Friday, June 15, 2007

To Decant, or Not To Decant?

That is the question. Apparently We can invent controversy over just about anything. Immigration bill - controversy. Is global warming a real threat - controversy. Future of the war in Iraq - controversy. Decanting wine - controversy. Which one of these does not belong with the others?

If you guessed "decanting wine," you're wrong.

The answer is global warming. There is no real controversy here regarding global warming. It's happening and we have to deal with it, and it's going to require creativity, innovation, and social flexibility on a large scale.

There is some controversy, however, about whether or not we should decant wine. People decant wine for three basic reasons:

1) To separate the sediment from the juice.
2) To expose wine to oxygen.
3) To pour wine into pretty crystal vessels, thereby impressing our guests.

No controversy surrounding number 1. Many wines have a lot of sediment as they age, and this can be bitter and unpleasant to taste. Leave the wine to stand upright for 24 hours so the sediment falls to the bottom of the bottle, then SLOWLY tilt the bottle, pouring off the wine until only about an ounce is left at the bottom. I like to then pour that through a coffee filter, just to check it out. It feels good in my fingers, and I like to taste it, just not while I'm sipping the 1986 Sociando Mallet with BrooklynLady on our anniversary.

As for number 3 - knock yourself out. I even do this when I'm alone sometimes. It's fun to decant wine. So Sue me.

The controversy surrounds number 2. All of us heard somewhere or other that we should decant wine to help it open up, to facilitate the fullest expression of its aromas and flavors. Thisis absolutely commonplace. I bet that you regularly decant wine, and if you don't, you don't have a decanter and you're going to buy one. Many producers recommend decanting their wine when drinking it young.

So what's the controversy?

Some wine geek/people contend that if you have to decant wine in order to elicit aromas and flavors, if it needs this "artificially quick" oxygen injection, you shouldn't be drinking it. It's not ready, in that case. Jancis Robinson, in her seminal wine encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Wine, presents this argument in some detail.

I am absolutely guilty of drinking wine before its time. I am still rounding up the patience to age certain bottles. When my resolve falters (and I'm not Dubbya - my resolve does falter from time to time), I decant. But I must admit, I was struck by reading about this - this idea that I shouldn't be decanting or drinking these wines. Decanting will still fail to ensure that the wine will show its fullest expression, and therefore I should probably just hold onto it. But maybe decanting, if done a few hours in advance, can approximate the effects of bottle aging.

This is one of those things that I will never really resolve for myself, unless someone invents a reasonably priced time travel device. If I could taste that 1986 Sociando Mallet back in 1990 with a decanter, right along side the same wine in 2006 decanted (to remove sediment, of course) - maybe I would come to a meaningful conclusion.

Does decanting young wine make up for lack of years in the bottle? Just curious - what's your opinion?


Marcus said...

I think that aeration -- the act of the decanting does nothing. In most cases I suspect only hours and hours of exposure to some oxygen changes the profile of the wine, and then it usually is first a change for the good (making up for lack of years in bottle as you say or blowing off its greenness for roundness), then a change for the worse, oxidizing to a point that flatness replaces freshness.

But then it's a judgment that is fairly subjective and it depends on the type of profile you appreciate in your wine so the decanting question will likely stand the test of time.

Anonymous said...

Working in a tasting room, I've gotten to try wines many different ways and compare the same one over and over. Freshly opened, decanted, after 6 hours, 24, 48...

My experience shows with wine that's too young, decanting does help. But I usually like the way a bottle tastes the second day, without decanting. So I tell people if they can't wait to age it, drink half one night and save the other half for the next.

RougeAndBlanc said...

If I have to decant a wine, I usually only pour a half bootle in there, and stick the rest into a half-bottle, and vaccum seal it for the next day. This way, you can always do a A-B test, to see which way is better.

Joe said...

Well, that takes care of one of my posts! I do the same thing - stand the bottle up for 24 hours, last ounce through the coffee filter fo me to taste. I have cheap glass decanters, so no-one will be impressed. I spend the money on the wine!
This is really not an issue for me. If you are buying good wine, it will have sediment so you have to decant (I don't decant Pinot Noir). More modest wines don't have sediment and cannot withstand the extra oxygen (they get flabby). Drink those right out of the bottle (i.e. Rosemount Shiraz, Ravenswood Zin - great wines, but no need to decant).
For a great red, you have to decant, with the only controversy in my mind being 'how long'? A future topic, perhaps...
Watch how a tannat or pinotage evolve over an evening, see a monster california cab change into something else - it is stunning to sip a great wine over a few hours (or even the next day, as Farley suggests).

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Y'all - thanks for your comments. I like the idea of decanting half of the bottle and saving some for the next day, Andrew, and I have been doing that lately. I did decant a bottle of 2001 California cabernet the other night and it's hard to tell if it actually does anything. As Marcus says, it might actually speed up the "wilting" of the wine.

and Farley - your position would seem to give you special insight into this issue. Interesting that you seem feel that it is time open that makes a difference, not necessarily the act of decanting...

Sorry to pre-empt your post Joe, but I think you should just go ahead and post it anyway. Two posts are better than one.

Anonymous said...
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Joe said...

I will, but work has been seriously cutting into my blogging time of late...Seems like someone is pushing the Nantucket festival...