For our eleventh wine I’ve chosen a style that the pundits argue benefits from the aeration that accompanies decanting. It’s a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape and can be massively tannic in its youth. That’s right to test the idea that decanting can soften tannins I’m turning to a Barolo! The decanting times recommended for Barolo run the gambit. The wine before me, the 2001 Paolo Scavino Barolo, has been given anything from no decanting to “double-decanting 8 hours before dinner”. And it can still be unapproachable. As science shows that decanting does not soften tannins it will be interesting to see if a few hours have any effect on this wine. This Paola Scavino Barolo has another distinction; it is the first of the wines I have purchased from Halfwit Wines, so I stole their bottle image!
Wine #11: Paolo Scavino Barolo 2001($29.00USD, 375ml), 14.5% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen; both in the cellar at 56 degrees F. After 3 and a half hours the second bottle was opened and the two wines poured randomly into three marked opaque glasses while I was out of the room.
Glass A: Rich ripe notes of dark fruits, anise, black coffee, smoke and oak. And a little tar. The palate is awash with BIG, drying tannins but also excellent depth and concentration. The finish is not lengthy but not overpowered by the astringency.
Glass B: Very muted with anise and the suggestion of alcohol. On the palate similar to glass A but with more juicy acidity that gives the wine some angularity. The finish is of charred, tarry notes.
Glass C: Muted; anise over sweet fruits. On the palate, the same as glass B with mouth drying astringency and angularity from the juicy acidity.
My opinion: A is from the bottle. B and C are from the decanter.
Reality: A is from the bottle. B and C are from the decanter.
Conclusion: My goodness, what is that sound? Oh, its OK. Its only the pundits shuffling in their ranks as they mill about hoping that someone will defend the decanting of Barolo; if only to get rid of that dry feeling they have in their mouths! In truth I was just a little apprehensive about this wine because if big, tannic wines do benefit from aeration then this is the style to show it. And it was very clear from the first whiff of each glass that there were two different flavor profiles. Tasting the wine revealed additional differences which, at least to my palate, argue that this Barolo should not be decanted. As to decanting softening the tannins? Barolo is so tannic that its really only aging that will soften these wines, a LOT of aging.
The wine that remained after the tasting was used to fill one of the 375 ml bottles and stored in the refrigerator overnight. It will be interesting to see what effect that produces!
Score: Wines tested 11, Decanters 1, Non-decanters 3.