December 2011 newsletter
The debate about whether or not decanting improves wine is one that re-emerges at regular intervals in columns of the wine press. The general consensus of those ‘in the know’, is that it does, and that opinion is growing. There seems almost unanimous opinion that wine whether it is white or red, young or old, it will be better for being aerated, and to most people, that means decanting. Decanting will not make a poor wine good, but it may improve it; it can certainly make a good one better.
Today, there are several products which aerate wine as it is poured from a bottle to the glass, and presumably they have much the same effect as decanting, but they do not have the elegance nor the visual impact of a decanter on the table or sideboard. However, decanting takes time - a commodity not everyone has in abundance. It has to be said, also, that a decanted wine shows that care has been taken to show it to the best advantage - just as those who prepare the food to complement wine usually take care to present it attractively.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, there is little doubt that wine was much less good than it is today, and it threw substantial amounts of sediment. It is probably why decanters were made in such large numbers. One has only to look at an empty antique wine bottle to see how much sediment has been left after decanting (see 4116 in Miscellanea). However, although separating wine from sediment was an important reason for decanting, and that still applies to vintage port and to a lesser extent red wine, decanting in the modern world is more about presentation and enhancement of taste.
Earlier this month, we entertained two younger couples for supper, and I took three bottles of a recommended 2005 claret from my ‘cellar’. It is just as well that I had brought out one more bottle than I thought I would need. I always make a point of tasting each bottle before decanting it, and the first bottle I opened was ‘corked’ - it had a horrid musty smell and the wine tasted foul! This is not the uncommon problem most imagine, although obviously it does not exist with screw-cap closures. But do you know a half-decent claret that uses a screw-cap? In any event, I decanted the other two (good) bottles into my favourite magnum carafe which I have had for many years, and both the wine and the decanter were remarked upon enthusiastically. There is no doubt that a large format decanter whets the expectations of those who will be drinking the contents! Any decanter enhances wine’s presentation, but a magnum... .
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I have been very lucky in the past month or so in finding some very fine decanters - a couple of excellent ships’ decanters, and several magnums. By typing ‘magnum’ into the search box on my website, you can see all the magnums I have together with coasters which will accommodate them, while the ships’ can be seen on my ‘Georgian Decanters’ page.
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The antithesis to fine decanters has to be the item which hit the news this month - the paper bottle - and no, I am not joking. A Suffolk man has invented a bottle made of paper, with a thin plastic lining. Its advantage is that it is much lighter than a glass bottle, and is more eco-friendly in every way, being cheaper to make and to transport because it is lighter than its glass equivalent. It weighs only 55g compared with 500g for a glass bottle, and its carbon footprint is only 10% of that of a glass bottle. The paper bottle is compostable and decomposes in weeks, being made from re-cycled paper.
Somehow I fail, in my mind’s eye, to see good burgundy or claret being marketed in paper bottles, and whatever their benefits, they can never be as attractive as decanters. However, as eco-friendly as the paper bottle is, it should not be forgotten that the antiques trade is arguably the most ‘green’ of all businesses, as everything we sell is pre-used!
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I would like to finish by saying how much pleasure Carol & I took from another very brief visit across the English Channel to see our friend Guy Boursot at his wine shop in Ardres, just 15 minutes from the port/tunnel. This time we enjoyed a splendid tutored tasting of fine Alsatian Wines by Nicolas Faller over a sumptuous dinner at nearby Château Tilques. While it was foggy outside, the clarity of his wines and what he said about them was crystal clear. It was enjoyable as well as thoroughly entertaining - what a friend calls ‘edutainment’ at its best!