Over the holiday I was flipping through one of my favorite wine references, The World Atlas of Wine, doing research for my Wine Journal article and as usual found myself reading about something I had never thought about before. The section was discussing what happens to wine over time, breaking down the wine aging process, and there it was:
Another factor – quite apart from storage conditions, which are discussed on page 42 – is the size of the bottle in which a wine is stored. (Atlas, 42)
Let me explain…in 1863 the French wine trade was becoming unstable because of the amount of wine that was going bad on its way to the consumer. Concerned, Napoleon III summoned the expertise of Louis Pasteur to find out why. It was then that the role of oxygen in relation to wine was discovered. Pasteur found that too much contact allowed bacteria to grow and hence turned the wine into vinegar. On the other hand he found that very small amounts of oxygen allowed to act gradually with wine made the wine mature. There is enough oxygen in the neck of the bottle between the wine and the cork and dissolved in a bottle of wine to account for an aging process that lasts for years. Pasteur conducted an experiment sealing wine into full and half-full test tubes. The results showed that the half-full tube in a few short weeks caused the same deposits and affected color in exactly the same way as extreme old age.
In wine bottles of different sizes (half (375mL), full (750mL) and magnums (1500mL)), the necks of the bottles are all the same therefore, the amount of ‘head space,’ the oxygen between cork and wine, is more or less constant no matter the size of the bottle. This means that there is double the amount of oxygen per volume of wine in a half bottle as in a regular bottle (750mL), and only half as much in a magnum. So the aging effect of that oxygen is exponentially faster in a half-bottle and much slower in larger ones.
What’s the point you say? If you have any half-bottles POP THAT CORK!!! If you are looking to make some additions to your cellar and want the most longevity possible choose these wines in a magnum format. This is especially useful if you are looking to extend the cellar life of domestic wines like California Cabernet. Of course there really aren’t too many things more impressive than pulling out a magnum of 90+ point fine wine at a casual dinner party.
Some cellar-worthy selections available now at your favorite ABC Fine Wine & Spirits:
Pelissero Barbaresco ‘Nubiola’: The Nubiola is impeccable. Dark red cherries, freshly cut flowers, mint and crushed rocks take shape in the glass. The style is focused, tense and energetic. Sweet floral, tobacco and spice notes develop in the glass, adding depth, complexity and nuance. A blast of fruit and floral aromatics leaves a lasting impression.
La Gerla Brunello di Montalcino 2010: Cherry and raspberry fruit meets wild herb, eucalyptus and underbrush aromas and flavors in this dense, muscular red. All the elements are there, but they need time to integrate. The fresh finish is long, echoing woodsy tobacco notes. 94 points, Wine Spectator
Haton Brut Reserve Champagne: A racy Champagne, with a subtle, smoky base note underscoring the flavors of black raspberry, pastry, lemon zest and white peach puree. Tightly knit and creamy through to the spiced finish. Drink now through 2020. 91 points, Wine Spectator
Heather Burton, Wine & Spirits Supervisor
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