Once opened, do "better" wines last longer than cheap wines or is it all downhill at the same speed?
A vital question, especially at my house, where, with so many uncorked samples, it's often a slow race to the finish. You may have correctly guessed the answer. Generally speaking – and I do mean generally – "good" wines bid a longer and slower farewell, like the gruesome death of Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs. Better wines tend to be more concentrated, and the compact stuffing helps shield them from the apparent downgrade in quality as oxygen works its corrosive influence. In the case of reds, they also tend to be more tannic. Tannins, derived from grape skins and seeds as well as from oak barrels, act as antioxidants, shielding the liquid from the ravages of air.
It all depends on style, however. A light-bodied, relatively untannic pinot noir, for example, no matter how expensive or good, won't typically taste as sound after a few days as a dense cabernet sauvignon. So, it's important not to confuse apples with oranges, so to speak. All else being equal, a top Grand Cru Burgundy (made from pinot noir) should last longer than a $10 pinot grown on a valley floor in Chile. A pricy cabernet will usually taste better after a few days than a cheap one. Often, in fact, a good, tannic red will improve after a day or two of moderate air exposure as the tannins soften before it begins its descent; not so with most bargain reds.
There are other factors at play, such as acidity and air temperature. Some whites may last longer than reds if kept in the fridge because cool temperatures slow down chemical reactions that turn a wine flat or bruised. And white wine's generally higher acidity can play an antiseptic role, curbing the rise of harmful, juice-souring microbes.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol recently took home top prize for best general English cookbook at the Taste Canada Food Writing Awards. Published by HarperCollins.