Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Decanting Marius

Here at Shiraz there is not a big belief in decanting wine to allow the wine to open-up. Long personal experience has shown me that there are few wines that show real improvement with decanting. In fact, for me decanting is more likely to detract from the appeal of a wine. That said, it is clear that the world of wine is fraught with danger when it comes to implying that personal tasting experiences are applicable to all palates. However this does not mean that dogma does not rule wine appreciation in not so subtle ways. One of the examples of wine dogma is that decanting allows young red wines to throw off the excesses of youth and soften into something more approachable. And one of the wine styles that is often cited as an example is Australian Shiraz. Many believe that these big, bold, fruit laden wines need a little time out in the open air in order to lose some of their larrikin image. But is that something that can be generalized?

Just before my trip to Australia in December last year I asked the members of an online wine forum in Australia to list Australian red wines that they thought would benefit from decanting. I received some excellent suggestions but the most intriguing proposal came from Roger Pike of Marius Wines of McLaren Vale in South Australia. Intriguing because Roger stated that “my wines certainly open up and gain complexity with a couple of hours of air. They are probably a good example of what you are looking for.” After a little discussion an order was sent out for a couple of bottles of the Marius 2005 Symphony Shiraz (15% alcohol) and the 2005 Simpatico Shiraz (14.5% alcohol). These single vineyard wines arrived a few days after I had made my way to central western New South Wales, to my birthplace and more recently home to a growing wine industry.

The plan was to assess one of the wines at a wine tasting that had been arranged by Chris Davis who had gathered together a group of wine friends to blind taste a number of the best Australian Shiraz and Shiraz blends. An ideal opportunity to test if decanting improves young Aussie Shiraz. The location for the tasting was Carlton House, a beautiful old home built around 1873 that is used by the Orana Education & Training Cooperative Ltd (OEC) as a function centre available for community and business events including weddings, parties, seminars and conferences. And now wine tastings! Like most planned wine events a number of the invited guests never materialized and those that did attend were never all together at the same time. On the bright side this meant that there was a whole lot more outstanding wine for those of us who did make it, but on the other hand there were only three of us present when it came time to taste the decanted wine, and one of us (me) had to pour the wines so the tasting could be blinded.

The wine was the 2005 Symphony Shiraz and the two tasters were Chris and another of the OEC board members with the original name of Mike. Each was given two glasses, one with decanted (2 hours) wine and another with wine from a freshly opened bottle. After tasting the wines they were both asked to identify which wine they thought had been decanted. They both picked different glasses; Chris arguing that his choice had to be correct because the wine was softer, while Mike argued that he was correct because the wine was fresher. When I pointed out that Chris was indeed correct Mike was heard to utter “Well, I’m gobsmacked”. Its probably important to point out that gobsmacked is a British slang term meaning more than just surprised; it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks. Having your perceptions of the value of decanting so rudely dashed can do that.

What was my opinion of the two glasses of 2005 Symphony Shiraz? Well, as I’ve said, I didn’t taste the glasses blinded but the difference was very clear. The decanted wine was more closed while the wine from the bottle was richer and riper with better carry of flavors onto the palate and more length to the finish.

Fast forward four days to a dinner at Chris’ home and another comparison of decanted and undecanted wine. This time it was the 2005 Simpatico Shiraz that had been decanted for 3 hours. We had three tasters willing to accept the challenge of identifying the decanted wine, myself, Chris and, well, let’s just call him Doc! To me the difference between the two glasses was quite evident and I called the decanted wine correctly, as did Chris and Doc. My impression was that the decanted wine was less expressive and shorter on the finish. But Chris preferred the decanted wine arguing, as he did for the 2005 Symphony, that the decanted Simpatico was softer and better than wine from the freshly opened bottle. Judging by his consumption Doc also preferred the decanted wine.

Have we solved the riddle of the value of decanting young reds? Clearly not. My palate preference for freshly poured wine is old news; for me decanting improves the palate appeal of very few wines. What is clear is that these two outstanding Marius wines are affected by decanting. The question is whether you prefer them fresh out of the bottle or decanted? If you really do want to know how your palate responds to decanted wine I’d recommend that you buy two bottles of either (or both) of the Marius wines and do a comparison between decanted and freshly poured.

1 comment:

Lovino Kinneen said...

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