Just say no? Deconstructing decanting

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better?
Photo: FOOD-pictures/Fotolia.com

The wine drinking experience is afforded more pleasure by decanting a bottle of wine. Decanting means aeration and separation of liquid from sediment. Plain and simple. Most wine drinkers have always bought into this belief. Does that still hold true today?

The debate rages high. Eric Asimov from the New York Times suggests he’s of the camp that takes the middle ground. “Many good red wines are not and continue to produce sediment, so once they reach middle age, decanting these wines, very carefully, remains advisable. I like to decant young reds that might be tannic or tight, like those made from Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon. Even young red Burgundies can benefit from decanting, though Burgundians might roll their eyes.” True middle ground comes by way of, ironically, Decanter Magazine. “Most modern-day wines do not require decanting, though even young wines may benefit from aeration.”

The famous Bordeaux house of Château Margaux states that “the main reason for decanting red wines is to separate the wine from the sediment that may have formed in the bottle over the years. This sediment consists mainly of the tannins that have been made insoluble by the chemical reactions responsible for the ageing process.” They, like so many other Bordeaux stalwarts, remain entrenched in the world of decanting.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal concurs. “All wine that will throw sediment should be decanted; this includes red Bordeaux, Rhône, Rioja, vintage Port and heavy grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Also—and this is open to discussion—young wines. In my experience, exposure to air unfurls the complex layers of flavor in young fine wine.” Chris Kissack fervently believes in the decanting process. “Decanting wines is not just for show, and even in this modern age of industrial, fined and filtered wines, some will still benefit from spending some time in a decanter.”

Consider these questions. Does decanting eliminate the natural oxidative curve of a bottle of wine? Does it make a wine taste $20 better? Is decanting elitist, obnoxious and unreachable for the average consumer? Cerebral decanting is another matter. Don’t hate a bottle of wine because it’s not been decanted. Hate it because it’s a bad bottle of wine.

And then there is hyper-decanting. This by way of Digital Deconstruction:

Gerardo Diaz is the Manager and Sommelier at Barque Smokehouse in Toronto. He is adamantly anti-decanting. Here is his well-thought out take:

Decanters come in various shapes and sizes, from functional to ornate to downright ugly. Decanters have played a role within the wine world for thousands of years. They have had many uses over time but for me, they have simply fallen out of practice and are representative of an archaic time, when wine was not made to be drunk immediately. This magnified by the fact that the technology of making wine back then was sub par in comparison.

Wine was held in amphorae, then in glass, metals or earthenware. These were the holding compartments for the fermented grape juice, then transferred off to decanters in order to minimize the amount of sediment within in the decanter/glass. It was used to aerate tighter wines and soften the tannins. Time has changed.

Decanters have become nothing more than a symbol of the past. With modern-making techniques and current trends, people want to be able to drink their choices immediately, and winemakers are following suit.

Wine is not what it used to be. Often over oxidized, aged for many years, with more vintage variation, etc… Nowadays when wine is bottled, it is what it is and does not change that much. As a matter of fact, aeration tends to do worse than better. People seem to believe that decanting hours prior benefits the wine. Quite the contrary. With modern wine techniques and just common sense, the aromatic compounds can only go far, that is to say that with time they will diminish as the minutes/hours go by. Decanting can be used for only two things, well aged wine and natural wines. But more now than ever, wines are not being made to age. They are being made to feed the immediate masses, the ever-growing population, but more so an ever-growing wine drinking population.

Tannins have a bad rep when speaking about wine, some say yay, other say nay. They provide structure, the very backbone to a wine. The added texture is the single most important thing in wine for me and acts as a natural preservative. Decantation is believed to soften these tannins that can be gripping, ever so drying, and to some, a turn off. This popular belief is misconstrued. Softening of the tannins takes place in the winery, with the winemaker. Decanting will only alter perception, kind of like a placebo effect. Yeah, decanters are a placebo effect.

I personally dislike decanters except for the two stated reasons, and even then, natural wines that almost exclusively lack preservations (sulphites), never need more aeration. The wine is what it is and will last a long time opened in bottle.

Good to go!


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