Notes & queries

De­cant­ing dou­ble mag­nums; cel­lar fluc­tu­a­tions; bot­tle shock af­ter travel

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Email: editor@de­can­ter.com. Post: The Editor, De­can­ter, 161 Marsh Wall, Lon­don, E14 9AP, UK

Ma­ture dou­ble mag­nums

We re­cently en­joyed a dou­ble mag­num of 1982 Mou­ton, re­moved from the cel­lar and im­me­di­ately de­canted. It had been per­fectly stored and the colour was youth­ful. How long would you al­low this wine to breathe ei­ther in the glass or de­can­ter to max­imise its beauty? Ster­ling DePew, by email Jane An­son replies: De­cant­ing older wines is tricky, be­cause of­ten the main ar­gu­ment for do­ing so is to re­move sed­i­ment, rather than to al­low the wine to open up. A wine at 30 years old can have a del­i­cate aro­matic struc­ture that you want to pre­serve, rather than al­low it to es­cape into the room; as a re­sult, de­cant­ing for too long is not ad­vis­able. Hav­ing said that, Mou­ton 1982 is still a richly tan­nic, rel­a­tively young wine, and in dou­ble mag­num will have re­tained much of its fruit and power. Part of your en­joy­ment will be in see­ing how the wine evolves in the de­can­ter and glass over a few hours. De­cant­ing it just an hour or so be­fore ser­vice should be enough, but take your time and ob­serve how its flavours deepen and evolve. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the wine still tastes beau­ti­ful a full 24 hours af­ter de­cant­ing.

Fluc­tu­a­tion fears

Four years ago, I had a cel­lar built be­neath my ex­ist­ing cel­lar, to age my wine nat­u­rally in the right con­di­tions, but I am now con­cerned by fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture. In the mid­dle of win­ter it drops as low as 8°C; by mid-Au­gust it will climb to 16°C. This oc­curs slowly, maybe half a de­gree per week: should I be con­cerned? I have in­stalled sen­sors in the cel­lar and have been alarmed to find a dif­fer­ence of three or four de­grees from top to bot­tom of the cel­lar. Alis­tair Macrow, by email Se­bas­tian Ri­ley-Smith re­sponds: The ac­cepted ideal of 13°C in the cel­lar seems to have arisen through re­gional cus­tom and the de­sire to en­joy well-stored wine, rather than through sci­en­tific study. Fluc­tu­a­tion is not so easy, as it in­volves is­sues of range and speed. We know that a steady 10°C-15°C is ac­cept­able for wine, and that de­vi­a­tion from this can se­ri­ously im­pact age­ing abil­ity. A wine cel­lared at 23°C will age (de­pend­ing on the wine) on av­er­age eight times faster than at 13°C.

We know that wine ex­posed to ex­ces­sive heat ex­pands, the cork starts pro­trud­ing and the bot­tle leak­ing. Con­versely, when a wine cools, a vac­uum forms and sucks the wine out of the cork. The ingress of oxy­gen into the bot­tle com­bined with chang­ing tem­per­a­tures cre­ates a ‘pump­ing’ ef­fect, which will have a neg­a­tive im­pact on a wine’s qual­ity. One pro­posed so­lu­tion to counter this is to store bot­tles at an an­gle, en­abling both wine and the air bub­ble to be in con­tact with the cork.

With fluc­tu­a­tion of around 10°C, chem­i­cal and en­zy­matic pro­cesses are ac­cel­er­ated many times over. But 0.5˚C of room tem­per­a­ture change per week will not mean the wine tem­per­a­ture is chang­ing at that same level. A fluc­tu­a­tion of 8°C over the course of a year is a con­cern, even within the rea­son­able band of 8°C-16°C, be­cause of the con­fused chem­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the wine. How­ever, if your cel­lar con­tains mainly red wines, there are good grounds to be­lieve that – due to their higher con­cen­tra­tion and tan­nins – these are bet­ter con­sti­tuted to counter the va­garies of cel­lar tem­per­a­ture.

Bot­tle shock af­ter travel

In a de­lec­ta­ble wine shop in Le Marche, Italy re­cently, I was ad­vised by an en­thu­si­as­tic el­derly gent to give a wine at least one month to rest on re­turn to the UK be­fore at­tempt­ing to drink it. Is there any sci­ence be­hind the no­tion that wine needs to set­tle once stirred in tran­sit? And how much could such tran­sit af­fect the taste if con­sumed sooner?

Ged Cleugh, Lon­don Jane Hunt MW replies: This is one of those is­sues where opin­ions dif­fer, be­cause there is no spe­cific sci­ence to sup­port the need to al­low a wine to ‘re­cover’ af­ter travel. A short pe­riod of ‘rest’ might be de­sir­able for a red wine which has some ma­tu­rity and/or is of high qual­ity, in case there is sed­i­ment or the wine was bot­tled un­fil­tered. I won­der what the wine you bought was? As an or­gan­iser of many tast­ing events over the years, where wine has trav­elled be­fore­hand, I have not no­ticed neg­a­tive ef­fects of travel. Taste and aroma, how­ever, fre­quently show ‘dumb’ char­ac­ter­is­tics in the im­me­di­ate pe­riod af­ter bot­tling which we call ‘bot­tle shock’, and a pe­riod of rest in this in­stance is de­sir­able.

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