Slow Oxygenation Method
(by most famous French wine collector François Audouze)
This subject could be controversial as many people think that their method is the good one. I do not pretend that my method is "the" method, I do not pretend that it is "the best" method, but I think that it is a very efficient method. It is based upon more than one thousand wines before 1945 that I have opened myself. And I insist : myself.
So, I have had time to observe what happens, and I will give some examples during the discussion about bottles that would have be condamned by many people, but lived at their best.
It must be said that by opening old wines, the rate of bottles that I declared dead does not exceed one percent. And I have written in my book that very probably more than 50% of wines that were thrown away after being declared undrinkable would have been great wines if I had opened them.
This said how do I proceed ? Let us say that the wine will be consumed for a dinner. The wine is in my cellar. Two days before the dinner, I let the bottle stand in my cellar. It will help the sediment to lay down.
At 9 am, the day of the dinner, I bring the bottle from the cellar in the kitchen and I let it stand.
At 4 or 5 pm, I open the wine, trying to make it move the less as possible. I use various corkscrews, depending on the dryness of the cork that I can observe. I pull out the cork, and if the cork breaks, I try that no part goes down in the liquid. And if some parts fall, I try to pull them out as soon as possible. I will comment further if necessary.
Then I smell the wine, the bottle standing. And my attitude will be commanded by what I smell.
If the wine smells nice, generous, I will close the bottle by putting a neutral cork on the bottle. Because, when the smell is generous, no need to provocate nature. I will open it again when the dinner begins.
If the wine smells like mud, like a closed furniture, like a forest, like mushrooms, I will let the wine as it is standing and taking air for 5 to six hours. And the key of my process is called "slow oxygenation".
What I have noticed is that oxygen is efficient when it is slow. When it is quick, it does not work. A quick oxygen is decanting, which, for me, is totally forbidden. Slow oxygenation is to let the bottle stand. So, one could say : where is the miracle if the bottle stands ? The secret is to let time to oxygen to play its role. And even through a tiny surface, it works and works slowly but surely.
When the wine stinks then I enlarge the surface by drinking some sips. And, be conscious of one thing : even if a wine stinks awfully, the probability that the wine comes back to life without any bad aspect is largely greater than what one thinks. I have saved wines that people wanted to throw away. Just because oxygen is able to cure many many wounds.
And if the stinking signs show that the wine is dead, why would we kill the wine now ? We have time until the dinner to see if a miracle happens. And many miracles happen.
To let understand why the oxygen must be slow, I give the example of a diver. When a diver wants to come back from minus 40 meters to the surface, he needs to do it slowly, step by step. If he runs to the surface, he will die. Same for a wine. Decanting gives the same stress as for the diver. Letting a wine come back to life, just by a slow oxygenation, is the key to success.
Do you know why people do not do that ? Because there is in the popular consciousness that some wines collapse in less than half an hour after being opened. This is a pure legend. Of course it happens. But with my experience, it happens very rarely. I experience the contrary. Wines improve with time, and even improve in the glass.
This method works for red old wines, but works also for the dry whites and for the liquorous.
Generally people open old Yquem at the last moment. But the same wine opened four hours before and kept in a cool place will be more generous.
Do I decant at the last moment ? No. The sediment will be in the low part of the bottle, but as I "eat" the last part, everybody is happy. The lack of decanting has a consequence which is that the glasses will not be homogeneous. The first will be lighter that the last.
So for example, Bipin Desai is against my method as he wants the same pours for the diners. But as I am not obliged to do so, I prefer to have a wine whose structure has not been destroyed through decanting, even if it is a soft decanting.
I must say that with that method, wines appear with a quality that is highly over any other method.
Do not ask me to justify this with scientific arguments. It is my experience which has proved to work wonderfully.
Just to finish, two anecdotes :
I was invited by Jean Charles de la Morinière and his wife, owners of Bonneau du Martray, for a private dinner by their home. And Jean Charles had told me : you will open the wines with your method. And the wife of Jean Charles told me at the end of the dinner : you come back when you want. I have drunk the best Corton Charlemagne ever. I was happy, even if the compliment had more sweetness than reality.
I shared with Jean Charles Cuvelier, of Romanée Conti, a La Tache of a difficult year : 1960. And Jean Charles told me : I have never drunk a La Tache 1960 of this quality.
So .... It seems that it works.
François Audouze Wine Dinners
Traveling The World
Losing my cork