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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Noble Writ: How to Decant, or What You Won't Learn at Your 20th Reunion

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 12:45 PM

I graduated from high school in 1989. No, it wasn't in St. Louis, so don't waste time wondering which one. In celebration of blowing off my 20th reunion, and being two decades removed from the trying social experiment called high school, I decided to pull a wine from the 1989 vintage for this week's post.

Now, I didn't purchase this wine when it was originally released back in 1991 or so. Some wineries will cellar bottles at their facility and then release them years or even decades later. To my mind, this is generally a more reliable method of finding well-preserved older bottles than the auction market is -- although in fairness I've yet to experience a problem with poorly-stored bottles that I've purchased at auction.

Today's bottle is the 1989 Chinon Les Picasses from Olga Raffault. I purchased this about five years ago from Chambers St. Wines for around $40. At the time, the current release of Ms. Raffault's Chinon Les Picasses went for around $16, so this was not too steep a premium given that the property had cellared it for more than a decade at the time I bought it.

Chinon is one of the great locations for cabernet franc, which is unfairly much less popular than its offspring cabernet sauvignon (the other parent being the white grape sauvignon blanc). Cabernet franc rarely reaches the lushness or ripeness of cabernet sauvignon, but it showcases a more complex array of herbal, spicy, animal flavors, which make it an outstanding compliment to a much wider array of food. The climate in the Loire results in lower alcohol levels and higher acidity in most vintages, which add to cabernet franc's utility at the table.

I'll be delving into Loire cabernet franc in detail in a future post, but opening this older bottle allows me to touch on yet another complex and poorly understood wine ritual -- decanting. There are two benefits of decanting, one clear and easily understood, the other complicated and subject to myth, misconception and viciously-defended blind faith. I'll be decanting this bottle for the first reason: to separate the wine from the sediment that has formed over 20 years of storage.

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