Monday, January 30, 2017

Why and how to decant wine

We decant wines for two reasons:
1. To remove sediment from the bottle (usually an issue only for older red wines); and
2. To aerate (oxidize) a young wine (usually a red wine).

If you will decant your younger red wines, they will taste better, and their nose will be more forthcoming.

Here's how to decant a younger red wine: open it, about two hours before drinking, and pour it slowly into the decanter. Put a bright light source behind the bottle's neck, so you can watch the wine that passes by the neck and stop decanting if you see sediment. Let the wine sit in the decanter for a few minutes or up to twenty minutes (I think most of the oxidizing happens through the act of pouring/splashing, so it's not critical to let the wine sit in the decanter for a long time.) Feel free to swirl the wine in the decanter, if you like. If you have more bottles to decant, you can rinse out the bottle (let it drip out well) and then refill it from the decanter back into the bottle (use a small funnel and pour slowly). I like doing this, so guests can see what wine they are drinking.

Older red wines: If a red wine is more than twenty years old, then it might be best to NOT decant it, as decanting can destroy (use up) a fleeting flash of wine greatness that can be captured by the wine lover only when the wine goes direct from just-opened to being drunk. But older red wines can have serious sedimentation issues, and nobody wants to drink sediment. One way to deal with this is to set the bottle upright for several days before opening, and then open it carefully, never jostling the bottle, and pour it slowly into the glasses. If you do this, any sediment will remain at the bottom. An alternative is to decant the bottle, just before drinking, very carefully, to keep any sediment in the bottle.

Here's a decanter I like (see photo below):

a. It's inexpensive! $22 plus S&H, versus about $60-$100 for equivalent styles from other suppliers.
b. It's large enough to have a huge surface area for a 750ml bottle, and at 60 oz size it can also hold a magnum (which is approximately 50 oz). Many other decanters will barely hold one bottle, which isn't ideal.
c. Don't use the decanters with a large bowl and a vertical neck--it's difficult to pour from those, because to get the last of the wine out, you have to hold the decanter upside down vertically, which is awkward to do. The "slant" or "duck" style is much easier to use (and to clean).
d. Don't wash your decanter with soap, except in occasional circumstances when you are wiling to rinse repeatedly (seriously, maybe fifty times) and check with your nose for any residual soap smell.
e. Decanters with a "wine swirling" feature (sometimes called "venturi" feature) are great, but that feature costs more and might be more difficult to clean.

Happy decanting!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

More on that $9 dry Riesling that won the Wine Press NW's Platinum competition

2015 Chateau St. Michelle Dry Riesling

I can't (or, more properly, shouldn't, and therefore won't) sell this to my customers, because my minimum markup is $2 per bottle, and at the extremely low end of the price range, it is almost always cheaper for them to shop at the grocery stores. Safeway is selling this wine now at $6.99, and even cheaper if you buy six, whereas my price would be $7.75. So don't get it from me.

But why would you want to buy it at all? Let me count the ways:

1. It just was awarded Wine Press Northwest's top wine in the Platinum wine judging--this humble mass-market dry Riesling, which was probably made in sufficient volume to cover the entire country of Belgium two feet deep, beat out all the $15 and $25 and $50 and $100 wines that were tasted, and a whole great many of those were tasted in that competition.  So when I noticed that, I went out to buy one, to try it. I opened it last night with homemade Thai curry, and:
2. It really is outstanding. It's good enough to make me keep saying "wow." The nose is redolent with honey/floral notes, with a subtle petrochem hint. (The better Rieslings from Germany have powerful petrochem notes, not a flaw but a prized attribute, which I don't much care for, but in trace amounts it adds to the complexity and somehow seems to be a real positive.) The wine has great citrus notes on the palate and good body for a Riesling, with enough acidic zip to keep it fresh. And it is dry! (Yes, the copious fruit will fool you into thinking it's sweet, but if you measured the sugar in it, you would see it is dry--maybe only a very small amount of RS.) And, in case you're wondering, the wineries don't add diesel to the grape juice--it's just that one of the many many biochemicals naturally present in this grape happens to smell and taste like that.
3. Wine experts of the world ALWAYS class Riesling as one of the world's top six winegrapes (Cab Sauv, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling). That means they agree it's better than: Syrah, Viognier, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris! Just think about that! Yes, I know that many of you eschew Riesling--maybe you drank cheap sweet versions of it when you were younger (as did I), and your logical mind convinces you that better versions of it surely cannot exist. Get over it ;)

Marry this wine to Asian foods, or salads, or poultry, or most vegetarian dinners, or drink it by itself. If you know young people on a budget, who want to learn about fine wine, direct them to their nearest large grocery store to buy some.

This is one more nail in the coffin of the myth that says, "Wine has to be expensive, to be good."  Anybody can overpay for wine; it requires no skill at all. Why waste your money? Much smarter to let others do that.

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