The Daley Question
September 10, 2013
Q: Whenever I dine with my friend and she orders a glass of wine, she insists on the server opening up a new bottle. She says she does not like day old wine and insists she can taste the difference. Meanwhile, I do not ask for a new bottle and I have never had a bad glass of wine. We frequent nice restaurants and have no reason to believe the bottles are sitting for days. Sure, it must be about personal taste but if you have any concrete facts about wine from one day to the next that I can share with her, I would appreciate it.
—Ellen Brannegan, Glen Ellyn
A:There are no absolutes in wine and that goes for day-old wine. It all depends on the wine, its age and its quality.
Air is supposed to be the enemy of wine, except from the infinitesimal and slow exchange found in the decades-long aging of the very best bottlings. Yet many wines, especially those destined for by-the-glass pours, usually benefit from a little airing. The wine's rough edges smooth out and the wine becomes an eminently more sippable pour.
Try this little experiment: Open a particularly brawny bottle of red wine right now. Pour out a glass. Look at it. Sniff it. Taste it. Write down your thoughts. Put a stopper in the bottle and set it aside. Now, go back in a couple of hours, at dinner, and try it again. Take notes. And do it again tomorrow night. Compare your notes. When did the wine taste best? Maybe not the day after but certainly after a few hours because the wine had an opportunity to loosen up.
Bill St. John, the Tribune's wine columnist, wrote an Aug. 7 piece titled: "The bottle half full? Slowing spoilage is all about eliminating enemy No. 1: Oxygen." A bottle of "everyday" white wine will "taste OK" for about four or five days in the refrigerator, he wrote. Ditto for red wine, which he noted should be allowed to come back toward room temperature before drinking.
Most restaurants, particularly "nice" ones, tend to have fancy storage systems in which any oxygen in an open bottle is replaced with inert gases; it's as though the bottle was never opened. And, the wine can thus be held for days if not weeks without any appreciable loss in quality.
Getting a fresh bottle for your friend isn't such a big deal, really, because the rest of the bottle will always get poured by the glass to other customers or used in cooking. You can, of course, avoid this scenario by ordering a bottle between you and sharing. Not only will you usually have more choices from which to order but you are guaranteed an unopened bottle.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: email@example.com. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.
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