Air Time

There are so many rules about wine drinking, that sometimes I switch to beer so I can give my mind a rest. Decant it. Don’t decant it. Serve it slightly colder than usual. Pump the air out before storing it in the fridge. White for fish, red for steak. Sniff the cork at the table. Don’t sniff. Pop a champagne cork with noise. Remove the cork silently. The rules go on and on. It’s nice to know some basics, but more than often a wine comes along and challenges etiquette. Which means that there really are no hard and fast guidelines to rely on. Wine, like poker, is situational. The way you play pocket rockets must be adapted to each situation. The factors are different each time. Because wines are individuals, each terroir extends nuances to each particular wine. A wine may have a similar flavor profile, but still express itself.

Recently I bought a half case of Artadi Vinas de Gain, a Rioja from Spain, vintage 2003, an atypical year for Rioja. I sensed upon first attempt that the wine was young, and perhaps needed time. I compared the wine to other young, highly concentrated reds and figured that a few hours would help open it up. So I opened the bottle three hours before serving and rested on what I thought was sound judgment. Boy was I wrong. The wine was a hot, tannic monster. What made it worse was that the Remelluri I purchased for back up was drinking exquisitely. I cellared the remaining bottles to try several years later when critics surmised it would be “ready.”

For a Friday night dinner I went to Oppenheimer’s (upper west side butcher shop) and bought the short cut, which is the top of the sirloin. I find it juicier than the sirloin, and reasonably priced compared to the pricier cuts. The Artadi popped into my mind. What if…? This time I would use more cunning strategy. Okay, I admit that I tried the same thing at first, and the Artadi did not relent. So I left it in the decanter and untapped a Chimay. The Artadi remained in the decanter. One day passed, two days. And on the third day, I retasted. The Artadi displayed well integrated tannins, plush fruit, good acidity, long finish and overall balance. By my estimation, it could have matured for two more days. Easy.

Why did this happen? Some wines age better than others, for one. Exposure to air acts as an aging agent. Three days of open air were needed to simulate years of bottle aging. Would this be the same for a young Barolo? Probably not, as the wines are completely different. You can overdo it though. A little too long and you have astringent vinegar. You should check a wine’s aging potential with a critic you trust. Ultimately, I had faith in that Artadi. I believed it would show its true colors under the right circumstances, with the right pushing and prodding.

I guess the moral of the story is to experiment with different wines in terms of how long you should leave it exposed to air or how long a wine can last in the fridge or decanter so as to continue to improve. This is part of the fun of wine enjoyment, and many wines will give you varied results.

Of course, if this appears too heart wrenching for you, pick up a beer instead.