Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wine Aerators

It is a well acknowledged fact that wine tastes better after proper aeration. Aeration releases the delicate aromas of wine as well as improving the flavor of the wine. Fine Wine Toys

While I may not believe that statement, there is an industry out there producing gadgets for those who do, and some of it is pretty weird stuff.

There is the deSign Wine Aerator which comes in both bottle and wine glass sizes. All you do is insert the aerator into the wine and squeeze the bulb at the top to bubble your wines with air. And voilà, you have a nice head of foam, well for a few seconds anyway. I’m tempted to buy one just to show that this is very, very unlikely to do anything to wine, apart from adding a few bubbles.

If the deSign Wine Aerator sounds fishy, its got nothing on the Sea-riffic Pewter Aerators. At $30 each the puffer fish, sea horse, and octopus are used by inserting one of them into the mouth of a decanter and then pouring the wine over the aerator. I imagine you also get a good deal of foam with this method as well.

And if you really want to pump-it-up then there is the Air au Vin Wine Breather. Its been recommended by the BBC's Food and Drink programme, so it must work!

What ever happened to giving your decanter a good swirl a few times, if you are into that type of thing!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wine Decanting – A scientific approach?

Eric Asimov of The Pour wine blog has approached his wine decanting in an interesting way, by using Erlenmeyer and volumetric flasks from a scientific supply house.

We have a bunch of these lying around the lab, maybe I should use some because Eric states that Most people rarely think of decanting white wines, but I’ve become a big proponent of this. Almost any good young white wine will be very tight when poured directly from the bottle. Decanting will not do the job of five years of aging, but the air absorbed by the wine as it is transferred to the vessel helps to unclench flavors and aromas.

Maybe the reason why all of the white wines that I have tested so far have not benefited from aeration by decanting is because I’m using the wrong decanter glassware!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #7

Its not proving easy to find wines that benefit from a few hours in a decanter. OK, so only six wines have been tested so far and there would be serious debate as to whether some of them are true contenders for the title of “A wine that benefits from decanting”. So with the next wine let’s go BIG! The dogma is that young, big wines, with plenty of tannin, need some time in a decanter to calm down their belligerent tendencies; I don’t know why but that brought to mind an image of Paris Hilton after 45 days in jail!

Let’s go back to Napa, to the Robert Biale Vineyards, and taste their 2005 Napa Ranches Zinfandel. Biale is a highly regarded Zinfandel producer, and with hardly any time at all in the bottle, and almost 16% alcohol, the Napa Ranches is young and hot - a Paris Hilton wine? It should really be confined to a cold, dark place for years but let’s see if a little air might temper it.

Wine #7 2005 Robert Biale Vineyards Napa Ranches Zinfandel ($19.99USD, 375ml), 15.9% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen; both in the cellar at 56 degree F. 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 aromatic. Smoky oak, blackberry and an aroma approaching violets. Very attractive. Entry is very soft, almost silky with good balance and carry of flavors. Finish is carried by firm tannins. The alcohol is hidden extremely well

Glass B: Less open, with burnt, tarry notes. In the mouth the wine is very similar to glass A, but has a little more astringency.

Glass C: Aromas are as for glass A. In the mouth the wine is the same as glass B

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

Conclusion: Can I change my hypothesis? No, we haven’t even gone through a dozen wines. I could turn this around. After all Paris won’t be spending 45 days in jail, so anything is possible. But decanting, at least for 2 hours, has had little effect on most of the wines tested so far, and the outlook is for more of the same. The next wine is another Aussie Shiraz and I’m tempted to double decant it and then leave it for 24 hours. Why? Well that’s what one wine retailer does with Aussie Shiraz, so why not? On second thought, no. We will stick with the current format for a few more wines.

Score: Wines tested 7, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 1.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #6

Lets try another 2003 Chardonnay, but this tine we’ll head off to Burgundy to the village of Chassagne-Montrachet, in the south of the Côte de Beaune. Flanked on either side by the appellations of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet, the vineyards that go to make up the Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc produce wines that are fat and opulent with tropical fruit aromas. The 2003 has now spent some 3 years in bottle, still a little young but it should be revealing some of its character by now.

Should you decant such wines? Well over on they suggest that a “big, barrel-fermented chardonnay can benefit from some air”. The reason? To get rid of overtly oaky flavours. A problem here is that wines that have undergone malolactic fermentation, apart from having less crisp acidity and greater palate weight, have better integration of fruit and oak character. Aeration by decanting didn’t really work at all for the Talbott, did it? The Louis Latour has had “100% malolactic fermentation followed by 8 to 10 months ageing in oak casks” so there is a question as to whether it will benefit from aeration. But also has this quote - "I often ask our customers whether they would like a white burgundy decanted because oxygenation improves its aromas," says Claude Douard, sommelier at London restaurant Mirabelle. So this time I’ll leave the wines at cellar temperature during the decanting period and we’ll see if differences in smell and taste are more evident as the wines warm during the tasting comparison.

Wine #6 2003 Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc, Burgundy, France ($14.97USD, 375ml), 13.5% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen; both in the cellar at 56 degree F. 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: Quite delicately flavored with nice citrus, melon, peach and anise aromas. Fat and full with an excellent softness across the palate finishing with nice acidity but not very impressive flavor carry or length.

Glass B: As for A. An oak note comes up with warming. Palate as for A.

Glass C: As for A and B. An oak note comes up with warming. A little softer and more supple than A and B.

My opinion: A is decanted wine and B and C are from the freshly opened bottle.
Reality: C is decanted, A and B from the bottle.

Conclusion: There was little to distinguish between the different glasses. No surprise there. These wines don’t do much with air over a few hours. In fact the wine was essentially the same 24 hours later after all the remaining wine was put into one of the bottles, and left in the fridge.

Score: Wines tested 6, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 1.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #5

The next wine is the 20th vintage of a wine that Talbott Vineyards call a benchmark for California Chardonnay. From vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the 33 year old vines yielded two and a half tons an acre at crush. Grapes were lightly pressed into French oak barrels (30% new, the balance being seasoned and neutral), barrel-fermented, and then barrel-aged 14 months sur lees, stirred twice a month, and bottle-aged 12 months prior to release in June of 2006.

This 2003 wine was described by Michael Apstein of Wine Review Online (August 2006) as “Now, with a 20-year track record, most everyone will agree that Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay is surely one of California’s best examples of that varietal…it’s a glorious wine.” 95 points.

Wine #5 2003 Talbott Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Monterey County, USA ($14.99USD, 375ml), 14.7% alcohol.
One bottle was splash decanted and the other left unopen. After 2 hours 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: Richly flavored with notes of nectarine, toasted oak and minerality (petrichor). Underneath is a honeyed, almost marmalade aroma. A mouthfilling wine, with a soft and supple entry and fatness across the palate and an added flavor of apricot. Excellent length with persistence of flavors.

Glass B: Aromas as for glass A, with perhaps more pronounced nectarine. On the palate there is a little more minerality and crisp acidity than glass A.

Glass C: Aromas as for glasses A and B, with perhaps more pronounced nectarine. Very similar on the palate to the other glasses with a touch more crisp acidity.

My opinion: B and C are from the bottle and A is decanted
Reality: B is decanted and A and C are from the bottle.

Conclusion: Again I was pulling at straws in trying to detect any differences in the wine in the three glasses. Very much an exercise in futility that is obvious from my attempt to use crisp acidity as a differential feature of the wine. With barrel-fermentation, and barrel-aging on its lees in 70% seasoned and neutral oak, it has almost certainly undergone malo-lactic fermentation.

Score: Wines tested 5, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 1.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Great Decanting Experiment – Wine #4

This next wine is a five year young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that should be coming into its own. The 2002 Peter Franus Cabernet Sauvignon is a mix of fruit from Rancho Chimiles (south east of Napa Valley) and Hyde Vineyard (Carneros). Aged for 18 months in 100% French Oak (75% new). Even though it should be just be entering its drinking window I’m expecting it to be still tightly focused with firm tannins and obvious oak. This is the type of wine that advocates of aeration suggest will benefit from a few hours in a decanter.

Wine #4 2002 Peter Franus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, USA ($19.99USD, 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: Rich and ripe with blueberry, blackberry, banana skin, toasted oak and cedar. Full bodied with firm, drying tannins, nice acidity and good length to the finish. More carry of flavors onto the palate than glass B.

Glass B: Subdued with anise and smoky notes. Not as open as glasses A and C. Full bodied with considerable astringency but lacking depth on the mid-palate. Notes of smoke and oak evident on the palate.

Glass C: Blueberry, smoky oak, banana skin, anise and cedar. On the palate big, drying tannins with nice juicy acidity. Not overly complex. Similar flavor carry onto the palate as glass A.

My opinion: Decanted wine is glass B. Non-decanted wine is glasses A and C.
Reality: A and B are decanted. C is from the freshly open bottle.

Conclusion: Although the notes above may not show it, I really struggled to identify differences between the wine in the three glasses. My notes are really amplifications of what I was smelling and tasting and do not truly represent the fact that the wine was essentially identical in all three glasses. Decanting for 2 hours really did not affect the perception of astringency at all. Some may argue that this is not a classic Napa Cabernet and that other wines would perform differently. And that a longer decant will show differences. Well call me a halfwit, I guess its time to source some other Cabs!

Score: Wines tested 4, Decanters 0, Non-decanters 1.