Friday, August 24, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #12

For our twelfth wine we are finally headed to Bordeaux. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is in the Saint-Julien appellation; one of the four major appellations of the Médoc region. On the left bank of the Garonne estuary, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the five second growth (Deuxièmes Crus) vineyards of St-Julien. The chief feature of the vineyard are the pebbles or "cailloux" which contribute to the greatness of many Medoc wines. This gravel, about 5 meters deep, is on a calcareous base of about the same thickness. The vineyards are planted in 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.

Is this a wine that needs decanting? The Chateau recommends that a ten year old wine should be decanted two hours before serving, 20 year old decanted 1 hour and a 40 year old wine decant at the time of serving. Our wine is 5 years old so it will get at least 2 hours.

Wine #12: 2002 Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (St Julien) ($37.00USD, 375ml), 13% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen; both in the cellar at 56 degrees F. After two 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: A little muted with notes of banana skin, violets and dusty coffee. Full bodied with clean acidity and firm tannins carrying a short finish. More aromatics on the palate.

Glass B: Has the most complex aromatic profile with oak, cedar, dusty coffee and banana skin. More acidity and obviously firmer tannins that carry a longer finish than glass A.

Glass C: Very muted. Faint violet under dusty banana skin. Again firm tannins but little length to the finish. Nicely balanced but with less vibrant acidity than in glass B.

My opinion: B is from the bottle, A and C from the decanter.
Reality: B is from the bottle, A and C from the decanter.

Conclusion: After smelling all three glasses I was ready to name glass C as the decanted wine but tasting revealed that the wine in glass B was more vibrant with the firmer tannins encouraging a longer finish than the wine in the other two glasses. Still it did take a while to reach a final conclusion, and calling A and B as the wine from the bottle was always the backup decision.

Common to many wines the act of swirling the wine in the glass over time did open this wine even further. That does seem like a contradiction if exposure to air actually lessened the appeal of the wine. But exposure to air in a decanter and coating the inside of a glass with a thin film of wine by swirling are not one in the same. That thin coating of wine is likely to release its volatile components more readily possibly due to effects of surface tension and exposure to warmer air within the bowl itself. If you don’t believe me take two glasses, pour several ounces of wine into one and just a few milliliters into the other. Now swirl for a few moments and smell. Notice any difference?

Score: Wines tested 12, Decanters 1, Non-decanters 4.

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