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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Can you Decant?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I spent the past Sunday in Los Gatos – a celebratory visit with my parents as well as a welcome escape from the San Francisco August winter weather. As my dad grilled up delicious bacon-wrapped filet mignons for dinner, we deliberated over the best wine to select for the meal, favoring a Spanish or Argentinean red. We settled on an intriguing bottle of 1996 Spanish Ribera del Duero from Hacienda Monasterio and I was given the honor of decanting the slightly dusty, exotic bottle, freshly plucked from the cellar. Careful not to over-handle the bottle and stir up any sediment, I prepared to uncork and decant.
How does one know whether or not to decant a wine and what is the purpose? The two main reasons to decant wine are to remove sediment and allow the wine to breathe. Older, red wines tend to need decanting, while young wines and white wines do not usually have to be decanted. Sediment forms in red wine when tannins and anthocyans (wine’s coloring agents) interact, forming large, complex molecules that eventually grow too big to remain soluble and precipitate as sediment. This is why high quality, concentrated red wines with more skin exposure tend to accumulate more sediment. The trick to decanting wine is to pour the wine into the decanter slowly, keeping the same side down that was down during the aging process so as not to stir up the sediment. Holding the decanter and wine bottle up with a white backdrop, a light, or as tradition goes- a candle, allows you to see the sediment when it starts to approach the neck of the bottle opening, which is when you should stop pouring the wine into the decanter.
Now the wine is safely in the decanter, where its rich color can be viewed through the clear glass and its aromas are being generously released into the air. This leads me to the second benefit of decanting wine. The decanter is shaped specifically to allow the maximum amount of surface area for air to hit the wine. While during the years of aging you don't want air getting to the wine, now that you're ready to drink it, air getting across a good surface area of a wine can bring out its aromas, and as you know from my last blog post, smelling the wine properly has much to do with your ability to taste the wine completely. How long should you allow the wine to sit in the decanter before pouring it? Generally 1/2 – 1 hour is a good amount of time to let the wine fully open up, and you will continue to see the wine flavors change throughout the evening as it continues to breathe. Never let the wine sit out for too long – if you expose the wine to air for too long, it will begin to turn to vinegar, so if you aren’t able to finish a wine you have already decanted, sealing it up and putting it into the fridge can help preserve it.

Back to the 14 year old Ribera Del Duero... Decanting this wine actually showed that it had little sediment , yet the decanter did wonders to release the wine's powerful bouquet. I got a healthy nose of red stone fruits, spices, and toasted coconut, yet when I tasted the wine, its subtle earthy qualities gave it a balanced elegance with the fruit and spices. A prefect compliment to the rich red meat and smoky bacon. This was a perfect wine for the filet and really repaid cellaring.

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