Tannins; you either love them or hate them. Either way, they’re crucial to the texture of a wine, providing the structure and “backbone.” It allows for a drier finish and determines its body. Tannin is a naturally occurring compound found in the skins of grapes and is imparted to wine from barrels in the aging/fermentation process. As a characteristic of wine, tannin adds bitterness and astringency, as well as complexity. Once wine is bottled, changes continue to occur. As wine matures, the tannins form long polymerized chains, which translates over time into "softer," more mellow and ultimately less tannic pours. Checking my cellar last week revealed that I’m fresh out of Lafite “82…so while we all wait for our futures to come of age, it might be wise to get our hands dirty- or at least our decanters.
Our aerating glass friends have the noble duty of moving a liquid, such as wine, from its original vessel (the bottle) into another vessel (the decanter) which allows for a resuscitated and aerified wine. By exposing wine to oxygen, the tannins oxidize into compounds that are polymerization-prone. The process of decanting uses oxygen to partially mimic the effect of aging on tannins.
Ready for your quiz yet? First, let’s reiterate the bottom line: the purpose of aging is to “tame the tannin” and to make wine consumption a more enjoyable sensory experience. When aged wine is not available, decanting can save the day (or at least the dinner party!)
Some grape varietals are more tannic than others. The highest in tannins tend to be Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo (Barbaresco, Barolo), and Syrah. Our Block 426 Cabernet Sauvignon Chalk Hill is a youthful wine that is perfect for trying a hand at decanting!
If you have chosen a wine with any of these grapes, chances are you need to whip out your decanter. The experts at Wine Spectator offer these thorough instructions on the next steps of decanting:
- Set the bottle upright for 24 hours or more before drinking, so the sediment can slide to the bottom of the bottle, making it easier to separate.
- Locate a decanter or other clean, clear vessel from which the wine can easily be poured into glasses.
- Remove the capsule and cork; wipe the bottle neck clean.
- Hold a light under the neck of the bottle; a candle or flashlight works well.
- Pour the wine into the decanter slowly and steadily, without stopping; when you get to the bottom half of the bottle, pour even more slowly.
- Stop as soon as you see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle. Sediment isn’t always chunky and obvious; stop if the wine’s color becomes cloudy or if you see what looks like specks of dust in the neck.
- The wine is now ready to serve. Discard the remaining ounce or two of sediment-filled liquid in the bottle.
What’s that you say, you adore your tannins? Well, there are numerous debates on all sides of the wine, restaurant, and hospitality industries as to when and how long to decant, if even at all. It all depends on your palate preferences, but some wines really do require a good decanting. Sommeliers recommend an hour for young reds (around 3 years and younger) and two to three hours for older reds (over 5 years). My suggestion is to gather as much information as possible about the wine you have chosen. Visit your ABC Wine Consultant for expert advice on the exact bottle you have chosen. Happy decanting!
Heather Burton, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine Consultant
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineheatherb