Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Decanter Insanity

For those who decant their wine, there's an interesting post about excessive decanting on the Classification of 1855 blog. (Aside: the title of the blog refers to the Bordeaux classification of 1855 that defined the top 'Growths' on the Left Bank of Bordeaux.) It's worth a read, and I have to say I couldn't agree more. While I'm not a buyer of investment grade Bordeaux, there are wines at a variety of price points that are simply built to be consumed after a period of aging.

There is definite utility to decanting young wines. The primary issue, even for less structured wines, may be that sulfites need to blow off or interesting volatile aromas may require a bit of oxygen to 'unlock' themselves. But the reality is decanting should not fundamentally alter the structure of a wine. Wine ages in a bottle with minimal oxygen ingress; the process in anaerobic. Decanting is purely about oxygenation. If a wine physically changes due to a lengthy decanting, chances are it has become something different than intended.

The other downside to lengthy decanting, aside from damaging the wine through macro-oxygenation, is the loss of volatile aromas. One may well soften the tannins, eventually, but many of the interesting aromas that one might encounter will be gone. I often taste wines that seem aromatically 'shifty', and I suspect this is due to volatile chemicals emerging and blowing off as the wine is exposed to air.

Since I have a variety of Havens wines in my CellarTracker inventory, other users' tasting notes pop up when I log in. An interesting phenomena of copycat decanter insanity involving the 2005 Bourriquot seems to be taking place:
big and smoothe, but didn't go crazy over this as others have... opened for 10 hours, then decanted for the next 10, so gave it much air... definitely not overpriced, but if it were 15-20 dollars more, i'd say eh.

Decanted for 12 hours based on forum notes. What a stellar wine at the closeout price. Lucky are those who got in on this. Distinct nose of menthol and fruit, chocolate, violet, cedar. It's got it all. Taste of delicious black fruit. Great mouth feel. Long finish. Very complex.

Initial nose was overpowering with a farmhouse-like odor. Body tight and unimpressive. Following five hour decant, the wine had opened up nicely. The nose became pleasant and complex just like the body. Long and pleasant finish, very well balanced. Recall that this needed more time in the cellar, at least a couple of years. Need to take better notes next time...

Excellent. Hold for at least 3 years or decant for 5 hours or so.

After reading the posts, I gave this one a solid 8 hour decant. Nose was still a bit tight and a bit funkafied. I liked it. At 10 hours, this wine really opened up. Bold, dark, vegetable, and delicious. More towards the classic Cab Franc. For $20.00, I wish I would have purchased more.

$20. I called my Chicago-based dinner party at 10am to remind them to decant this nectar of the gods asap. It is a very big wine, still very young. Hugh tannis and tart! I was told via cell phone initial nose upon open was barnyard on steroids. Glad Apple has not developed smell technology yet. Anything more would be TMI. Color dark red. I went off to church thinking why did nature create this wonderful wine which needs to be decanted almost 9 hours! Off to airport while receiving half hour update txt on smell. Someone had to do the dirty work. On airplane, I sat next to a wine lover who had heard but never tasted this great QPR wine. At last dinner of sausage, peppers, calamari and Caesar salad. The wine settled down to a smooth full bodied blend of chocolate and black fruits. The wine got better as the time passed. I will store my remaining 11 bottles in Fort Knox for two years. My guess this undiscovered gem of this liquidated vinyard will be at risk of my opening them all in 2010.

Still wonderful. Decanted longer than I'd have wanted to at 8 hours, but it is nonetheless vibrant and that just speaks to the wine's durability. Classic cab franc on the nose and palate. Strong flavors of mostly dark fruit, a long, grippy finish and just enough funk/dust/spiciness to keep everything in check. No Napa fruit bomb here, ladies and gents. An excellent value at $20 dollars on close-out sale.

Decanted for 4 hours on day one; the nose opened but the wine was still too tannic. On day two, there was a substantial improvement. Subtle, dark fruit with chocolately flavors and nice earthiness. Disappointing on day one, amazing on day two.

Day 1 was very green both on the nose and palate. Day 2 the green has gone away and you definitely chocolate and black fruits components everywhere, the back end of this wine is amazing with a rich cab feel.
It's as if some myth has developed around this wine that decanting turns it into liquid Nirvana. As far as I'm concerned, this is nuts. While I'll probably try a bottle young to see what it's like, I won't be decanting it a day ahead of time! Either this wine is simply too young, or there are flaws that extended aeration is masking. The fact that 'green' qualities recede with air suggest that the pyrazine levels are fairly high, but the pyrazines are oxidized due to the long decant.

A decanter is a useful tool. But it shouldn't be used as an oxygenation hammer as seen above. It's always best to sample the wine as it opens up, then drink when the aromas emerge. If that doesn't happen in a sensible time period, then let those remaining bottles rest for a while!


Jeff said...

If there are two things the internet is full of they, are fools and crazy people, both of which seem to show up in the text of those Cellar Tracker notes...

Matt Mauldin said...

I went to a wine class last night and teacher was talking about decanting wines 24 hours in advance- advocating for it. I agree that this topic can veer a little over the top. I love wine as much as the next guy, but worrying about decanting over 4 hours or so in advance is too much to worry about IMO. A wine that is good and ready to drink should reveal itself within that time span.

CabFrancoPhile said...

What do I know? Your teacher probably drinks classified growths every night--that he decanted the night before.

Call me crazy, but there are tons of good wines ready to drink now. If it can go overnight, it could probably go years in a cool dark place. I kind of think it's cheating, too. Plonk improves with air, too, but it usually gets dumped at the first sign of being off.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Anyway, just seems a non-optimal use of good/great wine. And a convenient excuse for why it didn't show well.