Monday, February 04, 2008

Decanting Old Wine: the '99 Mount Langhi Ghiran Shiraz

A few weeks ago I decanted a young red, and led you through the steps necessary to get your young, tight red to open up and strut its stuff. Today, I'm going to show you my efforts to decant an older red. I should admit at the outset that I made a huge boo-boo (see below, step #4). So take this as not only a step-by-step guide of what to do, but also a reminder of what NOT to do.

The wine up for decanting was a 1999 Mount Langhi Ghiran Shiraz that I purchased, complete with authentic cellar dust, from Garagiste back in September for $19.99. You can't get the wine from them anymore, but you can get your hands on a bottle from the auction market for between $30 and $40. I've never had a Shiraz this old, and the early notes on CellarTracker were all over the place--it was still tight, it was over the hill, etc. One thing was clear: it had sediment.

Sediment is common in older wines and it is the primary reason most people decant them. Wines that are old have already opened up in the bottle, and are showing subtle flavor complexities that are not apparent when the wine is young. So in the case of older wines, you don't necessarily want to open them hours ahead of time and let them sit in a decanter. This can expose the wine to so much air that it dulls the flavors. Instead, you want to decant a bit before serving in order to remove sediment and to give it a chance to breathe just a little bit.

First things first: the morning of Decantation Day, set the bottle upright, so that any sediment in the bottle has a chance to settle into the bottom. Put it in a cool, dark place. Then, when you are about 20-30 minutes from drinking it, begin to decant the wine.

1. Gather equipment. This is still a good idea, since it puts everything you need within arms reach. Here's we see corkscrew, foilcutter, wine (complete with dust, for those with sharp eyes), decanter, funnel, and the screen that will help catch sediment.

2. Inspection time. Open the bottle, checking the cork for signs of damage which can indicate the wine is flawed. Pour yourself a bit, and take a taste to make sure it isn't corked or over the hill. You can tell if it's corked because it will smell like moldy newspaper. You can tell if it's over the hill if the flavors are completely flat (don't get me started on the white Chateauneuf-du-Pape that I forgot I had and which was undrinkable by the time I found it--but trust me, you'll know if this has happened). Good news here: the wine was lovely, bright and complex. I did feel it would benefit from some time in the air, so I decided to let it sit for 45 minutes because in my experience, this wine--for all its age--really was still just a bit tight and coiled.

3. Decantation time. Put the screen in the funnel, and the funnel in the decanter. Gently start pouring the wine through the screen. This is not the time to bottoms-up the bottle, or all the sediment will come out and the point of the exercise will be lost.

4. Stop pouring before you reach the sediment -- because sometimes, sediment is fine. In this case, I merrily poured my bottle, and the wine was a beautiful true garnet in color, and I thought "what's all this sediment everybody keeps talking about?" That's when the dregs of the wine hit the funnel, the abundance of fine sediment hit the screen--and went straight through. This rendered the wine a cloudy purple--not what I was hoping for. It didn't make the wine gritty, or spoil the taste, but the sediment did detract from the wine's aesthetic beauty. If you've ever seen an old movie where a butler pours a wine into a decanter with a candle behind the bottle, this is why: so you can see when you are getting to the sediment and STOP POURING. (bad shot of fine sediment clinging to bottle, but you see my point). So you lose a little wine.

5. Enjoy--even if you got some sediment in there despite your best efforts. What did the wine taste like after decanting? It was unlike any other Aussie Shiraz I've ever had: powerful but with balance and finesse. Aromas and flavors of deep plum, smoke and sandalwood kept this wine interesting all the way down to the very last drop. The sandalwood was particularly nice, and hinted at things old and rare. We had the wine with grilled rib-eyes and all the fixings, but given its complexity I think it would have been even better with lamb, as it would have been more softly suited to the wine.

For just under $20, this was very good QPR, especially for those who don't like the sensation of being hit over the head with a mallet when they open an Australian Shiraz. Given this experience, I will be tempted to let some of my reds from Down Under age just a bit longer in my cellar.

1 comment:

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