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!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Decanting - Another Opinion

Here is a decanting experiment that just caught my attention while Googling. OK, so its only one wine and it appears that the decanted and undecanted wines were not given to each individual at the same time; so direct comparisons could not be made. The conclusions do suggest that individual palates may respond to decanted wine differently. Although the effect of aeration on the perception of tannins is interesting! (I have bolded some sections that I find of interest. Click on the link at the bottom of the post to link to the original article.)

I admit that I had envisioned a specific result: that the decanted wines would generally lack pizzazz and that the undecanted wine would emerge as the victor. Not only was my assumption wrong, I was totally unprepared for what transpired.

Throughout the tasting, people kept saying that that they couldn't believe they were tasting the same wine. Clearly, decanting and aeration have a substantial effect. There was no clear-cut winner, though. One taster liked the undecanted wine (that was me!) and one taster liked the wine that had sat out for 24 hours. Nobody liked the wine that was aerated for one hour. And the remaining samples were fairly evenly distributed, although there was a slight skew toward the two-hour aeration period.

My own perceptions may have been clouded by my admitted prejudice and the fact that I knew which sample was which. I like fresh wines with lots of nose. Only the undecanted wine could be characterized this way. I was also very surprised by the reaction of the tannins. Folk wisdom says that aeration softens the tannins, yet in all of the aerated wines the tannins seemed harsher than in the unmanipulated wine, and the panel agreed.

In general, I found that the longer the wine had sat out, the more reserved (i.e. "dead") the nose. Here, too, the panel mostly agreed and their tasting notes supported this. THE FRUGAL OENOPHILE

Decanting – Some Other Opinions

Before posting on the fourth wine to be subjected to The Great Decanting Experiment, I thought it might be interesting to select a few other opinions that have made their way onto the internet; to read the full article click on the link at the end of each quotation. I post them without any comments from me. To see what I have posted on decanting just click on the word decanting in the Labels line at the end of this post.

Wine geeks love to sit around for hours and debate the pros and cons of this procedure, but I'm confident -- based on my experience of opening, decanting and tasting hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine -- that careful decanting can improve most any wine. Sommelier Joseph Nase

Decanting an hour or two before serving can also help more youthful wines offer complex aromas, enhanced fruit flavors, and more supple texture. This is especially true of big, fruity New World red wines with firm tannins. Decanting allows oxygen to interact with the wine's tannins and flavor compounds at a molecular basis, to soften the mouth, feel and release more aromas. The wine becomes more pleasurable when poured from the decanter. Dave DeSimone, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

What can help better quality reds, and even some whites, is to decant them. This aerates the wine more effectively, softening any harsh tannins, and enabling the flavours to develop. This can be particularly helpful with young, full-bodied reds made from grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Syrah, Pinotage and Zinfandel, which have been aged in new oak barrels and haven't quite 'settled down' (that is, the oak aromas and flavours haven't yet fully integrated with the fruit). Even 30 minutes in a decanter can get rid of overtly oaky flavours and you could happily leave them for three or four hours. Fiona Beckett,

The process used for decanting older wines can more or less be discarded with young wines. Not too many young wines suffer from the presence of sediment so the goal is to speed up the oxygenation process as much as possible to tame the tannins, help the wine open and strut its best stuff. Towards this end the goal is to "splash" as much of the wine again the inside of the decanter while pouring, agitating the wine as much as possible without spilling it outside the decanter. With young wines Hanes has experienced positive effects with wines decanted 24 hours before consuming. One also sees a wine being poured repeatedly between two decanters to speed up the process. Hanes has even on occasion witnessed violent shaking of the decanter to get the puppy moving in the right direction. Anything for the best effect! Marc Hanes, The Hanes Wine Review

If you thought decanting was a ritual reserved for venerable bottles of Bordeaux or expensive Cabernet Sauvignons from the Napa Valley, you're wrong. The simple act of pouring it out of the bottle and into a glass container for serving can flesh out almost any wine. Less expensive, younger wines may actually benefit the most. Corie Brown, Los Angeles Times

This is a controversial subject, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir. Decanting is the simple process of carefully pouring a wine from its bottle into a glass decanter in order to both separate it from the sediment in the bottom of the bottle and to aerate the wine. In a wine with abundant sediment, it is almost impossible to drink the last 6-8 ounces in the bottle if it has not been decanted. Where decanting becomes controversial is that unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Nebbiolo-based wines, which improve significantly with aeration, Pinot Noir has such a highly nuanced, delicate perfume that these fragile aromas can dissipate/deteriorate quickly because of excessive exposure to aeration. Beaux Frères, Oregon (Partners include wine critic Robert Parker, Jr.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #3

The third wine in The Great Decanting Experiment is one that I have not tasted before. It’s a Pinot Noir from Carneros. Produced by the Robert Stemmler Winery, the wine is a blend of grapes from six different sites separately fermented in small open-top tanks, hand plunged and aged in 40% new French oak.

Wine #3 2003 Robert Stemmler Carneros Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Napa, USA ($11.99USD, 375ml), 14.5% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen. After 2 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: Very distinctive note of molasses, almost rancio. Underlying aromas of ripe plums and licorice. A big, ripe Pinot. No subtly here. Full bodied with nice carry of flavors onto the palate. Soft tannins and very bright acidity. Nice length but ends with a slight bitter note.

Glass B: Closed, almost nothing coming from the glass. Faintest Pinot Noir spice, forest floor and a trace of rich toffee. Full bodied, a little more astringent than glass A. Nice juicy acidity but little flavor carry.

Glass C: As for glass B, very closed. Perhaps a hint of forest floor. On the palate this is the same as glass B.

My Opinion: Glass A is the wine from the bottle and glasses B and C are from the decanter.
Reality: Glass A is the wine from the bottle. The other two are from the decanter.

Conclusion: Well I had to get one right eventually! The difference between glass A and the other two was quite obvious, the only question was is glass A decanted or undecanted? Remember my bias? I do not believe that decanting affects wine in a positive way. So the decision was easy, and in this case (at least) the hypothesis holds up.

One point about this wine is that the initial tasting showed it was not endowed with overt Pinot Noir character. But as I swirled and sniffed from the three glasses there was a tendency for some of the spiciness that I associate with Pinot Noir to rise up and assert itself. Perhaps this is a wine that might benefit from an extended decant? Well I did splash decant it. And during its two hours in the decanter I did swirl it several times. Still if I can source a few more bottles I will try a longer decant, perhaps four hours? This may not be a bet to put too much on because as I type I am drinking some of the remaining wine and after almost 24 hours it has developed the caramel character of an oxidized wine. Rancio was a good descriptor after all!

Score: Wines tested 3, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 1.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #2

The second wine to be subjected to The Great Decanting Experiment is one that some will argue is inappropriate for decanting. But as I build up the numbers of wines tested for their ability to respond to decanting I am not going to discriminate. After all who knows what wines are improved by decanting? Oh I’m sure many have an opinion, but is it based on actual comparison between decanted and undecanted wine, or just anecdote?

Wine #2: 2002 Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay, South Australia ($10.99USD, 375ml), 13.5% alcohol.
As before one bottle was decanted and the other left unopen. After 2 hours and 15 minutes 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: Very aromatic with aromas of lime, peach, pineapple and anise. Mouthfilling with a soft and supple entry. A solid backbone of appealing acidity. Nice wine!

Glass B: Less open than glass A with peach, anise and pineapple and a hint of dustiness. Very similar to glass A on the palate.

Glass C: A little dusty (but not corked). Lemon, peach and anise. On the palate very similar to A and B, perhaps not as fat as glass A.

My opinion: A is the decanted wine.
Reality: Glass C contains the decanted wine, A and B had undecanted wine.

Conclusion: It was very difficult to distinguish between the three glasses of wine. And in the final assessment I was forced to conclude that the decanted wine was in glass A simply because that glass provided more aromatic complexity. Well that’s what the supporters of decanting argue, right? The dusty character detected in glasses B and C was not TCA as the remaining wine tasted on the next evening was sound and without any evidence of being corked.

Score: Wines tested 2, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 0

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Decanting wine, what does it do?

Gary Vaynerchuk over at Wine Library TV did a decanting experiment with the 2004 Amon Ra Shiraz (Barossa Valley, Australia).

In response to one of the comments on this episode of Wine Library TV Vaynerchuk wrote I have decanted over 30 wines under $12 in the last few weeks getting ready for this video and I have to tell you everyone did better after 2 hrs +….EVERYONE. I know it may sound strange and I didn’t think so myself but I disagree I think all wines get value from air!

Seeing as how Gary did his tasting non-blinded I don't place any great faith in his view, but its presented here for those who do believe in decanting. However it must be noted that Vaynerchuk's statement that decanting "breaks up the tannins" is simply wrong. As I noted in a previous post on decanting an article by Janet Fletcher in the San Francisco Chronicle quotes the following:- According to UC Davis Enology Professor Roger Boulton, there is absolutely no evidence that decanting produces any change in wine tannins, at least over a matter of days. Tasters may perceive that the tannins have softened, but laboratory tests show otherwise.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment

I’ve posted previously on decanting wines in order to enhance their appeal, so called aeration. Its something I do not do as I don’t believe that it has a positive effect on very many wines. Others, of course, disagree but when comparisons have been made between decanted and undecanted wines its usually the undecanted that have proven fresher and more attractive. The noted French oenologist Emil Peynaud describes a comparison between a decanted and freshly poured 1962 Médoc Cru in his The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation. The decanted wine had lost “finesse and elegance” even though decanting had made it seem fuller, while “the undecanted wine was livelier, fresher, less thick but also less fleshy”.

Decanting, in order to allow a wine to reveal more of its character following exposure to air, is different from allowing the wine to reveal itself in the glass by swirling to expose the wine to air. Decanted wine is usually left to sit for a period of time so that a large surface area of the wine is exposed to the ambient environment. Decanted wine may or may not be sampled during this time to see if aeration is having the desired effect. Pouring wine into a wine glass has one aim, that of consuming the wine in an appropriate container and so the wine, if free from fault, is usually sampled until the glass is empty. Wine tasted over time from a glass, especially if its well made, may change its aroma/bouquet. In fact lingering over a glass of wine is done in the expectation that it will reveal more of its complexity. My concern with decanting, especially for hours, is that the chance to appreciate the evolution of the wine in a glass may be lost. This assumes that a wine will change over time, many do not.

Testing whether decanting has a positive or negative effect on the appeal of a wine is not a straightforward procedure as there is no standard protocol for such an experiment. After having given it considerable thought I’ve arrived at the following approach as the most practical (for me) to test the hypothesis that decanting wine does not improve its aroma/bouquet and/or taste. Two bottles of wine are used; in most of the tests to be done these will be half-bottles (375 ml) simply to reduce expense. One bottle is opened and poured into a decanter (Reidel) and the other is left unopened. After a period of time the second bottle is opened and the decanted and freshly opened wines poured into opaque (black) tasting glasses. I’ve chosen opaque glasses as its possible that the period the decanted wine will be left to sit may be as long as 24 hours, and its my impression that many wines darken with such lengthy exposure to air. The opaque glasses will hinder the influence of color change on the assessment of the wine.

Seeing as I am the taster in these tests and because I have a stated bias, (I do not believe that decanting affects wine in a positive manner), three glasses (labeled A, B and C) of wine will be poured. The pouring will be done by my able assistant Miranda (my wife) and she will pour the wine while I am out of the room. She can pour the wine in any combination she chooses as long as one glass has decanted wine and another undecanted wine; the third can be either decanted or undecanted wine. Miranda must record which glasses received which wine before I am allowed to taste the wine to see if I can determine which glass contains which wine. I decided on using three glasses because it means that if there is a difference I have to be able to detect it in two of the three glasses. I have to declare what wine I believe is in each glass before the order is made known to me.

Wine #1 2003 Turkey Flat Shiraz ($17.99USD, 375ml), 14.5% alcohol.
The first wine to be subjected to the great decanting experiment is the 2003 Turkey Flat Shiraz from the Barossa Valley of South Australia. The wine was decanted for 2 and half hours.

Glass A: A little subdued with rich blackberry, licorice and smoky oak notes. On the palate, this is a very astringent wine with nice juicy acidity but little carry of flavor.

Glass B: Similar to glass A but with added presence of stewed prune, tar and plum aromas. Palate very similar to glass A but there is more carry of flavor onto the palate.

Glass C: Aromas are very similar to glass B with more blackberry. Palate the same as glass B.

My opinion: A is undecanted and B and C are decanted.
Reality: B is the undecanted wine.

Conclusion: Although the differences were not pronounced I was quite confident that I had correctly differentiated between the decanted and undecanted wine. However it seems that you can decant this wine for a few hours without ill effect, or you can simply pop and pour!

Score: Decanters 0, Non-decanters 0

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Aussie cities among world's best, but...

......Auckland is better! Just about fell off my seat when I read this. The human resources consultancy firm Mercer has conducted a survey on over 270 cities worldwide. Link.

39 key quality of living determinants were used , grouped in the following categories:

Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc)
Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services, etc)
Socio-cultural environment ( censorship, limitations on personal freedom, etc)
Health and sanitation (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc)
Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools, etc)
Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion, etc)
Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc)
Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc)
Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services, etc)
Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

Auckland came in as the fifth best city in the world, behind Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver and Vienna. Sydney ranks ninth on the list, ahead of Melbourne at 17, Perth at 21, Brisbane at 31 and Adelaide at 32.

At least in terms of a tourist visit Miranda and I would not rank Auckland so highly - only city where we have been subject to crime in the last 8 years - car break-in. The city itself falls down in terms of architecture and planning - the harbor area is not the equal of Sydney. And its not a cheap palce to live. And the display in the Museum on volcanoes wiped out Auckland multiple time each hour! Seemed almost as bad as earthquakes in California. (Link to Age article.)