The Stout Report: The Genie in the Bottle

Decanting seems to be a cyclical topic in the wine world. Our journalist blogging colleague Eric Asimov at the New York Times chimes in today as well with-his report, The In-Betweens of Decanting.  Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey also just released this video from the Guild of Sommeliers - How to decant aged red wine. All this decanting and breathing stuff must be in the air. Or maybe we are all thinking towards Spring? Meanwhile our very own expert on the subject, Master Sommelier Guy Stout issues this timely report. – Ed. note

I recently had a discussion with a friend in Boston about breathing wine. The question was – Do white wines need to breathe?

My response is yes. It is like letting the genie out of the bottle.

Wine will open up when it’s been poured into a glass or decanter. The scientific answer is volatizing esters or in laymen’s terms, developing aromas. Volatizing esters are not what I would tell a customer in a shop or in a restaurant, just say “it opens the wine up”.

When you get wine into your glass it gives it a little elbow room, allowing the wine to stretches out after being sealed in the bottle, becoming something more beautiful, the genie effect.

if you open a mature white wine like an older burgundy, Napa Chardonnay, Condrieu, Mosel, Alsace etc., the wine will blossom for a period of time and fade. This is dangerous ground for people who have kept wine a little too long. Older whites can fade fairly quickly. You really have to follow the wines progress in the glass during a tasting or dinner, or you may be left with a wine that is going, going, gone.

I remember a lunch at Moet Chandon in Champagne a number of years ago, with Henri Perrier (Moet). After our tour and tasting, he pulled a bottle of the historic 1911 vintage. He advised me to drink the wine with gusto. Not a problem for me. He explained that the wine will open and bloom and fade quickly. We each drank a glass or two and had a glass poured and placed to the side to taste at the conclusion of lunch. The wine, when opened, was showing oxidative, which is normal for an 80 plus year old wine, with hints of wheat toast, walnuts and cider. It had a rich earthy mineral quality with crisp citrus flavor and a tart pear and plum finish. The wine was still lively after 15 minutes, but began to deteriorate quickly after that. At the conclusion of lunch, the wine was basically vinegar.

Case in point. Don’t hold your white wines too long. If you have one of the wine cellar units available that looks like furniture, or a built-in refrigerated cellars, the wines will be in much better shape after a few years. If you just put your wine on a rack in the dining room or kitchen, they will tend to mature more quickly.

If you are like most people, the wines purchased today are consumed the same day or the next. People are buying and drinking wines, not laying them away. So, if you have purchased wine recently. Unless you have adequate storage conditions, drink them.

Get them in a glass or decanter and let them breath.

I have a reasonable wine cellar with some old Chardonnays, Hermitage Blanc and white Burgundies from the 1980’s & 90”s that I have kept too long. Occasionally I am surprised when one of them turns out to still be really good. I mostly serve them to wine geek friends for a look back in time and talk more about what was happening then than the wine itself.

I like to decant my red and white wines. When I entertain, we have several decanters we use. I like the pear shaped ones, not the flat bottom style. Trying to get the last glass out of those takes someone double jointed. I also use a crystal water pitcher for decanting and serving wines. The pleasure for me and my guest is in the passing of the decanter or the pitcher. You make eye contact and physical contact which to me, is nicer than just passing a bottle around, family style.

Yes, decanting a very young Chardonnay, Brunello or Napa Cabernet will help the wine.

No amount of breathing is going to make up for what the wine needs in bottle age.

The vintage has a lot to do with breathing a wine, but with people drinking wines so quickly after purchase, I recommend that they get the wine in a nice wine glass and let the Genie out of the bottle; it will set you free.

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