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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
03/12/2012
Monday Manifestos
Throw Out Those Decanters

By Charles Olken

True confessions time. I agree with the French on this. No need to decant young wines.

Yes, heresy in many quarters, but I have decanted and I have not decanted and seen no appreciable difference. I have read studies and interviews and opinions, both informed and utter guesswork, on the subject, and I can tell you that you will find no scientific evidence that decanting young wines helps.

You disagree? Quel surprise. Most people do believe that young wines, especially heavy reds do open up with airing. I disagree—for the most part.

Let’s take a step back and look at what is supposed to happen with young wines when decanted. They are supposed to pick up some air, just like, some say when they sit in the bottle for years. The problem with that argument is that they pick up no air in the bottle. That is why bottles have stoppers—to prevent air from getting to the wine.

Well then, perhaps you believe that aeration softens tannins and makes young, tough wines more approachable. To this, I can say that study after study has shown that decanting does not have any effect on tannin. Tannin is not air-soluble.

Okay, so the one final and semi-good argument for decanting is the notion that air does make a wine tastier by oxidizing it. I kind of agree with this notion. Closed in wines can sometimes open up with aeration. I have seen it happen in our tastings. Some wines change in the glass over the course of the hour they are in front of us. Does this phenomenon undercut my thesis? Hardly.

The very act of pouring the wine into a glass and swirling it to allow the wine to coat the sides of the glass and thus to evaporate and volatilize its esters gets a wine every bit as much air as decanting it from bottle into one of those incredible pricey crystal decanters you have collected along your journeys on the wine road. Mine are from Riedel and Baccarat. They are simply gorgeous pieces of art. But they do not do much for young red wines that would not be done by the normal acts of pouring and swirling.

Just a couple of years ago, the wine professors at Fresno State College, the learning ground of so many young vintners these days, did a twenty-taster study. Each taster was presented with two samples of the same wine—one of which had been freshly opened and one of which had been decanted. The tasters, all professionals (not professors or students) identified no appreciable differences in the samples and had no preference for one over the other.

But, in truth, I don’t much like such studies. Too many variables, too many questions about who know what and how the tasting was presented to the tasters, let alone about the wines, their storage, age, etc.

For me, I must go back to my early training ground in wine—France. The story is too long to tell about a summer spent there after my freshman year in college, but I did progress from Gallo Hearty Burgundy drinker to Beaujolais and cheap reds from the Rhone after that. And the French, whether I was in a tiny neighborhood café or in one of those nicer meals that my uncle, who found me and showed me the fancier side of France for week, paid for, “the French” did not ever decant wine except that which had never been bottled and came to the table in carafe. If the French do not stand on ceremony, why should I?

And one final note. The practice of pulling the cork early so the wine can breath is, to my way of thinking, even more nonsensical. How can a spot of wine no bigger than a dime aerate a whole bottle of wine? If you do believe in aeration, then please, at least decant. Pulling the cork and letting the wine sit open has no practical or measurable effect in my experience.


 

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Comments

You are wrong. Read this
by Blake Gray
Posted on:3/12/2012 5:44:05 PM

Charlie:

You can argue with me and maybe win if I'm not eloquent today, so I'm going to lean on the sources I interviewed for this article on the topic. Argue with them.

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/06/food/fo-wineair6

Not Wrong. Read This
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/12/2012 7:26:12 PM

Blake--

Nice article. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Two things stand out. The first is how "subjective" the subject is for the most part. Even the opinioins stated in your article are essentially inconclusive because they are anecdotal at best.

The need for a wine to breath is essentially met by the simple acts of pouring and swirling. A Vinturi does little more than that in any event. And while even wines in restaurants among large groups are consumed qucikly, a typical gorup of four will have a bottle of red on the table for more than a minute or two.

I think the work done by Fresno State on this subject is far more definitive than most of the comments we can get from folks who are guessing.

And that includes me. I don't decant because I do not see that kind of treatment in France and a bottle of red lasts a long time for me. I also vigorous swirl wine to get the max aromas.

So. old buddy, I beg to differ. But, if pushed, I would agree that decanting does little harm except to old wines and Champagnes. I don't decant them either.

What a Relief
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:3/12/2012 7:31:22 PM

I thought you were urging us to throw out our copies of your British competitor, Decanter. Now that would have been controversial.

 

Decanter vs decanters
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/12/2012 7:39:45 PM

Ron--

What would I have given to have seen CGCW rise to the level of competitor to Decanter. I would have gladly traded all my Riedles for that occurrence.

Decanter vs decanters
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/12/2012 7:41:27 PM

Ooops. Even my Riedels. But only my decanters. I love my Riedel Overture Reds, the most versatile wine glass ever made.

Cork does allow for microoxidation
by Jason Brumley
Posted on:3/13/2012 8:31:27 AM

Charlie,

I understand your argument that the effect of decanting may be subjective. I might agree with that...to a point. However, I must disagree with your statement that cork does not allow for oxidation. Cork has been shown in several studies to allow for microoxidation; the study that comes to mind immediately is a 2007 study from the University of Bordeaux which showed that wines with cork closures allowed for anywhere from .01 to 2.7 microlitres a day of oxygen uptake. The study was done for 3 years on recently bottled wines and the method for the study was a colorimetric analysis of an odorless dye that has an increased lightening in color with increased exposure to oxygen. That fact is not a subjective result and can be recreated over and over again in a controlled environment.

In any case, keep up the good work.

-Jason

Depends
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:3/13/2012 8:54:07 AM

I'm with you on this one, sort of. I rarely decant my wines, at home or for my tastings/seminars, with the exception of very young Burgundy, which I have found show a little better after a quick splash, (I dump them in a glass pitcher and then back in the bottle) and young Northern Rhone. Might just be in my head but especially for my seminars, where some folks might not be used to swirlling quite as much, I feel like that little splash just gives the wine a head start.

Cork or Cant?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 9:02:10 AM

Jason, I have seen a similar study with different results showing the cork seals tight after three months. In any event, I would wonder whether "splashing" achieves the same effect as long and very slow aeration.

Sam, one thing is for sure. While I don't see the value in splashing, I also don't see any harm in it for young reds. The Fresno State study suggests no identifiable gain, but no damage either thus leading to the conclusion that no one is right and no one is wrong in this discussion.

On the other hand, my only point is that "instructions" to decant are as misleading as narrow wine and food instructions. It's all in the eye of the beholder as far as I can tell.

blend it!
by John
Posted on:3/13/2012 10:18:11 AM

Who needs a decanter when you have a blender? Why take my advice when a computer guy who wrote a $600, 2,500-page cookbook says that a blender makes wine better?

A fresh piece of cork bark does not allow oxygen into the bottle, but contributes extractable phenolic compounds that represent chemical oxidation potential.

Decanting
by Kurt Burris
Posted on:3/13/2012 11:20:16 AM

While I generally don't decant everyday wines, I do break out the Riedel decanters for any evening with the good dishes, but only because it looks nicer on the table.  I do take exception with Fresno State methodology though.  They should have done a duo/trio test as well, where 2 of the 3 wines poured are the same and seen whether a statitically significant number of tasters could even tell the difference between the decanted wine and the fresh sample.

Perfection
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/13/2012 11:27:41 AM

Kurt, nothing is perfect. But looking good on the table is reason enough for me.

Decanting
by Peter Bourget
Posted on:3/14/2012 8:34:52 PM

I don't generally decant younger wines but I have found Oregon Pinot Noir opens up, nose and flavor, with an hour of decanting. I agree, though, that just opening the bottle does nothing. Also, i enjoy seeing how a wine evolves in the glass over time rather than decanting.

Decanting
by Don Jones
Posted on:3/22/2012 8:31:09 AM

Could the alleged improvement with decanting sometimes be due to temperature rather than aeration when a wine from a cool cellar sits at ambient temperature for an hour?

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