Decanting tradition in a bottle of wine
special to the daily
One of the great ceremonies in the world of wine is decanting an older bottle of wine.
When done properly, the sommelier brings the bottle to the table very gingerly after bringing a decanter, a candle and appropriate glasses. Having been a sommelier for several years, I will tell you the most difficult part about this ceremony is keeping the bottle on its side while opening it at the table. It’s no easy feat.
There are a couple of reasons for decanting wine: one, because the wine is older and has thrown sediment, or two, the wine is young and needs to be opened up.
With the older bottle, the wine has gone through a natural aging process in the bottle. This process softens the wine and adds complexity. Wine is a living organism and is ever-evolving in the bottle. The sediment is phenolic polymers as well as insoluble materials added to the wine to assist in fining and filtering.
Sediment is rare in bottled wine and usually signals a fine wine that has gone through some aging. Modern wine drinkers are so unaccustomed to sediment, and think of it as a fault, that winemakers go through great effort to ensure, through clarification, filtration and stabilization, that wines that are to be drunk within a few years will be without sediment. However, wines designed to age, whether white or red, can develop crystals of tartrates or pigmented tannins. This is very obvious in port.
Wine makers deliberately leave more tartrates and phenolics in wines designed to age in the bottle so they will develop complex compounds that will enhance the bouquet. These wines need special care when serving.
The idea behind decanting is to remove as much of the wine as possible from the sediment. By pouring the wine slowly into a decanter while keeping the candle illuminating the neck of the bottle, the sommelier can ensure the sediment stays in the bottle. It can be a dramatic display of nerves, depending on the cost of the wine.
Older wine, however, is not the only wine that benefits from decanting. Young wines that do have the ability to age for several years in the bottle can benefit from being “opened up” into a decanter. This activity of disturbing the wine, pouring it into a decanter or jar vigorously, gets air into the wine and pre-ages it. Having the same affect as if the wine were left alone in the cellar for several years, the wine is softer and more balanced when oxygenated.
The good news is that by decanting a young wine you can get an idea of how the wine will age in the cellar, and if you just love it can stock up!
Susanne Johnston is the owner of Frisco Wine Merchant. For more information, contact her at (970) 668-3153, or at Susanne@friscowine.com.
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