Wine intimidates folks, so I suspect a lot of you might have questions that you are afraid to ask. There are also a bunch of myths out there and I am here set the record straight on a few issues.
1. White wine doesn’t age.
Au contraire. Some of the best aging wines in the world are made from white grapes. Unlike red wines, most whites do not have tannins, which help prolong longevity. However, acidity, alcohol and sugar also promote age-worthiness.
Dessert wines likes sauternes and German eisweins can age for a century or more but wines that do not have much residual sugar like white Burgundies, Bordeaux and Savennières are capable of improving for two or three decades. How do you know which wines will make it? That requires research but wines from the best terroirs, like Montrachet, have a better shot at aging.
2. Once a bottle of wine is open, you need to drink it all in one sitting.
It really depends on the wine. Very few wines are going to oxidize overnight after they have been opened but many lose a little somethin’-somethin’. You can get a wine preservation system to help slow down the oxidation process and keep the wine more vibrant. But if you don’t have a handy can of Private Preserve or a VacuVent, corking the wine tightly is not going to signal its death.
Some wines are even better after they have had a day or two to oxygenate. Barolos, Amarones and the red wines from Priorat as well as white Rhônes come to mind.
3. You can keep a bottle of wine open indefinitely.
This is really a continuation of the last point. I have a friend who is happy to drink an opened bottle long after I would have put it out to pasture. Really, it is a matter of taste, and who I am to argue with people who have a thing for materized wines? However, it can take days or weeks for a wine to fully oxidize, and while I might find a not-yet-oxidized wine tired, not everyone else will — though I would bet that most would enjoy a fresher bottle of the same wine.
As a rule, sweet wines like port can stay open for a month or so — less for older-vintage ports, more for tawnies — because as previously stated, sugar acts as a preservative. As such, dry wines have a shorter lifespan after they have been opened, but most can still be appreciated for a couple of days. Sparkling wines start to lose their effervescence, though I have a few magical stoppers that have kept my bubbly fresh four days out.
Madeira can stay open longer than anything else. I would not know just how long, though as I don’t think it has ever taken me more than a couple of months — winter months with sickness factored in — to finish one.
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant.