To decant or not decant that is the question …

The Experiment  

To taste and compare two different red wines of the same variety but of different quality and compare the taste when the wines are decanted and not decanted (i.e. poured and consumed when the bottle is opened)

The Panel  
Joe Phillis –    Wine appreciator and good friend. A Shiraz guru.
Tanya Denning  –  Wine appreciator and good friend. A Shiraz admirer.
Mary Seely – Wine appreciator and good friend. A Shiraz enthusiast.
Caroline Offord – Blog author and a wine appreciator. A Shiraz admirer.  

 
The Wines

‘Mouthpiece’ 2002 shiraz (Barossa Valley) $9.95
Mitchell’s ‘McNicol’ 2001 shiraz (Clare Valley) $40  

 
The Process
Two glasses were presented for each panel member.  The panel (except myself) left the room whilst I poured the wine into two glasses so the panel could taste without bias.

  • Wine glass #1 – Shiraz that had been decanted for 2 hours. 
  • Wine glass #2 – Shiraz that was poured straight from the bottle (opened 2 bottles of the 2002 Mouthpiece).  

 The Results  2002 ‘Mouthpiece  Shiraz 

  • Wine glass #1 – The taste was not too pleasing on everyone’s palates and with a highly tannic flavour  
  • Wine glass #2 – A significant difference from the first glass.  It was like tasting a completely different wine! This wine was pleasant in taste and rated higher than the first glass amongst the panel.

 The Results  2001 Mitchells ‘McNicol ‘ Shiraz 

  • Wine glass #1 – The taste was bold, yet smooth and delightful and the panel were in immediate agreement that this wine was preferable to the 2002 Mouthpiece.  
  • Wine glass #2 – The bottle briefly had contact with oxygen on opening but the cap was immediately replaced after the bottle was poured into the decanter.  In this case this wine tasted a lot better when poured from the decanter.   The taste straight from the bottle was sharp with an instant bite and spice. However, we all agreed the benefit in decanting was the more lingering and smooth flavour. 

Conclusion  

We found decanting the first bottle (2002 ‘Mouthpiece’) did not work favourably for that wine.   However bottle number two (2001 ‘McNicol’ Shiraz) improved through decanting (although this wine is magnificent from the bottle also).  

 So why is it I wonder then that we found the first wine was better straight from the bottle? 

 This was perplexing  for the panel and we agreed that perhaps regular quaffing wines do not require decanting, yet the more aged and top end wines (like the popular theory) do develop and enhance the wine’s characteristics.

 Summary 

Traditionally the use of a decanter is to separate the sediment from the wine, in particular aged wines.  These days a decanter is more commonly used to aerate the wine in order to enhance the aromas and wine characteristics to full potential.

 There are many different types of decanters on the market but essentially the main feature should be a wide base channelling into a funnel like top to allow the oxygen to be in contact with the wine (so it can breath), yet also practical to pour.  I have seen several types for sale and a feature of interest on some decanters was a mesh removable filter for the opening which would be of benefit for older wines and if a cork is damaged whilst opening.  We used a basic model glass decanter which served the purpose nicely and it was cleaned prior to the experiment in hot water (no detergent) and air dried

An interesting point on the McNicol Shiraz …

Recently a good friend of mine returned home to Spain for a visit with family and took a bottle of this wine for an uncle as a gift.  This particular relative is a huge lover of red wines and also very loyal to the notion of corks in wine as opposed to screw caps.  The ‘McNicol’ is a screw capped bottle and therefore received a cold reception and great hesitation to taste the wine, Eventually  the uncle caved in and tried the wine and loved it and was genuinely surprised.  So this bottle changed his outlook completely. 

Additional reading on decanted wine

 http://www.thewinedoctor.com/advisory/openservedecanting.shtml

 http://www.theage.com.au/executive-style/top-drop/do-we-decant-20090710-dfne.html

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