then entered the room and added little round coloured stickers to the bottom of each glass( plastic cup), noting which colour was in each space.
  • glasses (plastic cups) randomly brought out
  • everyone tasted noting which colour they liked the best, etc.
  • at the end the two halves of the grid were reunited showing which wine was which colour.
  • no one suggested the Asti was their favourite :upside_down_face:
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Krug from a plastic cup!

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:scream::scream::scream::scream::scream::scream:

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