People often ask me about decanting wine. They usually want pointers on how to conduct the intriguing ritual, but decanting is more than simply a stylish way to serve wine – it can actually make it taste better.
There are just three things to remember about decanting – first, decant a young red wine to soften its tannins; second, decant an old red wine to leave its natural sediment in the bottle; and third, it’s fun, easy to do and earns you instant wine geek points amongst your friends.
Decanting Young Red Wines
Decanting amplifies the subtle flavors that are over-powered by a young wine’s tannins. Allow me to draw an analogy from the world of music, where a descant is “an ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme.” Descants are subtle and easily missed if the bass section is left to their own devises (with apologies to the great Chamet Moffett, bass players see every piece as a solo).
Well, drinking a young red wine is like an orchestra with over-enthusiastic bass players. The wine’s dominant bass notes – its tannins – overshadow the wine’s finer points. But pull up our soundboard, turn down the bass and amplify the treble a bit… “voila!” our music is balanced – and the descant is audible. A decanter is like a soundboard for wine.
How Does Decanting Work?
Decanting begins a natural, aerobic chemical process – that is, it uses oxygen to change tannin molecules. When a wine is left for years of quiet repose in a cellar (or closet, or under your bed, or wherever you store your wine), the same process occurs very slowly, using the trace amount of oxygen in the bottle. Of course, bottle aging adds additional taste benefits that can’t be replicated simply by decanting. But tannins can be softened in relatively short order, so if you lack storage space and a decade to wait, decant!
Why Don’t We Decant Young White Wines?
Some young white wines will benefit from decanting, but since the primary purpose is to soften tannins, and since tannins come from the grape’s skin, and since most white wines are separated from their skins before fermenting, well you see where I’m going with this…
How To Decant A Young Red Wine
It is not uncommon to see people decanting a young wine in the same way they would an old wine. Buyt an old wine is decanted for a very different reasons – to separate it from the sediment which occurs naturally during the aging process. This requires surgeon-like concentration, a steady hand, a very slow and gentle pour, and a light behind the bottle to reveal when the sediment begins to flow into the decanter.
Decanting a young wine is easy and joyous by comparison! A young wine has little or no sediment, so the objective is to introduce oxygen to soften the tannins. The wine is poured vigorously, even splashed a bit, into any glass container you have on hand – even a (very) clean vase will do. The wine is then swirled to introduce more air, and perhaps left to sit for one to four hours before serving.
What If I Don’t Have Time To Decant?
OK, so the guests have arrived with a nice young red wine and there’s no time for it to sit in your decanter and breathe a bit. No problem, there are a number of aeration devices on the market that use some variation of the Venturi effect to speed the “aging” of a young red wine. Devices that accelerate oxidation like this have become one of the biggest trends in wine paraphernalia, and I’ll be reporting on their effectiveness in a later posting.
Whether you choose to decant or hie thyself to the wine shop for an aeration device, I encourage you to try the technique on your next bottle of young red wine. Perhaps, one such as this:
Wine of the Week
Copain, 2007 Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble” Anderson Valley, was $36, now $33.40 (save 10%)
Bing cherries, layers of black tea, and sweet spices. Tous Ensemble is a series of top-quality wines blended from some of the best pinot vineyards in the Anderson Valley appellation. Wells Guthrie, Copain’s Owner/Winemaker, specializes in Anderson Valley pinots. Requirements for his Tous Ensemble series include organically farmed grapes that are varietally correct, lower in alcohol, food friendly, and a tremendous value. This wine comes from three Anderson Valley vineyards – Cerise , Monument Tree and Wentzel. It highlights the purity of fruit, subtle earthiness and liveliness that typify Copain’s Anderson Valley wines.
Quote of the Day
“God gave us the gift of grapes, to cheer both great and small; little fools will drink too much, and great fools not at all” ~ Unknown
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