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

Sparkling Wine … testing the theory that how you clean your glasses impacts on your bubbles

The Experiment

To test the theory that the method you use to wash your glasses has an impact on your sparkling wine, i.e flatten your bubbles.  A good quality sparkling wine will visibly retain its bubbles (or “beads”) in the glass 15 minutes after pouring.

The Panel

Joe Phillis – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A true sparkling wine devotee.

Tanya Denning – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A true sparkling wine devotee.

Mary Seely – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A sparkling wine enthusiast.

Caroline Offord – Author of this blog and a wine appreciator.  A sparkling wine enthusiast.

The Wines

Domaine Chandon N.V Brut  $24.95

Janz Premium curvee N.V   $24.95

Veuve Amiot (Loire Valley, France) $13.95


The Process

Three glasses were presented for each panel member.  Each of the glasses had been cleaned in a different way.

  • Wine flute #1 – Dishwashing detergent in the sink, rinsed and left to air dry.
  • Wine flute #2 – Placed into the dishwasher on rinse with hot water, no detergent and air dried.
  • Wine flute #3 – Hot water in the sink, no detergent and dried using a tea towel.

The Results


  • Wine flute #1 (detergent, rinsed) – within one minute of pouring the wine the bubbles began to flatten in the glass
  • Wine flute #2 (no detergent, air dried) – the wine remained vibrant and alive for the 15 minute trial period (we couldn’t wait any longer to drink it!)
  • Wine flute #3 (hot water, towel dried) – a slight reduction in ”bead” quality compared to flute #2 (no detergent, air dried)

Conclusion

The best cleaning method for sparkling wine glasses is to wash them in hot water (no detergent) and leave them to air dry or use a good quality linen tea towel.

Does putting a teaspoon in an opened bottle of champagne work to preserve your bubbles overnight ? – Tanya

” When a team of Stanford researchers put the idea to the test – all in a thirst for knowledge, and digging into their own pockets for research funds – they found that the spoon theory falls flat.”

http://news.stanford.edu/pr/94/941221Arc4008.html

Summary

My article titled “Wine tasting tips” (published 8/11/09) discourages the use of detergents but recommends washing your glasses in hot water and if a quick dry is necessary then a good quality linen tea towel is acceptable  (regular tea towels can leave lint or residue which can also flatten your bubbles).

The key points to consider are:

  • Allow enough time to prepare and clean your champagne flutes prior to use.  If they have been in the cupboard for a while than re wash them.
  • It is ideal to have good quality glasses, ie crystal flutes
  • A good quality sparkling wine should display excellent “bead” 15 minutes after pouring and beyond … and be able to store in the fridge overnight for drinking the next day.

On this last point I would have liked to have tested this theory but the sparkling wines were all excellent and completely consumed on the night !

White Wine … testing the theory of serving temperature and the effect on taste

I chose Chardonnay for this social experiment (11/11/09).  A big factor for this was that two of the “social experiment” panel are chardonnay lovers.  Another reason is I am a little inexperienced with Chardonnay and thought this could be an opportunity to taste a few different bottles (so I purchased without bias).

 The Experiment

To test the theory that white wine which has been stored in a domestic fridge (average temperature of 5 degrees Celsius) beyond one week can taste like a completely different wine as oppose to the same wine being chilled for an hour (or alternatively chilled on ice for 15 minutes).

 

The Panel

Joe Phillis – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A chardonnay lover.

Tanya Denning – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A chardonnay lover.

Mary Seely – Wine appreciator and good friend.  A chardonnay apprentice.

Caroline Offord – Author of this blog and a wine appreciator.  A chardonnay apprentice.

 

The Wines

Stoneleigh 2007 Chardonnay (Marlborough, New Zealand) $19.95

Half Mile Creek 2007 Chardonnay (Vic, Australia) $8.95

 

The Process

The panel was unaware of the experiment and there were 3 bottles covered up in brown paper bags:

  • Unmarked bottle # 1 – Stoneleigh Chardonnay – stored in the fridge for 9 days at 5 degrees Celsius
  • Unmarked bottle # 2 – Stoneleigh Chardonnay – stored in the fridge for 2 hours at 5 degrees Celsius
  • Unmarked bottle # 3 – Half Mile Creek Chardonnay – stored in the fridge for 1 day at 5 degrees Celsius

 The Panel’s Review

I was the only person on the panel who knew wine # 1 and # 2 were the same and the difference was the bottles had been chilled in different ways (refer to “the process” above). The experiment was a success and each wine tasted different – I could not believe it myself as I was sceptical prior to the experiment!

The panel applied a standard scoring system to each wine   Appearance (3) Nose (7) and Palate (10) which helped to stimulate conversation about the wines and ensure equal attention was given to each tasting.  Here are the questions I asked the panel at the end of the 3 tastings:

 Which wine was the favourite?

All three agreed that the preferred wine was the 3rd one – Half Mile Creek ($8.95).

 Why was this wine the favourite?

“The first wine tasted too young and had a weak palate and also had a spicy aftertaste” – Mary

“I agree. The second wine was an improvement and it was pleasant however the 3rd wine was closer to a typical buttery chardonnay with a lot of characteristic the way I like it” – Tanya

“Yes the third one was the most flavoursome.  My palate was reminded of caramel Jerseys ” – Joe

 Which wine do you think was the most expensive?

The third one – all agreed that Half Mile Creek ($8.95) tasted the most expensive

 What would you say if I told you the 1st and second wines were exactly the same but chilled differently?

Absolutely no way!  A flutter of excitement broke out amongst the panel at this point and I admitted I had been sceptical as well and when I discovered the second wine tasted totally different it was hard to contain myself for the remainder of the tastings. 

 

Conclusion

The panel confirms that serving temperature has a significant bearing on wine appreciation. The theory was that often at home or in restaurants, white wines are commonly served far too cold.  According to the WInePros website (http://www.winepros.org/consumerism/serve.htm) “Knowing the basic chemical phenomena involved helps to set some ground rules. Lower temperatures mean less volatility, therefore weaker aromas, but also brighter acidity, so a stronger impression of dryness and astringency and a diminished sense of fruitiness and sweetness.”

Full, dry whites are often refrigerated too long and served too cold. It is better to give these wines a timed chill of 15 to 20 minutes, rather than store them typically in your fridge.   Stick to this habit and your Chardonnay will display more aroma and a richer flavour.

Fruity, dry whites, such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, dry Muscat, dry Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Grigio and dry rosé are crisp and refreshing at 10-13°C. (http://www.winepros.org/consumerism/serve.htm)

Refrigerators can vary greatly and average 5°C, but ideally white wine should be stored at 7-9°C degrees Celsius.  However ,there is no need to go and start adjusting your fridge at home for your wine, an ideal and efficient alternative is an ice bucket for chilling your wine bottles.

 

Summary

The key points to consider are:

  • To get the most out of the aromas and flavours of your white wines and be aware of the variety, i.e. don’t leave your dry whites in the fridge for prolonged periods, rather treat them with the same respect as you do for your reds and be mindful of the ideal storing and serving temperature.
  • Put your high acidity wines in the fridge an hour before drinking (i.e. Chardonnay) or just place on ice for 15 minutes prior to serving.
  • You can be less fussy with the more fruity whites like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc – they can be chilled for a few days or even left in the ice bucket.