Life & Style Weekend - - FOOD & WINE - WORDS: TRAVIS SCHULTZ

It can make for great theatre in a restau­rant or distin­guished din­ing house. But for all its grandeur, is there re­ally any ben­e­fit from de­cant­ing wines? Or is it one of those tra­di­tions that makes for a good show but has no more ben­e­fit than the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect of a placebo? If you ask the glass­blow­ers or crys­tal mer­chants, their wares can in­fin­itely im­prove the wine con­sump­tion ex­pe­ri­ence. But over the years, I’ve met many cyn­ics who swear that they just don’t taste any dif­fer­ence be­tween a wine that is de­canted and one which isn’t. So who’s right? The the­ory be­hind the de­cant­ing process is that is serves two key pur­poses: to separate the sed­i­ment and to aer­ate the wine. And there can be lit­tle ar­gu­ment about the ad­van­tage of sep­a­rat­ing the dregs. Af­ter all, who likes im­bib­ing those sludgy re­mains from the bot­tom of the glass of well-aged red? Not only does de­cant­ing avoid gritty par­ti­cles spoil­ing the mouth feel, it also avoids the clar­ity be­ing ru­ined by an aes­thet­i­cally unattrac­tive cloudi­ness de­vel­op­ing. And most som­me­liers agree that the best way to en­sure that the fine residue of tan­nin and lees doesn’t neg­a­tively im­pact on the ex­pe­ri­ence is to has­ten slowly. Ide­ally, the bot­tle should be al­lowed to stand for at least sev­eral hours be­fore serv­ing so that the sed­i­ment can work its way to the bot­tom of the bot­tle and then be poured very slowly in to the de­canter to min­imise the dis­tur­bance of the fine par­ti­cles. In the per­fect world, the last few cen­time­tres of fluid should con­tain al­most all of the un­wanted silt so that it can be con­ve­niently dis­posed of. On the other hand, the process of pour­ing the wine and al­low­ing con­tact with air in the bul­bous base of the de­canter en­ables the oxy­gen to open up the wine, re­leas­ing flavour and aroma. But here lies the trap. Al­low too much time in aer­a­tion and the wine can be­come flat and life­less – es­pe­cially if it’s an older wine. There’s noth­ing worse than serv­ing up a 20-year-old Bordeaux blend or South Aus­tralian shi­raz and find­ing that hav­ing al­lowed it to “breathe” for too long re­sults in all of the de­li­cious in­ten­sity of fruit wash­ing out. On the other hand, younger wines can be tightly bound and a bit more time spent in glass­ware can al­low the tan­nins to un­wind and a vi­brance of fruit to re­turn. The trick is in find­ing the “Goldilocks” mo­ment when the wine has had just enough time to open, with­out risk­ing the ox­i­di­s­a­tion process de­vel­op­ing. So if you can look be­yond the pomp and cir­cum­stance or the histri­on­ics of the de­cant­ing process, I reckon it’s in­dis­putable that the right amount of time in crys­tal will vastly im­prove the wine­maker’s hand­i­work. Re­tail­ers might try to tell you oth­er­wise, but personally, I don’t think the shape or style of the de­cant­ing ves­sel re­ally makes a lot of dif­fer­ence. Not, at least, to the aer­a­tion process. There are some pretty funky and cool de­canters out there these days, but for the com­bi­na­tion of style and func­tion, it’s hard to go past the Riedel range. They are steeped in Bo­hemian his­tory but in tune with con­tem­po­rary de­sign. My cur­rent fave is the Riedel Amadeo de­canter that looks a bit like a set of glass cow horns but looks great, is sta­ble on the ta­ble and al­lows ef­fi­cient air con­tact. It’s a bit pricey at $400-$500, but for spe­cial oc­ca­sions and well-aged pre­mium wines, I reckon it’s a worth­while in­vest­ment. Travis Schultz is the prin­ci­pal of Travis Schultz Law but he has been moon­light­ing as a restau­rant re­viewer and wine writer for the past 15 years.

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