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Weekend wine: Air, Anyone?

This week, Vin airs the truth about decanting
Vin Greco, Wine All The Time

We are often told that a breath of fresh air would be of great benefit to us. I am becoming more and more convinced that the same is true for wine.

Often, when a bottle is first opened, I find that my first taste is, if not disappointing, it is at least puzzling.  The wine fails, really, to live up to my expectations; however, give that wine a chance to breathe, and the transformation is significant.

What was originally closed or disjointed, with some reasonable aeration, has transformed, with the flavours more obvious and the various elements integrated into a more pleasurable whole.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as fine wines have long been decanted, poured into another vessel which provides more surface area to allow them to open up.  As well, it has also been said that wine that has been bottled relatively recently can go through a “dumb” period, with the expected characteristics hard to detect when first opened.

Usually when wine experts write about decanting, they are referring to wines on the higher end of the scale, but in my experience, even very humble wines are at their best when they have been “resuscitated”. 

A couple of weeks ago I attended the California Wine Fair in Toronto. Every April, the California Wine Institute criss-crosses Canada in April visiting 7 of our biggest cities. In the afternoon, there is a tasting for the trade – people connected to the drinks industry and restaurateurs, and in the evening it is repeated for the paying public.

Over 500 wines from 12 dozen wineries or wine groups were available to taste…with three hours to get it done.  By the end of the first hour, you could barely get around the hall as the crowds moved in.

Fortunately, prior to the opening, there is a room set aside for the media in which about 50 of the wines were available for tasting, and that is where I focussed my attention.

I don’t know whether my perceptions are changing, but I was surprised by the impact that the California Cabernet Sauvignons made on me.  Generally, the first impression was one of sweetness, clearly an indication of ripe fruit.  When I say ‘first impression’, I am referring to what I noticed as the first sip entered my mouth.  The next thing I attend to would be the way the wine feels in my mouth, and then what I notice when I have swallowed –even if most of the wine ends up in a “spittoon”.  Here the tannins are really noted, and you get a sense of the wine’s total effect.

In short, I would find that the wines could seem disjointed, even when I knew that they have immense potential for enjoyment.  All they need is time to breathe.

It isn’t enough just to pull the cork or unscrew the cap.  A bottle’s neck is so narrow, there is very little aeration taking place. You need a lot more surface area, and more time, usually.

That is why in some restaurants, you may find the server pouring your wine into a pitcher unless you tell him or her otherwise.  They are letting the wine give its best shot. I recall one dinner I attended at a private club where the wines, very good Bordeaux, had been decanted for a couple of hours before being served.

In the last few years, aerators, devices which cause the wine to swirl as it pours through in to the glass or decanter, have become popular, and they do help.

I’ve been talking about reds, but even whites seem to develop more complexity when they have had a chance to open up.  Very often the second glass tastes better than the first.

That said, too much air, can be fatal.  A half-full bottle or decanter left open overnight will result in a wine that has become bitter with oxidation, and most of the pleasure lost.  Here is where pouring the remainder into a smaller container, or using some kind of system such as a vacuum pump or inert gas will preserve the wine for future enjoyment. 

So, try letting the wine breathe, whether it is with a $12 bottle or one for which you’ve mortgaged your house. You may be surprised at the difference.

Limited Time Offers - April 25 –May 22

Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc, $12.95, regularly $15.95, is text book Sauvignon Blanc, with good intensity and acidity, good tropical and citrus fruit, and with the herbal notes we have come to expect with this grape.  In the States it retails for $16 to $22, so stock up!

Zonin Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore, $13.95, represents a savings of $3.50, and is a bargain for this style of wine. After vinification the ‘new’ Valpolicella is placed in cold storage, until it can be re-fermented on the must of the Amarone, which really “kicks it up a notch.”  It has good intensity and depth.  If you have been reluctant to pay $18 or so for a ripasso, this is your chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Our Daily Red Blend Organic, $12, a Californian which usually retails for $14. is not only organic, but also vegan, and gluten-free.  Moreover, it tastes good!  A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carignan, it is lighter–bodied with good dark fruit.  You can drink well and feel wholesome!

April 30 Vintages Release

White Wine

Chateau de la Bretesche Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2014, $13.95, should please those who enjoy the lightness of Pinot Grigio and the lifted zip of Sauvignon Blanc.  Poised and thirst-quenching, this will please on warm days and delight with seafood.

Featherstone Black Sheep Riesling 2014, $16.95, is a Niagara example that can rival most good German wines of this type, which in this case is just off-dry.  Good citrus and peach fruit provide spot-on balance between sweetness and acidity.

Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc 2014, $18.95, from California’s Mendicino and Lake Counties north of Napa/Sonoma, is an organic wine that expresses the character of the grape cleanly and well. Grapefruit notes are evident in a balanced wine whose impression grows as you sip and enjoy.

Meiomi Chardonnay 2014, $26.95 blends fruit from Sonoma with areas further to the south – Monterey and Santa Barbara - and the result is magic.  The entry has  both a roundness and a citrus note at once, coming on light, but blossoming into depth of flavour against which one could check off the notes provided by the wine maker- ripe stone fruit from Monterey, spice and lively tropical fruit from Santa Barbara, and apple/minerality from Sonoma.  It is all there, and delicious. This is something special.

Red Wine 

Casas Del Bosque Reserva Carmenère 2014, $14.95 comes on with earth and smoke on the nose and flavours reminiscent of raspberry and cedar, finishing with hints of ripe bell pepper and pipe tobacco.  On the finish there is some real verve as the acidity comes into play.

Pata Negra Reserva 2010, $17, is yet another Iberian gem from the Rioja.  Three writers for, including 2 Masters of Wine have given this wine an incredible 95, for its “complex, very intriguing style”, the interplay of “the black fruit and acidity of the Graciano” (10%), and being “ fresh, firm, and beautifully made.”  It should drink well for the next 10 years.

Tommasi Poggio Al Tufo Rompicollo 2012, $17.95 is one of the best buys one could ever hope for in the “Super-Tuscan” category.  The 2011 was #31 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 in 2014, and the 2012 should be equally impressive.  This wine is pliant and deep, redolent with ripe cherry and a touch of chocolate.  Unbeatable at the price.

Hogue Genesis Meritage 2012, $18.95 enters the mouth like silk, and quickly displays good red and black berry fruit.  “Meritage” indicates a blend of grapes akin to those found in Bordeaux – in this case, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot, all grown in Washington’s Columbia Valley,  The density is there, but it is perceived gradually, so that you are left with a sense of complexity on the burred velvet finish. It is well worth the price.

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Corner 50 Vineyard Merlot/Cabernet 2013, $29.95 –the winery’s Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc have been mainstays at the LCBO for New Zealand wines, and now this Merlot –dominated red is entering the fray.  A gorgeous deep ruby, the wine is amply flavoured with very good plum/cherry notes and a tinge of dark chocolate on the finish, which bears the slightest tannic whisper.  There is real elegance here.