Wed 05 Feb 2014

Why Decant? A Serving Suggestion

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‘Daddy, why are you opening wine in the morning?’ asked my daughter last Sunday.

I explained to her that the wine needed to breathe.

‘It’s not an animal,’ was her reply.

DecantingFor me, choosing the wine is only part of the story: temperature, food and indeed mood can all have a profound impact on the whole experience.

Having banished my daughter to her bedroom for her insolence, I sampled the wine (a claret) before pouring it into the decanter. From a quality point of view, it was absolutely fine, but it lacked depth and fruit.

We had it that evening with a slow-roasted leg of lamb. This classic combination was a perfect match and the wine tasted superb, a completely different beast differing from my taste that morning. It had opened up beautifully and was at a temperature that helped it show its true potential.

I explained this transformation to my dinner guests, who were not as enthused as I was. As I transformed into full wine-adviser mode, I questioned whether they would consider drinking anything other than hot tea. ‘No,’ was the emphatic reply.

‘How about warm orange juice?’

Again a strong negative response was received.

I have no doubt many of us are versed with the above but it never ceases to amaze me how a wine can taste so different depending on how and when it is served.

For me, a little patience and preparation go a long way to increasing the already great pleasure I receive from wine.

You may also like to read my colleague Stephanie Searle’s post on the subject of decanting from a couple of years ago. Some of the wines, of course, are now out of stock, but the principles remain the same. Happy drinking!

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

Categories : Bordeaux

Comments

  1. Patrick says:

    I’m very curious as to the age of the claret you decanted.

    Is my assumption that the older the wine the less benefit to the wine – and maybe even the possibility of harm?

    • Conrad Braganza says:

      Hi Patrick. The older the wine, the less time I tend to leave it open. It all depends on vintage and style, but some older wines can indeed be delicate!

    • Conrad Braganza says:

      PS. The wine was a 2006 Fronsac. Decanting was necessary to remove sediment and some of the grip of the vintage, and to get the fruit to come to the fore.

  2. JerryW says:

    To be fair your daughter is absolutely right,, the wine is not breathing. Does it exhale? no, it is gently oxidising.

    Also what does all this have to do with temperature? Temperature is easily adjusted. Just remove it from the cellar the day before.

    It may be heresy but from my own experience the merits of decanting have most to do with tradition and pomp.

    My own adivce would be: open it early, sip it slowly and enjoy the development process. Don’t bother decanting it unless it has lees that you want to avoid

    • Conrad Braganza says:

      Thanks very much for your comment. You (and my daughter) are of course right: just as a wine’s ‘legs’ aren’t made for walking, its ‘breathing’ is not for respiratory purposes!
      I mention temperature purely because it can make such a huge difference to the way a wine tastes – as indeed does decanting. Sipping slowly and enjoying the aromas and flavours opening up is a worthy approach, and aeration in the glass will have the same effect; however, depending on the wine, this could well take considerably longer than a lunchtime glass’ worth!

  3. Nigel Strudwick says:

    I’m also interested in the age of the wine. I suspect it’s quite young, as the younger it is, the better it is likely to stand being open for several hours. I prefer older wines, and it seems sensible not to open them too far in advance, not least as they are already more oxidised. Definitely agree that watching/tasting development over a couple of hours is great. It’s even better if you can drink a couple in parallel and compare them.

  4. James Harkins says:

    Decanting surely adds to the pleasure if not necessarily to the quality. I like to believe that a little oxygen is a beneficial thing and that this swirl into the decanter will awaken sleeping aromas in the wine. How long one may wait before consuming the wine is open to debate.

  5. Hugh Chadwick says:

    I do not decant wine in the way you are recommending but I use a system called Vinturi which is described as an Essential Wine Aerator. It seems to work for us Any comment

    • Conrad Braganza says:

      One of my friends uses the Vinturi and we did a comparison at a dinner party – we both felt it performed well. I have a bulb-like attachment I also sometimes use which acts as a pourer/aerator.

  6. Dan says:

    I like the idea of a sip of wine in the morning… 😉

  7. Keith Wolton says:

    I have always decanted red wines (and very occasionally whites) but for the last year or so I have been using the Vinturi Aerator which I have found easy to use and remarkably effective. Some may disagree, but I believe that one of the main effects of either process is not just a gentle oxidation but also the removal of the preserving sulphites that are present in most wines nowadays. When using the aerator, the dissolved sulphites are almost literally “blown out” of the wine as it passes through – the effect is immediately noticeable. I have done many “blind tests” with two glasses of wine – one straight from the bottle and one that has passed through the Vinturi. Almost without exception the latter is preferred and by quite a margin judging from the comments. Exceptions include whites with a natural pétillance which is obviously destroyed by a vigorous aerating process.

    I should add that I do not drink many “old” or expensive wines and I am sure the caution that many have advised with such wines is sensible. However, with all supermarket wines and the Wine Society’s cheaper ranges, in my view aeration greatly enhances the drinking experience, as indeed does leaving some for the following day though, sadly, there is rarely any remaining! One final point is that I do prefer my red wines to be a degree or so warmer than the recommended temperature – I find this makes a major contribution to the release of inherent flavours and assists the tannin softening process. Any comments appreciated.

    • Conrad Braganza says:

      Thanks very much for this most interesting assessment of the Vinturi. I’d also be very interested in anyone’s comments about its effectiveness, or indeed any other similar device. Much appreciated.

      • peter bankes says:

        I discovered wine aerators on a trip to Kenya 2 years ago, when the hotel wine waiter produced one, assuring me that the wine (red) could then be consumed immediately- I was very sceptical but how right he was, having given us a sample “before” and “after. On return I immediately bought one (tracked down in Lakeland).
        I now use it regularly, especially in restaurants, when it is impossible to delay drinking. This has caused much interest by by both friends and restaurant staff, most have never heard of them! Some restaurants are initially concerned that I am doing a critique of their wines!
        I have also tested the reaction of many friends, and, without exception, they have been v impressed, and have quickly bought one for them selves.
        All in all a great discovery!

        Peter Bankes

  8. Ivan Scopes says:

    Years ago when our family started showing an interest in wine my elder son was fortunate enough to spend a day in the company of Malcom Gluck who introduced him to the desirability of aerating wine . So we did and still do. As an experiment(and I was in the learning stages of appreciating wine) I said to myself they want oxygen in it so they shall have it and poured a bottle into a basin and whisked it. Actually I ruined it. Mistakes are what we learn from if we havent the good sense to learn from people who know better.More is not always better.
    What a good society this is.

  9. Ivan Scopes says:

    As an after thought – I notice that when wine writers are visiting vineyards and are offered a wine from the cellar the wine is not necessarily decanted but poured from a height into a large glass so that it does get aerated to some extent – possibly just enough.

  10. William Haddon says:

    I would be very interested to receive your comment on one aspect as to the decanting of port. I have always thought it necessary to give a decent vintage port a good few hours and am sure we shall all be agreed on this. I was very impressed the other day when I had the most scrumptious, fruity, delicious, old port that had been opened and decanted 24 hours previously. The theory being that it got better as the alcohol reduced to bring out the glory of the fruit and the wine itself. It worked – I was told that all that was required was nerve! Obviously a lot of this is to do with individual taste, vintage and so on. Any guidance generally?

    • Mark Buckenham says:

      I would suggest standing a bottle of vintage port upright for 3 hours or more before decanting. This allows sediment to sink to the bottom of the bottle, making the decanting operation easier and leaving only a small amount of wine affected by the sediment. Young vintage ports benefit from 2/3 hours in the decanter prior to serving. Once a vintage port has been decanted I would suggest that it be drunk up within 2 days, after that it will start to show oxidative tendencies. Any particularly old vintage, say 30 years or more, should be drunk up within an hour or so of decanting.

      Mark Buckenham
      Society Buyer

  11. Julian Osborne says:

    I have used a Vinturi once. It ruined a very nice southern French red wine of some age by over-exposing it. I do not expect to use it again, its just too vigourous.

  12. Nigel Seth-Smith says:

    I was given a Vinturi and tried it once. It turns a full flavoured wine into dishwater. All flavour is attenuated to the point of virtual non-existence. I remember a student trick of making a very cheap wine drinkable by pouring it vigorously between two jugs a few times. The vinturi seems to oxidise even more than this crude process, which I would only use to remove an undrinkable level of acid.

  13. Jim Tassell says:

    We have been using a VinOair aerator for about 18 months, since our daughter gave us one after she was impressed by their use in various South African vineyards that she has visited. We too have done the “with and without” test and the differences are noticeable and positive, particularly on red wines of the sort that we use routinely ourselves (lower level Wine Without Fuss for example).

    This particular gadget is easy to use (remove cork/cap… insert… pour) so means we don’t need to plan ahead or make a big production number of it. And no, I don’t have any interests in its manufacture!

    I wonder whether there’s scope for some research by those of a better palate than me (blame too many student vindaloos!)?

  14. Adrian Gahan says:

    Dear Conrad
    This weekend I am serving a bottle of Ch Mouton Rothschild 2002 and a bottle of 2004. How many hours should I decant them before the meal?
    Thank you.
    Adrian

    • Dear Adrian

      Conrad is out of the office at the moment so have asked our buyers for their opinion. Jo Locke MW suggests a couple of hours. We all wish that we could speak from direct experience on this one! Hope you enjoy the wines.

      Jo Goodman (News editor)

  15. Adrian Padfield says:

    Having once been given a glass of very old (but v.g) Burgundy, it was astonishing how it opened up after being overlooked for an hour…
    But I feel that most wines taste better with food. I always taste beforehand then with the meal and the wine is usually much better. So I’m always a bit sceptical about tastings. I’m sure the professionals can tell a lot but an amateur gets a tired palate.

  16. John MacDonald says:

    I first came across the Vinturi in a restaurant in Bubion, where it was used on an organic red wine. Initially, it seemed a simple novelty but as with some of the others, blind tastings amongst friends and family have been overwhelmingly positive.
    I am not sure it beats a decanter, but is certainly useful when you don’t want to empty or finish a bottle.
    It is also a useful present for wine drinking friends.

  17. K R Bolton says:

    Hi, in respect of the “why decant” feature, I noted the decanter in the featured picture. I have a similar one and wish to decant more wine than I do but what is the best way to clean the decanter after use. A bottle brush in unable to reach all areas and I’m reluctant to add chemicals to the wash in fear of harming the next wine that is poured into the decanter. Your advice would be appreciated

  18. Adrian Padfield says:

    As a follow up to my previous comment.
    Last Thursday at a restaurant I ordered a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage 2011 by Alain Graillot (organic). I’ve drunk Graillot wines before but not recently.
    It wasn’t decanted (& appeared to have no deposit). Very fresh, good body some tannin but over the course of 2 hours went ‘off’ – quite thin & sour at the end.
    I wonder if it would have survived decanting?

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