The Aeration Condom (and Why I Don't Decant)
Decanting? I'm not a fan.
Not that there's anything wrong with decanting. In fact, some of my best friends are decanters.
But when you come to dinner at my house, you'll rarely see me decant a wine.
Ninety-nine percent of the wine we consume today is filtered and shouldn't have any sediment (if it's been cellared properly). And if the wine isn't filtered (because the winemaker chose not to filter it) and there is some sediment, the issue of separating the liquid from the solids is easily remedied by storing the wine upright for a day or so to let the sediment settle to the bottom of the bottle. At our house, if we're drinking a youthful bottle of unfiltered wine, we don't even bother with separating the liquid and the solid: We prefer to drink the wine as is, enjoying the texture intended by the winemaker.
Occasionally, we'll open a bottle of older wine in which the contents have begun to "disassociate." In other words, some of the wine has returned to a solid form.
In these cases, decanting is appropriate in my view: By holding a lit candle underneath the neck of the bottle as I decant, I can determine when I need to stop pouring so as to avoid transferring the sediment to the decanter.
But I am diametrically opposed to the practice of decanting a powerfully tannic wine in its youth in order to accelerate its approachability.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that wine shouldn't be expedited. By forcing the wine to reveal its fruit through decanting (or double decanting), you're adding unnecessary stress to the wine's life. The second is that personally, I like to see the wine evolve in the glass. When I open a special bottle of tannic red wine (as I did on Saturday night for my birthday), I'm in no rush and I plan to spend the entire evening with the wine. If the first sip of wine is too tannic, I'll put it aside and drink something else in the meantime. The wine's evolution and my observation and experience therein are two of the elements I cherish most.
I am, however, a fan of unrushed aeration.
Early Saturday morning, knowing that we were going to open a bottle of nearly six-year-old Barolo for dinner that evening, I opened the wine around 9 a.m., did not decant (or double decant), and I let the wine aerate for the entire day so that its tannin would mellow and become approachable by dinnertime.
And here's where the aeration condom comes in. After I opened the bottle, I placed a piece of cellophane over the aperture and then used a toothpick to poke holes in it (you can use the tines of a fork as well). This allowed the wine to aerate all day without allowing any dust (or fruit flies, if you have them) to come into contact with the wine.
The bottle we opened was a 2006 single-vineyard-designated Barolo by one of my favorite producers: The gentle (protected) aeration was just the thing it needed to open up by dinnertime and reward us with its dark fruit.
And I know that you already know that good things come to those who wait...
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