Saturday, March 19, 2005

Decanting - Day 4
Is the view on decanting expressed in The Oxford Companion to Wine the personal opinion of Jancis Robinson? Here are some of her comments on the subject from How to Taste (revised edition published in 2000).

“For a long time it has been thought that the process of aging in wine was simply one of slow oxidation, that small amounts of air either already present in the sealed bottle or entering through the cork, gradually react with the wine to make it develop into something more complex and ramified. It was thought therefore that if you poured a bottle of wine into another container such as a decanter, you would aerate it and somehow telescope the aging process into just a few minutes by putting the wine into contact with a lot of air. The bouquet would be fanned into life by all this oxygen. This view is still widely held, but the results of comparative tastings of samples of the same wines opened and decanted at varying intervals before tasting have been suspiciously inconclusive. Furthermore, some authorities argue that the effects of aeration can only be harmful; that by exposing a delicate bouquet to air you may make it evanesce, and that the interesting reactions between oxygen and wine are too complicated to be speeded up. All that can happen, they argue, is that the wine starts to oxidize too fast, and therefore it begins to deteriorate.”

She goes on to say “It is true that the potential disadvantage of dissipating the bouquet of a wine by decanting it or allowing a half-full bottle to stand open for a while can sometimes be an advantage. Some wines, full-bodied reds particularly, can be too intensely flavored when young. Rather than gaining extra flavors, the decanter allows them to lose some of their aggressive youth and mellow into a more palatable, if more vapid, middle age. This is especially true of some rich reds from California, Australia, Italy, the Lebanon, and the odd rustic wine from Spain and the Rhône.”

Hmmm, there is nothing like a nice vapid red wine!

One thing Ms Robinson does do in “How to Taste” is suggest a variation of the Peynaud anecdote. All you need is three bottles of the same wine. Open and decant one bottle three hours before tasting, decant another one hour before tasting, and open the third immediately before tasting. Have each wine poured for you so that you do not know how long they have been exposed to air and then do a comparative tasting. Does decanting make a difference?

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