Decant this

A literary agent once took a copy of a memoir proposal of mine and without saying anything about why or what he had done, he sent it back with a yellow mark over every appearance of the word “I.”

His message got through loudly and with painful clarity.

The agent provided me with a needed look into potential self-absorption on the theory that a good memoir is as much a good story as any novel, and although a memoir centers around one person, that person need not be the absolute center of the story.

Maybe wine critics and reviewers can use this lesson.

The other day my friend Mitch posted on a wine forum a piece published in Scientific American 2004; volume 291; issue 5. It was by Andrew L. Waterhouse, a professor in the department of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis. The piece concerned itself with decanting wine.

While Waterhouse laid out his rationale for decanting either red or white wine, the section Mitch quoted offered little in the way of scientific reasoning. Essentially, Waterhouse reiterated what many people believe: younger red wines benefit from decanting because they, “can be harsh or astringent if consumed directly after opening the bottle,” older reds may benefit from decanting because it “…leaves the sediment behind, yielding clean wine,” and whites don’t benefit from decanting because “…decanting actually results in a wine with much less of the aroma than the winemaker intended,” and “…because white wines contain fewer tannins and pigments, they don’t produce the same quantity of sediments that red wines do.”

Nothing of what Waterhouse said isn’t true, but the blanket statements are so definite that it makes me ask: where’s the proof?

A brief conversation ensued on the forum and Mitch went on, as he often does, to post a few scientific excerpts—he is a scientist by training and occupation, and he is interested in the science behind the concept of decanting wine. More to the point, he’s trying to find out what happens to a wine when it is decanted and whether or not there is any way of knowing beforehand what the outcome of decanting will be.

Mitch got one truly long-winded response from a wine reviewer. This was when my agent entered my mind.

The approximate 1100-word response to Mitch’s exploration of decanting included numerous personal pronoun references but not one bit of scientific evidence either for or against decanting wine, which in effect renders it a rather long piece of opinion writing. Nothing new there with wine critic/reviewers, but it does leave me wondering if they can ever get out of their heads, even for just five minutes. There are times when the science behind wine is too baffling even for those who know the science, imagine what you are getting back from those who haven’t a clue but have volumes in opinions.

Here’s an idea for those interested in the affect decanting might have on wine:

Get four bottles of the same wine. Set a time for a blind tasting. One hour before the set time, open two bottles and let the wine sit in one bottle for an hour and pour the other bottle of wine into a decanter to sit for an hour. Five to ten minutes before the tasting, open a third bottle and pour wine into a glass. When the tasting time arrives, pour the first two wines into a glass each, open the fourth bottle and pour wine into a glass and have someone taste all four glasses of wine right away without telling that person what you are trying to find out.

Let the person tell you how each wine smells and tastes—nothing more.

Do the above experiment more than once with different red and white wines until you are certain that you know whether or not to decant wine in the future; either that, or don’t bother decanting at all.

Ask Jamie Goode about decanting and see what you get back:

Ask Emile Peynaud about decanting and see what you get back:

Ask Ronald S. Jackson about decanting and see what you get back:
(go to page 566)

Whatever you do, don’t ask a wine reviewer or critic about decanting wine.

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.


Copyright Thomas Pellechia
October 2009. All rights reserved.

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