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!

Ever Wonder? Why Do Red Wines Make Your Mouth Dry But White Wines Don't?

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Have you ever taken a sip of red wine and noticed that your mouth feels dry or dusty? Almost that ‘cotton-mouth’ feel? Well, that is a sensation that is associated with red wine. Some red wines.

The dry sensation is due to the wine being astringent and its effect on the tissue in your mouth. Some people have also described the sensation as making their mouth pucker.

The culprits that causes this drying sensation in your mouth are actually chemical compounds (phenolics) that naturally occur in tannin. And in wine, these tannins come from the grape’s skin, the seeds and the stems.

Now, this is where we get to why red wines dry out your mouth but white wines don’t. White wines actually do contain low levels of tannin, but red wines contain a whole lot more tannin. That’s because the process used in making red wines involves leaving the grape skins, seeds and stems in the juice of the grape while in white wines, they are immediately removed.

But, not all red wines have the same levels of tannin. Pinot Noir is a varietal that has low to medium tannin. A Malbec is going to have medium tannin, while Merlot is going to have medium-high tannin. Then we get to the high tannin wines — Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Tannat. What about Cabernet Sauvignon? Well, although you think of a Cab as having high astringency, it’s typically in the medium-high category.

So, tannin just naturally gets introduced during the wine making process. But, there are ways to deal with highly tannic wines. And, we’ll get to those next time. Until then, “Cheers!”

Why Wine and Cheese Pair So Well

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Wine and cheese. They just go together. But, there's actually a pretty good reason that this pairing typically works together so well.

Let's start with red wines.  They can be rather tannic due to the stems, seeds and stems of the grapes. Tannin is also introduced into red wines from the oak barrels that are so commonly used for aging. All this tannin, especially in young red wines, can leave your mouth with a dry, chalky feeling. This astringent sensation, on its own, isn't a good one.

This same astringency is also found in strongly brewed black tea. And, a common practice is to add just of splash of milk to tea to soften this astringency.

It turns out that the proteins and fats in milk work wonders in your mouth to balance out the tannin in strong tea.

Well, the same goes for astringent or tannic red wine.  Not the milk part, but the proteins and fats contained in cheese act to balance out the tannins in red wines. They just work together!

Cheeses also work well with white wines. But, not in conjunction with tannin. White wines have little to no tannin. They can have bold acidity. And, that acidity yields a mouth-watering sensation which can be very refreshing. But when a creamy soft white cheese is paired with the acidic notes in white wines, it balances things out.

Now, not every cheese works with every wine. But, we'll take a closer look at that topic next time.  Until then, enjoy some nice cheese with your glass of wine. They work together so well. Cheers!

The Factors that Make a Wine More Capable of Bottle Aging

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We've now worked our way through how a wine gets its flavor - from the grape, the skins, seeds and stems, fermentation, barrel aging and last time we touched on bottle aging. There we learned that most wines are not meant for long-term bottle aging. But, what does make a bottle of wine age worthy?

It may seem obvious, but the color and the type of grape are very important. Red wines are best at bottle aging because of their natural tannin from the grape skin, seeds and stem as well as from barrel aging. This is most common in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  White wines generally don't age well and should be consumed young.

The vintage, or the year the grapes were grown, can significantly affect a wine's ability to age well. The balance of tannin and acid in a particular year may lend the resulting wine to better aging prospects.

Where the wine is from can also affect its ability to age. There are key regions, such as Bordeaux France and Napa California that produce very age-worthy grapes.

And finally, storage conditions are also key. Wines must be stored in cool conditions (~58 degrees F) and away from light.  Even a great wine will quickly be damaged by heat and light.

Next time, we'll take a look at specific regions and wines for their age worthiness. You may be surprised by some of the guidelines. Until then, Cheers!