First review in on Vino DeCanto wine preserver

I attended the Newcastle Food and Wine show several weeks ago, and was intrigued and bought one of the very first Vino DeCanto wine preservers ever sold.  Up until now, I have used a manual air extraction pump to preserve an open bottle of good wine for several days, but it certainly does not preserve wine for several weeks or longer.  Vino DeCanto claims they have stored wine in the preserver for up to 14 months!.

I have been exploring buying an expensive four-bottle argon replacement system to keep up to four bottles of wine open for longer periods of time and have also been reviewing the use of WineSave and CoravinWineSave is an argon replacement unit which is good for about 50 applications.  Coravin is unique in that it sticks a fine needle through the cork of a bottle, extracts the amount required and then replaces the wine with argon gas.  The Vino DeCanto operates differently in that it does not replace the empty space with argon (or similar) gas, but rather eliminates the space all together by using a plunger with an O-ring sealer to keep the remaining wine away from air.

Wine PReserver Decanter by VinoDeCanto

Now that I have used it several times, I feel comfortable providing a review of my findings.

The positives:

  • The Vino DeCanto does the job as advertised and preserves the wine.  I had approximately a half-bottle of 1998 Lindeman’s St. George Cabernet Sauvignon (a most outstanding wine BTW!) in the Vino DeCanto for 14 days and it tasted as fresh as when I opened the bottle.  It had not lost fruit, had not turned brown nor in any other manner look or taste different than when I opened it.  The Vino DeCanto does the job!
  • You do not need to continue to buy argon capsules to fill wine bottles; therefore your initial investment in the Vino DeCanto is your entire investment.
  • The Vino DeCanto is beautifully engineered, of very high quality and quite attractive to look at.

The negatives:

  • The Vino DeCanto preserver is heavy and somewhat cumbersome to move around.
  • You can only use it for one bottle at a time, whereas WineSave or Coravin can be used on multiple bottles you have opened.  Therefore, if you want to keep several bottles open at a time, you need to purchase several Vino DeCantos.
  • It is operationally difficult to use without squirting wine out of the top or dripping from the spout.  Even after several uses and being careful about what I was doing, I still had a small mess to clean up each time I have used it.
  • The height of the Vino DeCanto is less than the height of a typical red wine glass, so you either need to mount the device on a stand or hold the glass at an angle underneath the spout.
  • It is difficult to judge how long to push the plunger for as the wine trails for a while after you stop pushing the plunger, so it is easy to overfill the glass

I purchased my Vino DeCanto for Aus $229 at the show price.  It is expected to retail for around $300.  WineSave costs about $35 and is good for approximately 50 applications before you need to buy another one.  Coravin costs about $300 and the replacement capsules cost around $10 (more or less based on how many you) buy and are good for around 15 uses per capsule.  Both WineSave and Coravin can be used on as many bottles as you have opened.  I have not used the Coravin myself, but several friends, including some of Sydney’s top sommeliers have and swear by it.

Given the price, limitation of only being able to use it on one bottle at a time, and the operational challenges I encountered with the Vino DeCanto, I am unlikely to buy another one unless I can be convinced it is easier to use than I have found it.  I may be looking at the Coravin as my ongoing solution to preserving fine wines.

Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, available now!
© 2014.  Steve Shipley. All rights reserved.
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Review of 2002 Finca El Puig from Spain

I have had this bottle of Finca El Puig lying around for a while now.  I am not sure who I got it from, when or why.  I was not sure of the quality of this wine, even though my first impressions is that it is quite nice.  For being a decade old, the fruit is extremely lively, tasting of blackberry, boysenberry, other berries and plum.  It is well structured with heavy tannins which cause a pucker with the first mouthful.  The tannins are truly integrated, but strong.  What really surprised me was how long it took to decant.  I have never spent more time decanting any wine in my life and I have decanted several thousand bottles!  Yet, there is no obvious ‘excess’ sediment.  There was some sediment towards the end of the bottle while decanting, but this wine was slow to decant from the very beginning.  I am guessing this wine was never filtered.  It is thick and heavy – the alcohol content is 14.5%.

Finca El PuigThis 2002 Finca El Puig is very drinkable now, but I am wondering if I opened it too early.  It certainly has a lot of life yet.  It is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon and the vines are from the Priorat region of Spain.  I was a bit worried that it may not line up well with the food we are having tonight which is leftover ravioli.  When we made the ravioli fresh over the weekend, we had a Chianti that suited ravioli perfectly.  I was a bit worried that the Grenache would be a bit gritty and overpowering for the food.  I think it will work and I will be certain of that within the hour.  But this is a big, big wine and would have gone really well with a Shepherds Pie, or a dense cut of beef.

I have never heard of the Carignan grape before.  In researching it (Wikipedia!), it appears to be a popular grape used in wines from the Rioja region and grown across the Mediterranean.  It is valued for its high yields (this has commercial benefits, but not sure it speaks well for quality).

Overall, it is a beautiful wine; heavy, but big and fruity.  I love the mouth feel sensation of a wine with heavy tannins, but this may be too much for some people.  I have not been able to find many tasting notes for this wine.  I did for the 2000 and the 2001 and for later vintages, but not the 2002.  Yet, the 2002 vintage seems to really stand out in terms of structure and longevity.  Very little seems to be known about this wine, at least this particular vintage.   Other vintages have sold for between $30 – $40, but the 2002 drinks better than that.  I am really enjoying this wine, even if I will need to sandblast my mouth out later this evening from the heavy tannins!  Just wish I knew who gave it to me so I can thank them!  Drinking this wine appears to be a single event not to be repeated.


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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Wine and soapy glassware do not mix!

I have learned a great deal about wine over the last fifteen years and take my wine drinking seriously.  But from time to time, I make a stupid mistake.  In my upcoming book, Wine Sense(s), I discuss the importance of rinsing glassware thoroughly so as to not leave any food odors or soap films on the glasses or decanters.  Unfortunately, I did just that and poured a $200 bottle of wine into a decanter which I did not realize had a leftover soap film from the last time I cleaned it!  Ugh!  What a waste and what to do?

I was leaving the wine to decant, then poured a glass for me to have.  I returned the rest of the wine into its original bottle and stoppered it to keep it fresh for the rest of tonight and tomorrow.  It was not until I was rinsing out (without any soap) the decanter that I realized it had a soap film from the last time I cleaned it.  Such a shame and such a waste.  I went to give the decanter a good rinse with plain hot water and all of a sudden, I was pouring out soap bubbles!  There was not much soap, but it did have a number of bubbles and I had to give it a really good rinse to get it clean.  Unfortunately by then, the damage had been done.


The brick purple color was dulled slightly from the soap and it appeared to have just a touch of grey to it.  More importantly, I could taste that the wine was a bit off, even though the underlying flavors were still evident and huge.  Still since I am having it with a spicy, hot red Thai beef curry, I am going to drink this wine (or some of it).  And I feel I need to do that as penance for my mistake and to cement the lesson learned.  I want to never, ever make this mistake again!  It is still an excellent wine, if not a bit soapy.  Interestingly enough, the tactile sensation via  mouth feel is the same or possibly even slightly enhanced by the soap!  But the aftertaste and finish is not what it should be.

I continue to learn and want to pass those learnings onto others.  More and more in talking to the people at Riedel and others, I have heard them tell us that (1) do not clean glasses with soap between courses of a meal; there is nothing better than alcohol (from the previous glass of wine) for cleaning your glasses followed by a rinse of water, and (2) glasses and decanters are dishwater safe.  I am now going to follow their advice.  I have been washing all of my glasses and decanters by hand and also using too much soap.  From now on, I will look to clean them with no or very little soap and then rinse them or use an alcohol spray to disinfect and clean them (this is what most restaurants do), and for larger gatherings, will now use the dishwasher to clean and THOROUGHLY rinse my glasses and decanters.

I made a large mistake this evening and hope to never repeat it.  Feeling bad as SAZ in the Cellar!


Steve Shipley, author Wine Sense, out early 2014. Published by InkIT Publishing
© 2013.  Steve Shipley
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A great wine, but disappointing wine drinking experience

We spent Saturday the week past, traveling and visiting friends in the Blue Mountains and beyond.  It was a great time and we had some great meals, even though it did make for a very long day.  For once, I did not bring the wines and let it up to the hosts to provide the wine to accompany the meals.

During our Saturday lunch, we had some great food starting with three different soups samplers (tomato and carrot, pumpkin, and pea), followed by stir fired veggies and prawns, with a wonderful dessert of chocolate balls and berry ice cream.  Each course had a decent wine to go with it from a white to red to sweet dessert wine.  And as usual the best part of the meal and experience was sharing it with great friends.

We repeated the performance for dinner, but it was a heavier meal with more meat, including a marinated roast beef side, sausages, and stir fired veggies.  Therefore, more red wines were served and the two choices of red were very nice choices.  Unfortunately, the first problem was that the wines were drunk too early in their life.

The wine of the evening should have been a very nice 2007 Penfold’s St Henri.  This is an excellent wine and has a 96 (out of 100) rating.  Usually I would salivate over having a St Henri with dinner, but then we are currently drinking the 1999 vintage (I have about 6 bottle left and need to drink them in the next few years to get maximum enjoyment from them).

But I could tell from the first smell and the first sip of the 2007 that this wine was not ready for drinking!  I asked the host how many bottles he had left and he mentioned he had six left.  I told him to wait at least two more years if not up to five years before he drinks the next one.

This wine should be drunk between 2015 and 2024 for peak enjoyment and ideally in the 2019 – 2021 time frame.  While he decanted and even aerated the wine, it did not have much of an effect as the wine structure was just too tight.  And then, the wine was served in a white wine glass used for Riesling or Semillon.  This did not allow the wine to breath and forced an already tight wine into a small area to breathe and drink from making it even tighter.  There are reasons Riedel makes specific wine glasses for Shiraz and other grapes and drinking a Shiraz from a white wine glass is almost sinful!

This was a great wine, served too early and without giving it any advantage to shine.  This was a $75 – $100 bottle of wine wasted.  It still had (obviously) fresh fruit, but was too tight and the complexities of this great wine had not become fully integrated.  I hope the host takes my advice and does not serve up another bottle for several more years.  This will be a great wine over time, but certainly not at its best today when served up in a small glass.

Make sure to clean your wine glasses properly!

As you know, I love using Riedel glasses of the proper shape to drink my wine.  The thought of drinking a Montrachet in anything other than a Riedel Montrachet glass is less seemly than pouring the Montrachet in the toilet bowl and drinking it!  I never drink wine from any other glass than my Riedel glasses when at home and unless I am certain that I can get really good wine glassware in a restaurant, I will bring my Riedel glasses (either my Vinum or my O glasses) along to the restaurant.  There is no excuse for not wanting to get the very best experience out of wine drinking and the right glass plays a huge part in that.

And in that regard, it is important to clean your glassware properly!  When cleaning my decanters, I only rinse them out with hot water or use a little bit of soap.  I then make sure to rinse out the decanter with very hot water and refill and rinse six to seven times to ensure there is no soapy residue.  About every 8th to 10th time I clean the decanter,  I use a Polident capsule (‘Yes,’ the denture cleaner!) to remove any slight build-up of red wine film.  However, the Polident capsule will leave a minty taste to it which could effect the taste of the next bottle decanted unless you make sure the decanter is perfectly cleaned.  Therefore, after using the Polident to remove any film build-up, I wash out the decanter as usual with soap and rinsing it out six or seven times, and then I repeat the process in its entirety again.

I never put my Riedel glasses in the dishwasher as I have a concern that the dishwasher may break or in some way damage them.  I know there are newer, nicer dishwashers in the Miele line that are Riedel-safe and that is great!  I plan on buying one when I move into our own apartment unit.  In my current rental unit, I wash my Riedel glasses by hand.  I have been careful to wash the wine glasses first before using the washing implements to wash other dishes as the washing implements may contain more food particles or greasy or oily residue.  However, I was not as careful and forgotten to do this with my drying towels!

Yesterday, I had used a Riedel Vinum Shiraz glass to enjoy a most magnificent bottle of the 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz to go with some great spaghetti my wife made.  I had about a third of the bottle left that I finished off today while writing and doing other work at my computer.  However, when I pulled the glass I cleaned yesterday out of the pantry, I sniffed it and it had an slight odor.  I compared it to other glasses I cleaned previously,  which were odor-free.

But the glass I used and cleaned yesterday definitely had an odor inside the glass when I put my nose to it. I tried to think what had happened and why it had a slight odor.  I often clean and rinse my wine glasses and turn them upside down to dry.  However, I make sure to turn them right-side-up quickly so as to not trap any odor in the globe.  Then I dry them with a drying towel.

The problem was that my drying towel was over-used from having cleaned  dishes the last few days and had built up some food odors on the towel.  Therefore, when drying the Riedel glass, I transferred some of the food odors to the glass causing it to smell.  I always sniff an empty glass before use and you should too.  While rare, this was one time where I had failed to clean and dry the glass properly and it could have caused my otherwise great glass of 1998 Tyrrell’s Vat 9 Shiraz to be less than perfect due to the odor in the glass.


I never store my glassware upside down on a shelf as the rim of the glass will be sealed by the shelf.  If there is any bacteria inside the glass, it can multiply and leave a poor odor in the glass, especially if it is sitting for weeks or longer.  Therefore, I always store my glassware right-side up to allow it to breathe.  I do so inside a closed cabinet so the glasses will not collect dust.  The ideal way to store glasses is upside down (to eliminate any possibility of dust), but by hanging it by the base (see above picture).  This requires you to install a rack to slip the base of the glass into.  While this is the best way to store wine glasses, it does require you to buy and install the rack.  This is not hard, but based on your living conditions, it may be difficult to find an area to mount the wine glass rack and store the glasses.  I just keep mine inside the pantry (see below).

Make sure your wine glasses are:

  • Cleaned properly;
  • Dried properly; and
  • Stored properly

Otherwise, your drinking experience will be less than satisfactory, even with the right Riedel glass and wine!

The bigger the bottle, the longer the cellaring

Wines come in all size bottles.  The most standard wine bottle size is 750 ml.  The ‘half-bottle’ at 375 ml is used sparingly for table wines, but is a common size for dessert wines.  (The wine makers may be concerned that after a couple 750 ml bottles over dinner, it is good to finish with some restraint, so a smaller bottle is in order!)  The smallest size is the ‘split’ at 187.5 ml, and is known as a single serving size.  This is the size you are usually handed or asked to buy in economy class on an airline.

Then there is the impressive 1.5 liter ‘magnums.’  The sheer mass to these bottles make them an impressive sight!  For larger groups, they can prove useful to make sure everyone gets a taste.  But after that, the even larger bottle size starts to become almost ridiculous.  The 3 liter ‘double magnum’ is more suitable for large parties where you want everyone to drink the same thing with limited choice.  This may serve well at a BBQ or a wedding, for example.  But after that, I believe the size of the bottle is strictly for show.  I mean how does one lift and pour the bottle, and how does one decant the bottle?  You would require a bathtub for a 12 liter bottle!

Except for dessert wines, I almost always drink only 750 ml bottles.  They pour and decant nicely and without much drama.  The standard decanter is designed for this size bottle unless mentioned otherwise.  The main reason I like to drink 750 ml bottles is that when having a dinner or gathering of four to eight people, then I can open two to four different bottles of different wines.  This works really well in terms of matching wines to different courses of a meal, and also for comparing and sampling many different wines.  In general, I find it is always more pleasurable to share a couple of different bottles instead of focusing on only one wine in an evening.  Larger bottles such as magnums (or even larger) limit the variety for smaller groups.

I have about 15 magnums of some nice wines I plan to use for larger celebrations and when bringing some special groups of people together.  I also bought (as a really good deal for the volume!) 24 double magnums.  The double magnums represent some of Australia’s best wine from the best vintages.  Yet, every time I think about pulling one out, I usually go with other choices (such as several bottles of a comparable wine) because (1) the are easier to handle, (2) I have more choice, and (3) the larger bottles are unlikely to be ready to drink yet.

When wine ages in a bottle, the air in the head space (called ullage) mixes over time with the wine in the bottle to mature and enhance it.  Describing why and how this happens could take several posts on their own.  The important thing to know is that for larger bottles, the ratio of the volume of air in the head space to the volume of wine is drastically reduced (since each bottle is filled to the top).  Therefore, it takes a lot longer time for the wine to mature and reach optimal drinking in a larger bottle.

When a wine taster / reviewer projects the time range in which to optimally drink the wine, he/she is estimating that based on the wine being cellared in a 750 ml bottle.  The general rule of thumb (for good wines that enhance through cellaring) is that for every doubling in bottle size (from 750 ml) you should cellar the bottle for an additional three to five years.  Therefore a double magnum could take an additional six to ten years in the cellar before it is ready to drink. 

Unfortunately, there is also the risk involved that the cork or the storage conditions are sub-optimal and statistically, you may not drink the bottle at the right time for that bottle.  There is a much greater chance with larger bottles that you will either drink the wine too early or too late.

Two years ago, I opened a 750 ml bottle of the 1994 Wynn’s John Riddoch (a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon).  This is a stunning bottle of wine and drank beautifully.  We were able to share it among friends as part of a wine tasting.  Then several weeks later, I took my team out to celebrate the successful end of a major project, and over lunch and after a few earlier wines, decided to buy a magnum of the same 1994 Wynn’s John Riddoch, expecting it would be comparable.  However, it was still too tight and even after much decanting, could not compare with the same wine stored in the 750 ml bottle.  The magnum required at least five more years to be as soft and mature as the wine from the 750 ml bottle was at that point in time.

This was an expensive mistake, but I learned a lot that day.  I now take bottle size seriously in laying down the wine for the requisite number of additional years before I consider opening it.

In general, I avoid or limit the number of large bottles I have, but if you do have some, make sure to age them for a longer time.  The general rule of thumb should be to add three to five years of cellaring every time you double up the bottle size from the standard 750 ml size.

How to prepare a 20 year old red wine for drinking

“Just open it and drink it,” many of you would say.  But a 20 year old iconic red wine certainly deserves more care and ceremony than that!  A number of seemingly small steps can make the difference between the wine being ‘passable’ and exceptional.  And it only takes a few more minutes to make it exceptional, so you would be foolhardy if you did not give it a chance!

Granted, the wine will be good or ‘not good’ mostly based on how it has been stored for the last 20 years and what has happened with the micro-oxidation that has gone on in the bottle during that time.  This will be heavily influenced by the cork quality and if it has been faithful or not.

While you are no longer in control of the previous storage or the cork quality, there are four things you have control over in preparing the wine for drinking, all which may influence if the wine is suitable or not:

  • Removing wine from cellar / storage, stand up-right and let rise to room temperature
  • Choosing to use an Ah So cork remover as the cork will be fragile (any cork after 12 – 15 years tends to become saturated and soggy (unless the cork grain is very tight) and is at risk of breaking apart.  See picture in my post ‘A disappointment, but one moves on!’) of a crumbled cork from a 17 year old bottle of wine.)
  • Decanting the wine, avoiding the use of a filter or aerator if possible.  If required, use a filter, but never an aerator for a 20 year old wine
  • Let decant for only 30 – 60 minutes.  Then re-bottle if not already consumed, and  consuming the wine within several hours

You should remove the wine 3 – 12 hours before you plan on opening it.  By allowing it to come to room temperature slowly before opening the bottle will put less stress on the wine as you decant it.  And standing it up allows any free sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle, potentially removing the need to filter the wine while decanting.

Perfectly preserved cord after 20 years!

The Ah So cork remover is far better for delicate corks than more traditional cork screws as it provides a grip on the outside of the cork (instead of drilling down through a soft cork center) and also ensures the cork has been ‘twisted’ to separate the cork from the bottle.  Over time, the sugar in wine can crystallize, attaching the cork to the bottle and make it difficult to separate and remove.

Now if you have no sediment and no cork floating in the wine, you can decant slowly without using a filter or aerator.  If you do have some indication of sediment or cork, then use a filter but not an aerator.  The structure of an older wine becomes very fragile and will start to separate in a short period of time, further losing fruit flavor and its integrated texture, and an aerator worsen this effect noticeably.  (While I am a big fan of aerating most wines, never aerate a ‘museum’ wine.

Let the wine decant for a short period of time, maybe 30 – 60 minutes.  This old a wine does not usually require much more air to make it ready to drink.  You usually just want to get any older smells entrapped in the bottle out and let the wine breath a little.  If you are not going to drink the wine immediately, then re-bottle it, but make sure to consume within several hours.  This old a bottle of wine will not last the day without some deterioration.

There are a few exceptions to this rule for very robust, built to last wines, but this is the general rule.  You can test a sip or two every 15 minutes to see if the wine continues to improve or not and once it shows no further sign of improvement, then re-bottle.  Some wines such as an older Penfold Grange and the 1987 Lindeman Pyrus require a long time to decant to reach maximum potential.

I used the above process to open a bottle of the 1992 Lindemans Pyrus.  This is a beautifully-aged wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  This type of blend has great potential to last a long time and beautifully mature in terms of the complexity and integration of flavors.  Thanks to the cork being in perfect condition, the wine is exquisite!  It would have been slightly better 3 – 5 years ago and has lost just a touch of its fruit flavors, but still very flavorful.  It has big plum flavors with a trace of tobacco which I really enjoy in an aged red wine.

The structure of the wine has held up well, but is fragile and will not last long.  Therefore, I need to drink this wine today.  I am craving a pizza to go with it, or some nice lamb, but we planned to have leftover black bean soup, some corn-on-the-cob, and a salad for dinner.  But it seems almost sinful to have this great wine with a spicy black bean soup!

Cheese/meat plate with 1992 Lindemans Pyrus and Rockmellon

Therefore, we decided to make a last moment change (as the soup, salad and corn-on-the-cob will last until tomorrow) and made up a cheese and salami / prosciutto plate instead which will suffice for dinner and be more enjoyable with the wine than black bean soup!

I am now 2/3rds the way through the bottle (and finished with this post!), so you do not need to be concerned if I finish the wine today or not!

[Post-writing update:  I stand corrected.  I saved the other 1/3 rd of the bottle for a day later, and it was still surprisingly good.  If a wine is very well crafted such as the 1992 Lindemans Pyrus was, then there is less of a concern about it deteriorating quickly.  This wine is still a star the day after opening!]

Should you decant wine?

In my opinion – “Yes, most of the time.”  I am a believer that spending some time with air after opening a bottle helps to finish the wine and make it closer to its optimal drinking state.  This is not always the case, but should be considered most of the time.  Plus the ritual of decanting a wine can enhance the sensual pleasure of drinking wine.  I am not big on “form over function,” but do get joy out of decanting a bottle, watching the wine spiral down the decanter and the smell rising up as the wine breathes.  Check out my recent blog post “Wine Foreplay and Sensual Pleasures” to find out more on how sensual, almost erotic decanting wine can be!

The visual and nasal aspects of decanting are both enjoyable, and it builds anticipation for the liquid to hit your palate!

Minimally, all wines should be opened and given several (5 – 10) minutes for any odors that may be still captured in the head space (the air at the top of a bottle of wine regardless if under cork or screw top) of the bottle should be given time to flow out.  This will improve the drinking experience by removing any intervening unpleasant smells.

It is difficult to determine the absolute optimal time to open a bottle of wine.  Fortunately, many good wines can be drunk over a several year period where they are truly outstanding.  However, it is often the case that when we open a bottle, the wine is still a little tight, and exposing it to air for 30 minutes up to several hours can really help the wine.  The transformation includes the wine becoming smoother in texture and more mellow in taste.  The little bit of remaining tightness is gone or significantly reduced.

In general, decanting a wine for 30 minutes up to two hours should do the trick.  However, some really complex and very well structured wines that demand to be in the bottle for 10 – 20 years, may require a decanting period of two to three hours or even longer.  The 1987 Lindemans Pyrus for example, should be decanted for 6 – 8 hours to provide optimal drinking pleasure.  This is because of the nature and role of the Cabernet Franc grape as part of the blend.  This is a complex grape which evolves over a very long period of time, making some of the 20 – 25 year old Pyrus a truly magnificent drink.  Yet, it needs long exposure to air to really complete the process.

I tasted this wine a while back at Lindeman’s after it was open only two hours and while I liked the wine, I felt it had bit of an aftertaste, so had a difficult time committing to buying much of the wine.  My bride though who has a much better palate than me, loved the wine and insisted we go back the following day to get some more.  (This was a $90 bottle of wine, but because the bottle had been shortfilled at 747 ml instead of the full 750 ml, they were going for $30 per bottle).  The bottle had stayed open over night and when I tried it the following morning, it was absolutely brilliant!  We ended up buying the last four bottles and I am really glad we did as we only have three bottles left now.  This is a complex wine that is 25 years old, and it needs a lot of time to breathe!  But most bottles require far less decanting time to finish off nicely.

However, be very careful and I suggest not decanting very old and fragile wines for too long.  They lose flavor far too quickly and will become tepid or even flat.  While many wines can be drunk over several days, older, fragile wines should be drunk within an hour after being opened.

Most people only think of decanting red wines, but I have found great benefit in decanting really large, robust white wines also.  5 – 20 year old aged Chardonnay, Semillon and other whites deserve an hour of decanting to really bring out the flavor, as does truly great Montrachet wines.

And in case there is any doubt, do not decant a Champagne!  It will quickly lose its bubbles!  Drink Champagne right from the bottle!

My first wine in three weeks!

Yesterday, I wrote about being ready to “come off the wagon” and have my first wine in three weeks after an extended period of illness and treatment of antibiotics.  I also mentioned the pressure associated with opening ‘just the right bottle.’  I had pretty much selected the wine (for reasons mentioned in yesterday’s post) as a Cabernet Sauvignon, and I was leaning towards the 2008 Stonefields Vineyard Arbitrage Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wrattonbully region of South Australia.  However, when I was over at my cellar retrieving some wine this morning, I decided to bring back and try either the 1999 Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and brought a bottle of each back to the apartment.

The 1999 Zema Estate, however, is one of the truly magnificent Cabernet Sauvignons I have had over the years and I only had three bottles left.  It is a wine to share with great food and great friends.  Having even fonder memories of the 2006 Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon than the the 2008 Stonefields Aribtrage, I decided that would be by bottle to “come off the wagon with.” 

The reason I decided to switch to the 2006 Colstream Hills Reserve Cabernet was various, including:

  • It was slightly lower in alcohol (14% versus 14.5%) than the Stonefields Arbitrage.
  • It reminded me of the gracious individual and the “heart and soul” of Lindeman’s for 12 years, Damien Harrison, who sold it to me and is a legend in the wine industry and the great wine times we have had together.
  • I did review with my bride, Deanna Lang, who writes DAZ in the Kitchen, what we were having for dinner tonight which is a minced meat, cheese and elbow pasta casserole dish for which I thought the slightly more complex (but not overly complicated for the casserole) wine would go better with, considering the extra onions, garlic and other spices she tends to add into most recipes, and I am expected she will tonight also!

Therefore I made the switch to the Coldstream Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and glad I did!  This wine cost about $50 per bottle (even though I was able to get it at a stock clearance for $30 per bottle).  Upon decanting, it appeared slightly flat and a bit tight, but within ten minutes had opened up nicely, became more flavorful, and had a strong taste of blackcurrant, slight taste of black olive tapenade, and a bit of leather which appears to be as much a matter of texture as taste.

I personally love the smell of leather and find a wine to be more enjoyable when it is a bit leathery on the tongue and palate.  (I have only met one person in my life who hated the smell of new leather, but that’s a different story!)  I also surprisingly loved the ritual of decanting and serving the wine and was shocked at how much I missed the ritual and experience during the last three weeks, but that’s the topic for another post.

Now that I have had a glass while writing this blog (and ‘no’, I did not make it to the library to read!), I am going to wait until dinner to have another glass with the mince casserole!  Back to the good times of enjoying great food and great wine!

What’s With Weird Wine Decanters?

I recently wrote a blog entitled “What’s in a Glass” which describes the aesthetic beauty and noticeable improvement in the wine drinking experience by using proper glassware.  I am certain for most of us who care even a little bit about improving our drinking experience, that the investment in good glassware is well worth it. 

However, I do not believe that applies to wine decanters.  There is, of course, real aesthetic value in using a decanter that borders on being a piece of art.  Reidel has a great selection of different and unique decanters to be able to choose from, and I was gifted a beautiful Reidel Black Tie Smile decanter for my last birthday which I use to distinguish that special bottle of red, different from all the other ‘more common’ wines for the evening.

The presence in this decanter says “I am a special wine!”  And I have seen some really over the top decanters which sell in the $4,000 range such as the Etienne Meneau Album Caraffe #5 available from
Top Australian Wines.  This decanter is certainly unique and a conversation starter, but not sure of the practicality of it for decanting – or pouring into a glass!

I know several people have bought these and I expect they are getting great joy from them.  However, I must question how useful they are for decanting when the air – wine interface is so limited.  The whole purpose of decanting is to oxidize the wine and bring it to completion for drinking.  Initially, removing the cork from a bottle will allow some pent up smells to evaporate, and unless it is a very old and fragile wine, further decanting continues to improve it slightly.

While decanting, I love to put some wine immediately into the proper glass and to test it every few minutes to see how quickly it changes during the initial decanting.  I find it interesting as to how for some wines, the change is noticeable and almost immediate, yet for others – for example the 1987 Lindemans Pyrus – the wine needs to sit for 6 – 8 hours or even longer before the process is complete.

The main purpose of decanting is to expose the maximum amount of wine to air for the agreeable amount of time to optimize the wine’s flavor and character.  And for this, I find the most traditional wine decanter shape does the job best.

This is the most sensible shape for a decanter, and this one is the Maxwell and Williams Diamante Decanter for $29.95.  I have found this on sale previously for $19.95 at Meyers.  I have about a dozen decanters which come in handy when you are having a larger dinner party with multiple wines, or doing a vertical tasting of multiple wines.  For such an evening, I am glad to have my set of decanters and to have only paid $20 for each one instead of $250 – $700, let alone $4,000!  Again, there are some great decanters out there and some have magnificent character and are aesthetically appealing.  Yet, unlike the glassware from which you are drinking the wine and where the shape of the glass makes a significant difference in taste, a $20 traditional decanter, used as an interim vessel for holding the wine while it mixes with air, is as good or better solution than more expensive decanters available.

I am not trying to steer you away from more expensive decanters, especially if you get joy from the embedded art and aesthetics.  I love using and get great pleasure from my Reidel Black Tie Smile decanter, but to get the job done as well as with any other decanter, you don’t need to spend more than $20.

(The decanting  process, what types of wines to decant, and the timings will be discussed more thoroughly in a future posting.)