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Should you treat your red wine like a smoothie?
I recently received an interesting question from a subscriber in the “Comments” section. It was from Scott in South Korea, who wanted to know more about “hyperdecanting” wine. Just thought I would share my reply and thoughts on this with everyone.
Here is his note:
“Big fan in South Korea here. I’ve been seeing more about hyper decanting via blender/food processor of late and was curious if my favorite source of wine news and tips had an opinion about this method and which kinds of wines would benefit most from it.
Keep up the great work,
Thanks for the note and your continuing interest. I had not actually come across the concept of hyper decanting before despite the cluster of wine related subscriptions I follow. It seems that the idea has come to the top of the media pile in part because of it being used by a character in the TV series Succession. This fictional hyper-rich character hyperdecants a red wine and claims it ages the wine five years. It sounds super cool but "is this anything?".
Wines (red only) are decanted because some red wines are initially closed and tannic on opening but when exposed to the air, will open up and release what bouquet and flavours they are capable of. Chemically, when the wine is opened, a parade of flavour compounds flare slowly up into the troposphere of the glass like an unseen slow fountain. This is why drinking wine out of various kinds of wine glasses can change the aromas and flavours that are emphasized and perceived.
In general, regardless of the wine, its age, quality and potential, there is a goldilocks period in the aeration process where the wine is just right. Past that point, the exposure to air begins to have the opposite effect, the wine goes out of balance, loses what pleasing flavours and smells that it has and heads for its not-so-sweet-hereafter, otherwise known as vinegar.
How much aeration a particular wine needs is not entirely predictable and there are some reds I would not decant at all such as pinot noir and gamay. These lighter reds have much fewer tannins and will open up in the glass on their own after about 15 to 25 minutes at most.
The first issue with hyper decanting is that since you are greatly accelerating the aeration process it would be very easy to over aerate and the effect of that on the wine is not reversible.
The second issue is that wines of higher quality tend to be more complex, subtle and layered and for those types of wines I think almost any hyper decanting would obliterate the balance of its flavour components. It would be a shame to lose all the qualities that the winemaker has striven for by treating their wine like a smoothy.
Aeration is not a magic want that will make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It's not all about softening tannins. If the wine is lower quality, has added sugar, has vin de presse (grapes pressed hard to get every drop out despite the resulting bitter flavours of stems and seeds), too much alcohol or is light and watery because of overcropping, more air isn't going to fix it.
I use one of three options when decanting for aeration (you can also decant to separate out sediment in certain wines). I start by having a sip in order to decide which way to go on decanting. Again, for most wines and especially lighter wines such as pinot noir, gamay (e.g. Beaujolais), and others, I don't decant at all. I just pour it into the glass and leave it for up to half an hour (sometimes taking a sip every ten minutes or so to note its changes.
For wines that I expect will be finer, more subtle or will be more closed initially I will put them in a ship's decanter (one with the narrow top and big very wide base) because aeration is about surface area and the area exposed in a ship's decanter is large). This helps ensure that I don't over aerate a lovely, complex wine.
For many red wines that will be initially closed but capable of smoothing out and gaining some degree of complexity such as entry level new world malbecs, cabernet sauvignons and Bordeaux blends, carmeneres and the like, I will double decant, i.e. pour into a larger container that has a spout and immediately pour back into the bottle using a funnel. This is a quick way to open them up. It's usually the equivalent of an hour in a decanter and you don't risk overdoing it. (See complete Double Decanting instructions reproduced from Newsletter #1 below)
But if anyone wants to give it a whirl (sorry!) go ahead. It's your wine but try using a younger, sturdy wine that might be able to absorb this kind of treatment. If any subscribers out there do experiment with it, please share your findings. Thanks!
Pro Wine Tip - Decanting & Double Decanting
Decanting wine is simply the pouring wine from the original bottle into another bottle, vessel or decanter.
There are two reasons to decant:
Decanting for Sediment
For finer, older (typically 15 years plus) bigger, red wines (white and rose wines rarely need decanting) e.g. from Bordeaux, Burgundy, California or the Rhone decanting is good idea. Decanting is used here to separate the fine sediment from the wine. With these wines complex, elegant wines a bit of sediment could detract from their full enjoyment. Decanting for sediment will be covered in a future newsletter.
Decanting For Aeration
The second, far more common reason for decanting is to aerate the wine. Exposing the wine's surface to oxygen in this way, enhances a wine's flavor, releases dormant aromas and flavours in the wine and softens the tannins. It makes the wine much softer and better tasting. Aeration makes a very noticeable difference in the flavor and therefore your enjoyment of a red wine. Wines that benefit the most from aeration are those younger and ready to drink now i.e. most reds in the Ripe Fruit Forward and Savoury Fruit styles. Most Light Fruity Reds do not need to be decanted.
You might be familiar with the typical "Ship's decanter" with the very large flat bottom.
This shape provides a very large surface area for wine to interact with the air and aerate far more quickly then simply pulling the cork on the bottle as the surface area at the top of a bottle is only the size of a dime. A decanter will generally take half an hour to two hours or more to aerate the wine and bring out flavours and aromas in a red wine.
But what if you could aerate the wine in two minutes?
Decanting vs. Double decanting
Double decanting is a way to speed up the decanting of a red wine. Here is how to double decant a wine and then compare the decanted version to the undecanted original.
What you'll need:
1. An open bottle of wine
2. Two wine glasses
3. A jug or measuring cup (something with a spout) that holds
at least 1 liter
4. A funnel that will fit into the neck of the wine bottle
First - Open wine and pour 2 to 3 ounces into one of the wine glasses
Then - Pour the remainder of the wine into the jug or measuring cup
And Then - Put the funnel into wine bottle and steadily pour all of the wine in the jug or cup back into the wine bottle (but not too quickly or the escaping air may push up the funnel or bubble up the wine).
Now - Pour two or three ounces of the decanted wine into the second wine glass and compare it to the one in the glass that was not decanted.
The decanted one should taste much softer, rounder and more enjoyable. Once you taste the difference, I am betting you will want to keep that funnel handy.
And for me, although there are many beautiful and creative decanters available, I like the romance of the bottle with its label sitting on the table, as opposed to featureless glass that can sometimes look more like a scientific beaker. It’s more fun for guests . They want to look at the bottle, take down the name perhaps or try to remember it. In this way, I feel it's less elegant perhaps but more interesting and hospitable.