Learning to Love Wine- Decanting American Varietals

My partner Ken has a lifelong love of learning. He’s a teacher too (among other things), having taught both at Art Center and currently UCLA. The thing about great teachers is they are always learning new things. Ken is taking a wine appreciation course at UCLA. Not that Ken and I don’t know or enjoy wine. But a course in wine tasting could give Ken the tools he needs to take his enjoyment of wine to a whole new level.


Ken is going to write a report for us after each of his weekly classes. This is the second report in this series. GREG


To decant or not to decant? That is the question.


My second session of Introduction to Wine began with this eternal question. The answer is two-fold: the first is pretty obvious – to remove sediments. What isn’t so obvious is that white wines could have sediments as well (white crystals called tartrates, especially found in Austrian Rieslings). But don’t decant your white, just realize that it’s OK – they aren’t shards of glass and they’re not going to hurt you. The second reason to decant is to aerate your (red) wine. Introducing air to the wine will break up the long chains of tannins that have formed and give the wine a rounder mouthfeel (Michael Schuster, the author of our textbook “Essential Winetasting” hates this relatively new term, he’s sticking with “texture”). Rule of thumb: start decanting Cabs at eight to ten years old and DON’T decant Pinot Noir (you may lose some of the delicate aromas).


Another decanting tip: one or two days before you’re going to enjoy that special bottle, set it upright. The sediment that was lying on the side of the bottle (since of course you stored your wine properly on its side to keep the cork moist) will re-settle on the bottom. Then decant it, and pour off nearly all of the sediment-free wine. Our instructor said you can use any clean glass container, even a $5 flower vase from IKEA. I must disagree, why pass up an opportunity to own a beautiful, over-priced crystal creation from Riedel?


Anne AmieFun facts from class 2:


Varietals. The “great eight” are commercially successful because they can be grown all over the globe. The “black” grapes: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah/Shiraz (initially a proprietary Australian appellation, now it’s been co-opted by other countries). The “white” grapes: Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Terroir. Also called tipicity, “somewhereness” and provenance. Climate change (extreme weather, not necessarily global warming) is affecting viticulture. California’s Central Valley is getting warmer (to the detriment of many wines) and Sonoma/Napa is getting cooler. A quote from our instructor: “the grape variety is the lens through which you see the terroir.”

White wines from class 2:


2011 Anne Amie Vineyards Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley, $16. A nearly water-white, clear, bright non-aromatic wine with hints of white peach, melon and maybe some pear. It was dry on the palate, fresh, tasting of green apples (Granny Smith, I’d say!) with a bit of sweetness.
2010 Cep Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $25. As you may recall from my first post, I usually don’t love chardonnay, especially without food. But this one reminded me of my mom’s Apple Crisp: lemon-straw in appearance, a definite butter/popcorn/vanilla nose and a dry sweetness, if such a thing is possible. Not bad!
Melville2011 Melville Viognier, Santa Rita Hills, $20. The most viscous of the whites (“legs” in the swirl), aromatic with high alcohol (which masked the nose a bit), dry but sweeter with a delightful melange of apricots, almond and toastiness.
2011 Eroica (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Dr Loosen) Riesling, Columbia Valley, $19. Water-white, clear and bright, not much from the nose (our instructor said the proper term, believe it or not is “dumb”) but a lovely sweetness of honeycomb, lime and green apple.


Red wines from class 2:
Janiuk Merlot2010 Patricia Green Cellars, Pinot Noir, Mcminnville, Willamette Valley, $30. I was the only (first?) one to see that this wine was a little cloudy. This could be due to its artisanal, small production and/or the fact that it is relatively youthful. The nose was cherry at its core, with a savory, dried earth high note. The palate was dry with a bit of sweetness at the tip of the tongue with some sour red cherry and minerality.
2008 Januik Merlot, Columbia Valley, $20. Our instructor pointed out the “feathering” at the rim, indicating age. Wonderful aromas of caramel (core), smoke, cedar and pepper made me anxious to taste it – I love those flavors in food. It turned out to be dry and somewhat acid on the palate with black cherry dominating. Not caramel! A revelation because I’ve dismissed Merlot ever since I saw “Sideways.”
2008 Midsummer Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $35. Opaque, looks older than the Januik. A leafy, high alcohol minerally nose. A dry, black cherry and cocoa palate that was somewhat gritty and high in tannins. We also tasted a decanted bottle that was much more balanced, sweeter (vanilla notes) and less strong. Wow, decanting made a huge difference!
2010 Trinitas Cellars, Petite Syrah “Old Vine”, Contra Costa County, $25. The final taste of the evening was an inky, young-looking wine that could have used some aging, blending or nosh. Perhaps barbeque – which was the core note, along with black pepper finished off with vanilla. Not running out to buy this one (yet?). KEN




Read the previous posts in this series:


Learning to Love Wine- An Introduction