Wine: Decanting versus Aerating?

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While catching up on some recent reading, I came across an article looking at wine decanting versus aerating. The bottom line presented in the article was that older wines should be decanted and young wines should be aerated. This caused me to pause.

Both of these methods allow a wine to have further exposure to oxygen that typically helps a wine to release any undesirable odors and, more importantly, to help soften the tannins in a red wine.

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But, what caused my pause is that older red wines typically have softer tannins just from the aging process. And, an older wine is usually a bit more delicate and can quickly loose its character, or go flabby, if decanted.

Young red wines often have bigger, bolder tannin and benefit the most from decanting. Sometimes for hours.

So, my advice would be a bit different than the article. If you are dealing with a young red wine whose tannins are too bold, I’d recommend pouring it into a decanter. Then, re-sample periodically. Usually after an hour or two, the decanting process has calmed the tannins and you’ll find a noticeable positive difference.

If you are dealing with an older bottle of red wine, I’d recommend trying it immediately out of the bottle. If you detect something odd or the tannins are still too bold, then pour it into a decanter (being especially careful to avoid pouring any sediment into the decanter) and give it 10 to 15 minutes. Then, re-try the wine.

As for an aerator, they are fun pouring accessories, and the do add a bit of oxygen to the wine during the pouring process. But, for really giving a wine some breathing space, give it some time in a broad-based decanter. Cheers!


How to Deal with Highly Tannic Wines

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Last time we learned that some red wines can make your mouth feel dry due to the natural tannin in the wine that comes from the grape’s skin, seeds and stems. But, if you don’t care for highly tannic wines, there are some things you can do.

The tannins in a red wine will ‘soften’ with age. A young wine may be highly tannic but after several years of aging, the tannins will naturally become less harsh. So, aging is one option.

But, a lot of people don’t buy wines to stick away. They want to drink them now. So, there are other options if you pull the cork and realize the wine is a bit too tannic.

One option is to expose the wine to air. And, just pulling the cork and letting the opened bottle sit for a while isn’t sufficient. You’ll need to decant the wine. And you don’t need to have a fancy crystal decanter to do this. Really, any vessel will work. But, the key is to allow the wine to get as much exposure to air as possible. That’s why decanters, such as the one shown in the image, are large and have wide bottoms. Once an entire bottle of wine is poured into this type of decanter, it only fills the base. This gives the wine a large surface area that is exposed to air. For really tannic wines, they may need one to two hours in the decanter before they begin to soften. But remember, a decanter won’t turn a bad wine into a good one. It will just take a good wine and soften it up a bit.

Another method of helping soften harsh tannins is by aerating the wine. And this starts by just pouring the wine from the bottle to a decanter. Or, there are plenty of aerators that can be purchased that immediately mix air with the wine as it is poured whether directly into the wine glass or into a decanter.

Finally, if you are dealing with a highly tannic wine, pairing it with fatty or creamy foods will really help. That’s why wine and cheese work so well together. Just as pairing a nice steak is a natural with red wine.

So, don’t let that dry-mouth, astringent sensation scare you away from red wines. They can be some of the best there are. Cheers!

Tips on Letting a Wine Breathe

Years ago, I was visiting a friend who knew I enjoyed wines and wanted to share a bottle with me.  They opened the bottle and took a sip.  With a look of disappointment on their face, they proclaimed that the wine need some time “to breathe.” So, with the cork extracted, the bottle sat for an hour. At the end of the hour, the wine was proclaimed to be ready.

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I've also encountered those who use a decanter to allow their wine to breathe.  But, all too often, the decanter ends up looking like the one pictured here. It's a beautiful carafe and it's a great addition to a bar or table for serving wine. Unfortunately, it's a bit too narrow. It doesn't give the wine enough room to truly breathe. But, compared to leaving the wine cooped-up in its bottle, this type of decanter is a definite improvement. Not only does it give the wine a bit more space, it also allows the wine to catch a bit of a breath as it's being poured from the bottle to the decanter. And, after an hour or two, the wine should begin to show signs of opening up and settling down a bit.

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But to really give a bottle of wine a chance to breathe, you'll need some type of decanter that allows the wine to spread out and have a lot of surface area in contact with air.  The wide-base decanter pictured here is a great example. And, it's designed such that a single bottle of wine just fills the bottom and allows for the maximum amount of the wine's surface area to be exposed to air.

This whole discussion may leave you asking "Why do you want to intentionally expose wine to air? Doesn't that make the wine go bad?"  And, those are great questions. For answers, see my past blogs on "Why Decant Wine?" and "When to Not Decant a Wine."

Here's to enjoying whatever you drink! Cheers!

 

 

Beyond the 5 S's of Wine Tasting

Drinking wine is a pleasurable experience that is quite simple. And, as winemaker Charles Smith puts it "It's just wine. Drink it." But for many people, wine tasting can be a very intimidating experience. But it shouldn't be.

In the past, I've written about how to visit wineries and how to have a great experience tasting wines. And whether it be at a winery, a restaurant, wine bar, or at home, there are simple things that you can do to enhance the simple enjoyment of a glass of wine.

The Five S's of wine have been written about many times by others but here's a quick review:

  1. See - Look at the wine in your glass and note the color and clarity. White wines can range from nearly clear to pale yellow, straw color, or golden. Red wines can be maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, or deep red. Both white and red wines can take on a brown hue with age.  All wines should be free of sediment.
  2. Swirl - By swirling the wine within the glass you give it an opportunity to gain further contact with air and release its aromas.  A wine right out of a bottle may need a little exposure to air. This exposure will quickly take away any sharp odors and can help soften or mellow the wine.
  3. Sniff - Stick your nose into the wine glass and take a sniff. You can get a very quick idea of what the wine will taste like and you may even detect some of the fruit aromas. Try sniffing with each individual nostril. You may find a real difference. And, by the way, there is no need to sniff the cork from the bottle. A wine server may present it to you, but you only need to take a brief look at it to ensure it doesn't show any obvious signs of leakage.
  4. Sip - Take a small sip, drawing in some air as you sip, and let it stay in your mouth for a while. You can even swish it around a bit in your mouth. This will give you an opportunity to really get all the flavors that the wine has to offer.
  5. Swallow - By allowing the wine to go through the back of your mouth and down your throat you will finally get the complete wine experience from your mouth and nasal passages.

But, in addition to these classic five S's, there are a few other things that can enhance your enjoyment of wine.  The glass itself is important. It should be clean and clear with a bowl large enough to hold a nice pour of wine (around 5 ounces) and still have plenty of room left. A wine glass should only be filled about one-third of the way. The remaining 'empty' space in the glass is left to capture the wine's aromas.

The wine also needs to be at the right temperature. Reds should not be served room temperature and whites should not come straight out of the kitchen refrigerator. A red should be served at cellar temperature, 58-62 degree F, and a white should be 45-50 degrees F.  These optimal temperatures allow you to best enjoy the wine's full flavors. I recently had a friend tell me he didn't like Chardonnay until a recent visit to a winery. What he learned was that his only experience with Chardonnay was drinking it at refrigerator temperature. When the winery served their Chardonnay at 48-50 F, it was an entirely different and better experience, allowing him to actually taste all the flavors in the wine.

Decanting a red wine can also make a big difference. It doesn't need to be a fancy decanter, just one that can hold an entire bottle of wine and give the wine lots of surface area exposed to air.  Filling a decanter up to the neck does little for the wine so find a vessel that has a broad bottom such that you are only filling it about halfway. Once you've poured the wine into the decanter, pour yourself a sip right away and note the wine's character.  Give it thirty minutes in the decanter and try it again. It should smooth out and soften. You can continue decanting for an hour our two, but beyond that the wine can become over oxidized and start to become a bit stale.

Once again you may be asking yourself "Why bother?"  Well, if you follow these simple steps you'll find that you will quickly start to understand the differences in wines and better determine your real wine preferences.

But, above all else, keep it simple, take wine tasting slowly, and enjoy! Cheers!

 

 

 

When to Not Decant a Wine

As discussed last time, decanting a wine can make a real difference. Decanting allows for some quick evaporation and exposes the wine to oxygen. Both improve the flavor of the wine, usually in just a few minutes or up to a couple of hours.

But I recently opened a bottle of red wine, poured a small taste in a big wine glass, gave it a few swirls and tasted it. I then went ahead and began serving it right out of the bottle.  The questing came up "Why aren't you decanting that wine?"  

Well, upon my first taste of the wine, I immediately knew the wine didn't need to go into a decanter.  It was velvety smooth, had soft fruit flavors and a wonderful finish. There were no strong odors, no sharp flavors and no bitterness right out of the bottle. It was as good or better than many wines are after spending time in a decanter.  

Going back a couple of weeks, the topic here was swirling wine in a glass. Some wines can immediately be 'decanted' by just pouring them into a glass and giving it a few swirls.  In the case of my recently opened bottle, all it needed was that minute in the glass.

I experienced another example of not decanting during a recent visit to a tasting room. While enjoying tasting some great red wines, the server suggested that I might like to try another of their wines that was not on the standard tasting list. She searched around, found the bottle, opened it and pour a small amount in a couple of glasses, tasting one herself. She then set the two glasses aside and had me continue trying a couple more of their 'standard' wines. In the meantime, she gave the other glasses of 'special' wine a few more big swirls and retried her glass. With a nod of her head, she pronounced that it was ready.  Upon serving it to me, she explained that right out of the bottle, it had a bit of sharpness that she claimed went away with just a couple of minutes in the glass.

Another reason for not decanting is when you are dealing with older bottles of wines.  Wines that are 15 or more years old probably don't need decanting.  These wines, if they were properly stored, will have already mellowed during the time spent in the bottle. Exposure to too much air can actually make an older, delicate wine go 'flat' or 'flabby,' loosing its delicate flavors.

So, would my recent bottle of wine gotten better had I decanted it for thirty minutes to an hour?  Hmm?  I guess I'll never know.  But, I do know that it was amazing right from the bottle.  The bottom line is that you shouldn't just automatically send all wines to the decanter.  Pour yourself a quick taste from the bottle and then decide if it's already great, or if it could use a bit of time mellowing in a decanter.  Cheers!