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NorCal Wine Blog

6 Excellent Reasons to Decant a White Wine

Decanting a red wine is almost automatic for some people. If it’s a young wine — and not something light such as Pinot Noir or Gamay — SPLASH, into a decanter it goes. And most people readily decant older red wines to separate the good juice from the unpleasant sediment. How often do you hear about white wine being decanted though?

Christopher Watkins of Ridge and I had a brief discussion about it recently when I asked if he’d decanted the excellent 2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay he’d poured for us on blogger day. (He hadn’t, the wine was fantabulous out of the bottle.) But, in his blog post yesterday, A Chardonnay Vertical? Oh, no you didn’t! Oh, yes I did!!!, Christopher touched on the topic of decanting white wines. He agreed that decanting can help some young Chardonnay blossom. There are other situations that call for decanting white wine too.

Here are 6 excellent reasons to decant a white wine:

  • The wine is too cold.
    When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to forget to pull wine out of the refrigerator soon enough. Almost all white wines should be served at less than room temperature. But, if the wine is too cold, many of the aromatics are hidden. Cold wine comes up to prime drinking temperature more quickly if you pour it into a room temperature decanter.

  • The wine is too warm.
    This may seem counter-intuitive based on the previous tip. However, the principle is the same. Wine bottles do a good job of insulating the wine they contain from external temperature changes. To get your wine to the right temperature quickly, you need to get it out of the bottle. By spreading the wine out over the broad but thin glass of a decanter, you can more easily change the wine’s temperature.


    To cool wine using a decanter, immerse the decanter in a bath of water and ice. Be careful not to let any water get into the decanter. Give the decanter a minute or two to chill and then pour in the wine. Leave it in the ice bath until it reaches the temperature you like.

  • The wine is “closed.”
    Most white wines, served at the proper temperature, having enticing aromas right out of the bottle. Some are shy though. This can be due to winemaking style, because the wine is very young or in an awkward phase, or just the nature of that grape variety. If you pour a white wine into your glass and it smells like... nothing, decant it. Believe it or not, some experts regularly decant Champagne for this very reason. Bubbles are pretty, but aroma and flavor are more important.

  • The wine evolves beautifully over time, but you don’t have time.
    Some wine has attractive aromas right out of the bottle, but they really blossom with time in your glass. A perfect example of this is Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Reserve. Pour the wine and you’re greeted by lovely white peach, vanilla and gentle oak. But, over time, numerous more subtle notes of white flowers, spice, sweet herb and other fruits emerge.
 At a recent dinner party, I served that wine with one specific dish in a 6-course meal. I needed the wine to be at peak right away to optimize the guests’ experience and keep the dinner running on time. I decanted the wine and it blew people away.

  • The wine has some “bottle stink.”
    Okay, no reason to be embarrassed. We’ve all had moments when we weren’t as fresh as we’d like to be. That happens with wine too, but it doesn't mean the wine is bad. With young white wines bottle stink is most often due to excess sulphur (used by winemakers to kill bacteria) or a very tight seal, such as screwcap, that doesn’t allow any gases to escape from the bottle. If you pour that wine directly into a glass, some of the gases will go with it.  And other gases that were in-solution with the wine will gradually emerge in glass too. Splashing the wine into a decanter gives those (ob)noxious gases a chance to dissipate well away from your sensitive nose. Some  German Rieslings I own show a lot of sulphur on the nose when first opened. Decanting them really helps.

  • Two bottles of exactly the same wine are showing bottle variation.
    This isn’t a situation that will arise often for most people, but it is common for those who regularly lead large wine tastings or classes. With a large group, you need more than one bottle of each wine. Yet each glass of wine should taste and smell the same so everyone has a common frame of reference for discussion.
 If there is significant variation between bottles of the same wine, whether they are at slightly different stages of development or one bottle is a touch flawed, you can blend the bottles using a decanter. A magnum decanter easily holds two bottles. If you only have a one bottle decanter, you’ll need to pour just half of each bottle (or less if you have three or more bottles) in at a time.

 

Decanting white wine isn’t something you need to do every day. But it is something that can add to your enjoyment on occasion. Don’t let a wine’s color make you shy about decanting it if necessary.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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