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A Little Spring Cleaning Help for Your Wines

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Feb 22, 2008 4:30PM

2008_02_Alpana.jpgSaturday is the ninth annual "Open That Bottle Night," an event decreed by Wall Street Journal wine column writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. Typically scheduled for the last Saturday in February, Brecher and Gaiter created "OTBN" as a column device, basically. They asked readers to open a bottle of wine they found symbolically significant, and then send in the stories related to that choice. Over the years we've opened up everything from splits of Van Duzer pinot noir to magnums of G.H. Mumm Extra Dry champagne, usually in celebration of something.

You can also use "OTBN" as a form of spring cleaning. If you have a dusty bottle of wine that's rested on your rack for years you want to open tomorrow, crack that mother open. One of our most enjoyable wine experiences involved a bottle of 1995 Vampire pinot noir, purchased in 1998, we had hidden in our pantry for years. We uncorked that bad boy in 2001, decanted it, and savored the revelation. This bottle was the exception to the rule; who the hell in his right mind cellars a six-dollar bottle of wine? That thing was meant to be consumed immediately in the parking lot of the Osco where it was purchased. We wanted to give you some tips on decanting and aeration. So we turned to someone with a more definitive grasp on the subject.

For our readers both loyal and new, the following are tips on decanting from Alpana Singh, who will be opening a bottle of La Posta Malbec from Argentina tomorrow "since it will be minus 100 degrees this weekend, it’s summer in Argentina and Malbec warms the soul."

"I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me about a wine that they have been saving and I have to break it to them that they should have had it about five years ago. Storage can also play a significant factor in how well the wine ages. Wines stored in warmer areas, such as on top of a refrigerator or near the furnace in the basement, will age more rapidly and can even spoil with excessive heat spikes. The reverse is true during the winter season. The fact that this dreadful winter is almost over is reason enough to celebrate.

"Decanting can help soften and open up younger wines, especially heavier Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines or meaty Italian reds. All you have to do is pour the wine into a clean, glass vessel. Streaming the wine down the side of the container will optimize the oxygen exposure. Decanting is like yoga for wine – it can soften tight muscles and it really gets the oxygen flowing. White wines, especially German and Alsace Rieslings can also benefit from decanting. Simply removing the cork from a bottle will not let the wine breathe. There is not enough oxygen in the neck of the bottle to do any good. It would be better to pour the wine into a glass or, better yet, decant it.

"When it comes to older reds, decanting serves an entirely different purpose; the wine has aged a sufficient amount of time and further “breathing” is not really required. We decant older reds to remove the deposit that forms after years of aging and cellaring. For this I use Turkish coffee as an analogy. If you are ready to pop open that vintage cuvee, stand the bottle upright (24 hours is best). By then all of the sediment will fall towards the base of the bottle – just like coffee grounds in Turkish coffee. Use caution when removing the cork as deterioration is common. I recommend using an "ah-so," or two prong cork remover. Don’t worry if the cork breaks – it happens to the best of us. Any bits of cork that may have come off can be removed when you decant the wine. At many restaurants you will see the sommelier bring out a flashlight or candle. This is not to add more romance to your dining experience, but to illuminate the neck of the bottle as he/she pours the wine into a decanter. As soon as he/she sees a cloud of sediment in the neck region, it is time to stop decanting. Otherwise you will mix sediment with the clear portion of the wine.

"You don’t want to decant older reds too far in advance otherwise the very fragile aromas will dissipate before you have had a chance to enjoy the wine. As a rule of thumb – it’s best to decant older reds right before you are ready to enjoy it."