Wine: Decanting versus Aerating?

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While catching up on some recent reading, I came across an article looking at wine decanting versus aerating. The bottom line presented in the article was that older wines should be decanted and young wines should be aerated. This caused me to pause.

Both of these methods allow a wine to have further exposure to oxygen that typically helps a wine to release any undesirable odors and, more importantly, to help soften the tannins in a red wine.

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But, what caused my pause is that older red wines typically have softer tannins just from the aging process. And, an older wine is usually a bit more delicate and can quickly loose its character, or go flabby, if decanted.

Young red wines often have bigger, bolder tannin and benefit the most from decanting. Sometimes for hours.

So, my advice would be a bit different than the article. If you are dealing with a young red wine whose tannins are too bold, I’d recommend pouring it into a decanter. Then, re-sample periodically. Usually after an hour or two, the decanting process has calmed the tannins and you’ll find a noticeable positive difference.

If you are dealing with an older bottle of red wine, I’d recommend trying it immediately out of the bottle. If you detect something odd or the tannins are still too bold, then pour it into a decanter (being especially careful to avoid pouring any sediment into the decanter) and give it 10 to 15 minutes. Then, re-try the wine.

As for an aerator, they are fun pouring accessories, and the do add a bit of oxygen to the wine during the pouring process. But, for really giving a wine some breathing space, give it some time in a broad-based decanter. Cheers!


Ever Wonder What Those Tiny Crystals are on the Bottom of the Wine Cork?

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In a recent blog, I wrote about sediment in wine. Those are the particle that are left in your wine glass or inside the wine bottle from tiny particles of grape skins, seeds and stems that are a natural part of wine making. And, other than being an unexpected texture in your mouth, they are harmless.

But then I recently pulled the cork on a really nice bottle of wine that had been laying on its side in my wine refrigerator for little over a year. Upon examination I found a bunch of sparkly red crystals on the bottom of the cork (photo). It was obvious this wasn’t sediment because it had defined crystalline structure. So then, what is it?

Well, without getting too much into the chemistry (and there’s a lot of chemistry in wine making), these are indeed crystals that are sometime referred to as “wine diamonds.”

These crystals are formed in a bottle of wine due to the presence of tartaric acid which, along with malic acid and citric acid, naturally appear in wine. Again, all these little crystals are harmless but the crunch you’d experience in your mouth would certainly be unexpected from a glass of wine.

These crystals can form in both white wine and red wine. While some wine makers will put their wine through additional processing (e.g., cold stabilization) for a few weeks to force these crystals to form and drop out, other wine makers prefer to do as little additional processing as possible to their wines which can result in some crystal formation.

So, if you happen to see these little “wine diamonds” either on your cork or in your glass, don’t be concerned. This is a normal and natural phenomenon. Your wine is just fine! Cheers!

Ever Wonder? - What's that Stuff at the Bottom of Your Wine Glass?

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Have you ever taken that last sip of wine only to find a nasty surprise either at the bottom of your glass or in your mouth? Sediment! It can be a very unpleasant discovery. But, luckily, it’s nothing to be worried about.

Sediment is a natural bi-product of the wine making process.

Wines are made from the juice of grapes. And, the skins of the grapes. And the seeds. And sometimes the stems. So, there are actually a lot of solids that are involved in wine making. That’s why, in some cases, you get some ugly particles in your wine glass.

It doesn’t just happen with red wines. White wines are susceptible too.

There’s a lot of chemistry involved in for formation of various types of sediment in wine. But, keeping it simple, these solids in your glass are mostly filtered out at the winery and are just microscopic when they leave the winery in the bottle.

But, age and temperature then act upon these microscopic particles to form the stuff you see in your wine glass.

Next time, I’ll get into a bit more detail on this topic. But, for now, don’t worry. This sediment is not harmful to consume. Cheers!

Ever Wonder Why People Look So Closely at Their Glass of Wine?

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You see it a lot. As soon as the wine is poured in the glass, the first thing someone will do is raise the glass and look at the wine. But why do this you may ask?

In a past blog we examined the "Five S's of Wine Tasting" that include See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Swallow.  So, let's focus on "See." You'll find that a lot can be learned from just looking at the wine in the glass.

One thing that can quickly be detected by looking at your wine are flaws.  One flaw is oxidation. It can be noted by dis-colorization of the wine and is easily spotted if you know what you're look for. Wines take on brown hues with age. Whites can become golden to almost orange. Reds will show these brown hues around the edges of the glass. Usually, a white wine that is showing brown hues is too old. But, with a red wine, it may simply be a visual demonstration that the wine has become a bit oxidized with age. This is not necessarily a flaw but it could be a warning sign before you continue through the Five S's.

Another thing you might see in your glass is sediment. If you see small particles in the wine or sticking to the side of the glass, it indicates that the wine is either unfiltered or has developed some sediment in the bottle during the aging process.  Sediment itself is not a flaw but it's typically an unpleasant sensation in your mouth when you get a bunch of it. This can easily be fixed at home by filtering the bottle before drinking or, if you've ordered the wine at a restaurant, you can request another bottle or to have the bottle filtered.

You can also learn a bit about the wine's body by looking at it. But, we'll save that for next time. Until then, cheers!

What to Do About Sediment in Wine

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Have you ever gotten to that last sip of a glass of wine only to get a mouth-full of sediment? Instead of savoring that last sip, you end up spitting it out. An unpleasant way to finish.  And that's what recently happened to me as shown in the photo. But it doesn't have to go that way.

As discussed last time, lees (dead yeast cells and bits of grape seeds and solids) are natural in the wine making process and often desirable to be left in the wine during fermenting or aging.  This process is most common in red wines. Some wine makers will then filter out these solids (fining or racking), but others prefer to leave them in the wine as it's bottled to continue to add flavor.

There are several ways to avoid getting a mouth full of these particles in your glass of wine.

The first way is try to keep the solids in the bottle and not in your glass. If the bottle has been standing still and upright for a couple of days, the solids will have naturally fallen to the bottom of the bottle. As long as you are careful to not stir them up while opening the bottle and are gently tipping the bottle while pouring, the sediment should stay in the bottom of the bottle. But why take the risk.

The most dependable way is to do your own filtering before serving. There are several inexpensive devices on the market for doing this. The best one is a combination filter/aerator funnel. You simple hold this funnel above your decanter (or any other suitable container) and pour the wine through.  It has a micro-fine filter built-in that traps all those undesirable particles while allowing all the wine to pass through. As the wine exits the funnel, it gets aerated (exposed to air) which will usually help a young red wine. You'll then find all those undesirable particles trapped in the bottom of the funnel.  Not lurking in your wine glass.

While sediment is not harmful if consumed, it does significantly detract from a nice glass of wine.  So, filter and forget! Cheers!