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Decant It and Let It “Breathe”? The facts might surprise you

| July 1, 2010

In May 1977, my late friend Alexis Bespaloff published “A Corking New Wine Theory” in New York Magazine. In blind tastings with Robert Mondavi, Paul Draper of Ridge Winery, Alexis Lichine of Bordeaux Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, Kevin Zraly, cellarmaster at Windows on the World Restaurant and author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, and John Sheldon, wine consultant at Tavern on the Green, Bespaloff uncovered an embarrassing fact.

For Draper, the wine used was his 1974 Geyserville Zinfandel. For Mondavi, his 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon and for Lichine, his 1967 Chateau Prieuré-Lichine. In each case, for each taster, one of his bottles was decanted one hour before serving and one was simply uncorked an hour before serving. A third was decanted and served minutes before the tasting, and the fourth was just uncorked and served minutes before the tasting. Mondavi and Lichine tasted each other’s wine also. Don’t shoot the messenger, but in every case, including a 1973 Chateau Pichon-Lalande with Zraly and Sheldon, the bottle that was just uncorked and served at the time of the tasting was preferred!

Bespaloff goes on to say he queried both the famous French wine consultant Emile Peynaud and the prominent U.C. Davis enology professor Vernon Singleton on the subject, and each just uncorked their wines and poured them with similar thoughts about non-breathing.

Bespaloff went even further and opened two bottles of 1967 Figeac on one occasion and two bottles of 1967 Chateau Latour on another occasion, one decanted an hour before and one uncorked minutes before serving. In each case, four other wine drinkers “… discovered, to their astonishment, that the bottle just opened and poured had more flavor and a bigger bouquet than the one decanted an hour before…”
Now this is serious evidence as to how best to serve wine. But even though this article appeared 33 years ago from one of the most prolific and knowledgeable wine writers in the world, the custom of opening a bottle to let it breathe and decanting wine to let it breathe is as firmly entrenched as ever.

After writing about this several times in the past, I decided to test the theory myself. I asked Bill Floyd at Reef Restaurant if he would round up four or five serious wine professionals to have a go at a blind tasting conducted by myself. The wine was a 2005 (outstanding year for Bordeaux) Chateau Lynch-Moussas (a very good Classified Growth Bordeaux, at least since 2002). Omitting the fourth bottle, which was slightly off, I decanted one bottle two hours before the tasting, one bottle one hour before the tasting, and opened one bottle just before the “judges” arrived. I then poured the three offerings, two from decanters and one from bottle, separated the tasters, and served the wines blind.

The tasters were composed of the following: renowned Houston Chronicle sports and wine writer Dale Robertson, who also wrote up the tasting; one wine-savvy restauranteur; one well-known wine wholesaler; and several well-known Houston sommeliers. All but one thought the wine served from the bottle that was opened and poured into the glasses just prior to the tasting was the most flavorful!

By Denman Moody

Category: More Features, Wine Reviews by Denman Moody

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