There are wine encyclopedias, bibles, and guides—Wine in Words: Some Notes For Better Drinking is not one of those books. It doesn’t contain everything, just the really important stuff: the truly key wines, grapes, regions; tips about wine buying, aging, and storage; and useful explanations about tasting notes and whether or not vintages really matter. In short, this book covers the real absolutes that you need to know about wine. With the pithy wit that readers of her columns have come to expect, Lettie Teague breaks down the stumbling blocks that often intimidate us and clears up the myths that cloud our understanding. A series of mini-essays cover the essentials in a fun, omnibus fashion. The tone is sometimes irreverent, sometimes opinionated, but always practical.
Readers will be find charming entries such as “The Unbearable Oakiness of Being,” “Can Wedding Wine Be Good?,” and “Why You Really Need Only One Glass.” Other entries may provoke some lively debate, such as “Men Are from Cab, Women Are from Moscato?” and “In Defense of Wine Snobs.” The opposite of a didactic textbook, this volume is not meant to be read from start to finish. Instead, like wine itself, it encourages small contemplative sips. Wine in Words is a companion for the modern taster, a concise and curated collection of tidbits to satisfy anyone with a lively curiosity and palate.
Reprinted with permission from Wine in Words: Some Notes for Better Drinking by Lettie Teague, copyright © 2015. Published by Rizzoli Ex Libris, an imprint of Rizzoli New York. You can buy an autographed copy of Wine in Words at Omnivore. We urge you to support your local bookstore, or purchase through our affiliate links with Amazon and IndieBound.
There’s something quite worldly and polished, perhaps even erudite, about decanting a bottle of wine. The simple act of pouring wine from a bottle into some sort of stylish receptacle seems to elevate both wine and drinker. And the receptacle doesn’t have to be anything special. It doesn’t need to made from fancy crystal or cut glass—even a large water pitcher will do. The motion of the wine provides all the color, the beauty, and the drama of the moment.
The main reason to decant a wine is entirely practical: it makes the wine more pleasurable to drink. Pouring the wine from bottle to decanter aerates (oxygenates) the wine, making its aromas more pronounced. A decanted wine will almost almost always have more vivid aromas than one that is poured directly from the bottle. A wine that is decanted is also softer, more approachable, for the same reasons; the oxygen breaks the tannin chain too. A couple of hours in a decanter can make a tannic wine much more approachable than it would be if it were poured right from the bottle.
A wine is also decanted if it’s older and possessed of a sediment (the stuff that collects at the bottom of a bottle) that would otherwise end up in somebody’s glass. Wines with a lot of sediment are almost exclusively red wines with a lot of structure and a fair amount of tannin; Cabernet-based wines are chief candidates for decanting. This is rarely the reason to decant a young wine, as wines don’t usually “throw” much sediment in their youth. (Yes, that is the verb that wine professionals use to describe the act of dislodging the stuff.)
The first type of decanting can be done in a pretty straightforward manner: open the bottle and pout it into the receptacle. The second type of decanting must be done more carefully, lest you end up pouring the sediment into the glass with the wine. The second type of decanting must be done slowly, carefully, even ceremoniously. Some sommeliers like to add a bit more to the majesty of the occasion by pouring the bottle from a straw cradle of sorts (to steady the bottle and presumably their hands) into the decanter. They might even pour the wine out over the light of a single candle (to keep an eye on the sediment), although the presence of flame might only increase the danger quotient for a wine amateur.
I decant wines more often for the first reason—to increase their aromatic appeal and make them a bit softer—than the second, but I drink most of my wines fairly young. And while I have several very nice decanters (all presents), I’ve been known to use a large flower vase in a pinch, which is fun but perhaps a bit awkward to pour.
I’ve rarely decanted a non-red wine, although there was a wine director at a restaurant in the Napa Valley who liked to decant every wine that she poured—not just the obvious stuff like a big Napa Valley Cabernet or young red Bordeaux but wines like Pinot Grigio and Prosecco, too. I thought at the time that this was taking decanting a bit far. When is the last time you drank a glass of decanted Prosecco? On the other hand, she decanted with such joy and abandon that it was hard not to enjoy the moment—and her performance. Decanting can also be performance art.
Lettie Teague is the wine columnist at The Wall Street Journal and the winner of three James Beard Awards. Formerly, Teague was the wine columnist at Food & Wine for ten years. She is the author of Educating Peter (Amazon or Indiebound) and the co-author of Fear of Wine (Amazon or Indiebound).