How I learned to stop worrying and embrace my decanter.

15 Nov

Decanting

A few holiday parties ago a friend and co-worker, who will remain unnamed, learned a valuable lesson in wine sediment. Turning a bottle of 1990 Château Latour on its head, he emptied the remaining two ounces of noble Bordeaux into his Bordeaux glass. Had he been schooled in the art of pouring fine first growth, he would have been cautioned to the dangers of loose sediment in well-aged claret. There he sat, smiling big and proud, his teeth speckled with shiny purple matter, toasting with a glass in desperate need of a good rinse.

Whether or not we should have decanted the Latour is up for debate. Yes, we would have saved our friend from a night of really purple teeth, but we would have lost the fun-loving sentiment of pouring a magnum of Château Latour straight from the bottle. Which begs the question: why do we decant?

There are two reasons why one should decant any single bottle of wine. In fact, there are only two fundamental reasons. Consider the following:

First, if a wine is prone to spitting sediment, it is of the utmost importance to separate the drinkable liquid from undrinkable debris. Wines that have spent a significant amount of time in the bottle are most likely spit sediment after several years of resting.

Second, if a wine is in need of a good punch of air to loosen it up (sort of like fluffing a pillow), decanting can provide that. Simply dumping the wine into the decanter and allowing it to splash will provide the oxygen needed to open it up. Wines that are austere straight out of the bottle are regarded as tight, a characteristic that is often thought of as undesirable. Tight wines have aggressive tannins, piercing acidity and a bouquet that is intense but lacking complexity and expression.

***

So, if a wine aficionado is to take on the disciplined art of decanting then they ought to consider the following:

Really old wine is really freaking delicate. Unlike young wine, old wine is much less stable and suffers more quickly the loss of its character and intensity.  Aggressive decanting is not a friend to old wine, but soft decanting is, allowing the consumer to safely avoid its sediment.

Alternatively, young wine can benefit from splashy, aggressive decanting and the changes that occur once the cork is popped and the wine is poured.  Though it may cause a loss of introductory flavors, it also directs newer and more complex aromas to the frontline—a kind of simultaneous loss and gain of momentum. So one must decide which is more favorable: drinking wine that is sharp, angular and arguably austere or the kind that is smooth, round and complex.

Decanting to remove sediment or decanting of old wine:

After allowing a well-aged bottle to stand upright for at least an hour (if not a month) carefully remove the cork to avoid jostling. Next, grasp the well-polished decanter by its neck and the bottle of wine by its base. Insure there is a light source (candle or flashlight) positioned under the bottle. With a steady hand, softly transfer the wine into the decanter. Stop pouring as soon as deposit arrives at the shoulder of the bottle. The illumination from the light source should provide an easy visual assessment of loose sediment. Taste the wine to insure it isn’t faulty and if it doesn’t suck then begin enjoying immediately!

Decanting young or youngish wine:

As long as you don’t spill it, decanting a young wine can be much more brutish—with splashing to promote proper aeration. Additional use of an aerator can be appropriate for a wine that may take hours to open up. There can be sediment even in young wines, especially if they are unfined and unfiltered, so if there’s a possibility of sediment, be careful that it doesn’t go from the bottom of the bottle to the bottom of the decanter. First, taste to insure the wine is not faulty, then decant accordingly. Pour a sip every so often to observe how the wine develops, and decide when it is appropriate to enjoy.

***

Wine is ever-evolving and ever-changing—in the barrel, in the bottle and in the glass. Though preference is arbitrary, a few guidelines can go a long way to improve any wine experience. So, take it light and enjoy. Should you end up with a mouth full of sediment, smile gritty & pretty and carry on. Salud!

-Jordan Garcia

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