Just breathe.

As a wine lover in the U.S., one of the things I find most frustrating is the air of mystery and elitism that drives most people to stick to well-known beer and cocktails.  In fact, I not-so-secretly dislike the term "wine snob" because it reinforces that stereotype. Part of this air is the complexity of offerings, and inconsistency in labeling.  Part of it is the "ritual" of ordering wine in a restaurant. You've probably been there at one time.  Once you get past the seemingly monumental decision of choosing a wine for the table, next are all the other little decisions–What do I do with the cork?  Why is the waiter only pouring a little for me?  Can I send it back if I don't like it?  Do I have to swirl my glass?  Why? What are people looking for when they take a big sniff first?  How do I know if the wine is supposed to taste like this?  All of it can be just too stressful for the less-than-curious drinker.  (Incidentally there are tons of useful beginner's guides out there, including this unfortunately named one: http://www.2basnob.com/ordering-wine.html) This leads me to my point–that final bastion of pretension, the epitome of elitist wine practices, the foo-fooiest of the shi-shi things to do...DECANTING! Nodding in agreement? I did too, years ago. Take a deep breath and let me see if I can change your mind. There are two very simple and logical reasons to decant some wines.
  • To eliminate sediment from an unfiltered, or especially mature bottle
  • To allow the wine to make contact with air, which can improve the taste of some wines by "softening" them, or letting them "open up".
Eliminating sediment If you have an unfiltered wine (often an uncommon red wine, and it usually says "unfiltered" on the label) decanting is one way to make sure you don't get sediment in your glass. Sediment is usually composed of grape skins or solids, and sometimes clear crystals, called tartrates. All of these are harmless, but bothersome if the wine was stored and handled properly. Many decanters have been designed to allow a drinker to pour the bottle into the decanter, then slowly pour from the decanter into a glass, using its thin, beautiful, expensive crystal neck to trap the sediment. At home, I've sometimes used a tea strainer or fine mesh strainer to accomplish the same thing, with less dish washing to do. Contact with air I have to say upfront that a few experts disagree about this. There are some who say contact with air actually starts to degrade the wine giving you flavors that the winemaker never intended. But many more agree that a bottle that's been decanted and given a little time to open can transform the flavors in a good way. I won't get into the science of it because I don't really care about the science of it. I just know that it works. I find that many European wines, especially Italian and Spanish reds benefit from an open-air rest. And the container doesn't really matter.
A fast vertical drop to maximize air contact.

A fast vertical drop to maximize air contact.

At our Rogue's Estate Pizza Party, I hauled along a pretty familiar quality Chianti, and grabbed the nearest vessel when I walked in. Bob's beautiful orange plastic pitcher was perfect. After an hour the wine had given up most of the unwelcome astringency and tannin's allowing the Sangiovese's cherry flavors to present more obviously, and to let some of the more subtle cedar notes out. Bob's sweet marinara and the smokey Vidalia onions really brought the wine to life, and vice versa. Are you someone who likes Cali and Aussie reds, but find most French, Italian, and Spanish reds too harsh? As an experiment, you owe it to yourself to dump 'em in a pitcher, and let them think for an hour about what they've done to you in the past. Tasting notes: 2006 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico A tart Italian grandmother (not your own) right out of the bottle, she gets so much more lovely with exposure to air. Classic cherry and red berry flavors, with a nice cedar backbone and little pepper at the back of the tongue. About $20. Other experiments for the Rogue Estate Pizza Party that weren't quite what I hoped they would be: Grüner Veltliner Hugo 2008 Originally picked to pair with the artichoke and garlic pie, this classic citrus Summer sipper just felt out of place with all the smoke, dough, and a cloudy sky.  Granny Smith Apples, lime, and celery leaf.  About $12. Round Barn Black Currant Dessert Wine (Michigan) Chosen to pair with a peach and rhubarb roasted dessert pie, this was intended to be a study in complementary tangy, sweet flavors, but Jack's coffee stout won out with contrasting flavors. Redgardless, I love this little Starburst of a dessert wine, mostly because I adore black currants.  About $24. Good things come to those who breathe. - Ian

One Comment  to  Just breathe.

  1. Rok says:

    That currant wine was loud in the mouth, wasn’t it? Really informative article – decanting demystified!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *