Decanting Red Burgundy

Decanting Red Burgundy

Decanting red Burgundy is a hot button topic. 

People get really worked up about it. Some dogmatically prohibit this practice - ever. The most important thing is to put the glasses and the decanter on the table first - then taste the wine. Do you pour it into glasses and start drinking it right away? Pour it into glasses and wait? Decant? Only by tasting the wine are you ever going to find out.

One problem here in the USA is that back vintage Red Burgundy has often taken a roundabout route to the person who is going to drink the wine. In Europe these wines might go directly into a nice cold dark cellar and rest undisturbed. Often when I get a bottle of desirable back vintage Red Burgundy it has multiple stickers from auction houses on the bottle indicating that it has had a few owners and bounced around quite a bit.

Some years ago I bought 8 bottles of 1990 Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches Red from a doctor in Vermont. He had bought a case on release and put the wooden box in the root cellar of his house in the country. The bottles had never moved until he brought them to me almost 20 years later. There was a stripe of sediment opposite the labels. It looked like this stripe of sediment was painted on to the bottle. When I poured the wine into glasses the sediment barely budged. The wine was beautiful and perfectly ready to drink but not fragile or delicate or anything, it was powerful. Well cared for Burgundy is sturdy, it is not fragile. This sticks in my mind because it is such a rare occurrence.

When I was first learning about Red Burgundies way back in the early 1980's my friend Ed would decant an older wine into a decanter with a stopper. He would smell it and if he thought it was open and expressive, he would pour it right away. Most of the time he waited. How long? May be a half an hour, maybe an hour or two.

By the late 1990's it seemed that the majority of people were not decanting Red Burgundy - period. Sometimes I like to decant very young Red Burgundy to give it a chance to open up.

If I have a very old bottle of Red Burgundy - 25+ years old, I will put out all of the glasses on the table and slowly pour out the entire bottle. I usually take the last glass for myself. I know that the glasses poured before mine will be free of any sediment. 

The only way to find out is to taste the wine.