Monday, April 30, 2007

A New and Potentially Embarrassing Fact

From To Breathe or Not to Breathe. That is the Question! And the answer might surprise you. By Denman Moody

In May 1977, my friend Alexis Bespaloff published an article entitled “A Corking New Wine Theory” in New York Magazine… Although the article had nothing to do with corks, it nonetheless presented a radical new approach in regard to letting wines breathe.

In blind tastings with Kevin Zraly, cellarmaster at Windows on the World, John Sheldon, wine consultant at Tavern-on-the-Green, and other notables, including Robert Mondavi, Paul Draper of Ridge, and Alexis Lichine of Chateau Prieure – Lichine, a new, and potentially embarrassing, fact was uncovered by Bespaloff.
For Draper, the wine used was his 1974 Geyserville Zinfandel. For Mondavi, his 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and for Lichine, his 1967 Chateau Prieure – Lichine.

In each case, for each taster, one of his bottles was decanted one hour before serving, one was simply uncorked an hour before serving, a third was decanted and served minutes before the tasting and the fourth was just uncorked and served minutes before the tasting… (Mondavi and Lichine also tasted each other’s wines.)

Don’t shoot the messenger, but: In every case, including a 1973 Chateau Pichon-Lalande with Zraly and Sheldon, the bottle that was just uncorked and served - at the time of the tasting - was preferred!


grazza said...

While thats a very interesting perspective, you must take into account the fact that wine nowadays is considerably different to the seventies. During the seventies and even the eighties, the average length of skin contact on most reds was less than ten days, these days the skins can be left in contact with the wines for anything upto a whole month. It would be interesting to try and replicate the experience with modern wines under identical conditions and see what the result was. The whole issue of decanting is a contentious one that has sparked much furious debate and Im sure it will continue to provide much more!

Michael Pollard said...


Interesting comment. Did you read any more of my posts on decanting? Link is here.

In those posts you will find that I am doing a decanting experiment. In the initial series the wines will be decanted for 2 hours versus pop and pour. I’ll change the length of the decant, especially for something like Aussie Shiraz where double decants and sit times of 24 hours have been used by some (e.g Wine Exchange in CA). I’m not going to uncorked wines and leave them for some period of time nor am I going to decant and serve minutes before the tasting. The former is well accepted not to add much to young wines, and the latter is in reality just a very short decant.

Of the four wines tested so far (results for a California Cab need to be added) only a Pinot Noir showed any difference. The Pinot closed down with decanting, not unexpected according to some who think that the delicate flavors of Pinot Noir don’t take decanting all that well.

At some point I may look at the effect of the duration of skin contact and decanting, but I’ll have to compare different wines - not an ideal situation. This would be best done by making small batches of wine from the same grapes with the difference being length of skin contact. Unfortunately that type of experiment is beyond my resources.