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The simple secret to a hard decant: the visual cues are in the blur and the foam.

Decanting wine conjures visions of cobwebby bottles, flickering candles, crystal goblets, and white-gloved butlers. Performed primarily to relieve wines of sediment, the technique that’s known as the soft decant once involved all this and a good deal of practiced skill to boot.

Decanting was once important because wines (especially red Bordeaux wines) were routinely cellared for years in an attempt to moderate tannins and encourage the development of those alluring flavors and aromas we call bottle age. 

Over time molecules of tannin would flocculate (glom together) until they were too heavy to remain in solution, whereupon they would fall to the bottom of the bottle to form a little pile of harmless but not very appetizing debris. A slow, skillful decant left you with lovely clear wine in your crystal decanter while the sediment remained in the bottle.

Today the soft decant is much less frequently seen for the simple reason that it’s less necessary. For one thing, we drink wines at an earlier point in their development, long before tannins have had time to polymerize and create sediment. Also, fining and filtering are more widely and successfully practiced, making “cleaner” wines.

Fresh, modern wines, however, are more likely to come out of the bottle oxygen-starved (the term you’ll see is “reductive”) than wine long-matured in bottle and can for this reason take a bit of time to expressive themselves. Infusing some air will often bring them around quickly, as inventors seem to have learned. All manner of widgets have appeared promising to make our wine more readily drinkable, but if aeration is one key to more immediately expressive wine, why not just familiarize yourself with the technique known as the hard decant?

Everything you need and everything you need to know to perform this maneuver is visible in the photo above: an open bottle of wine; a roomy pitcher of no particular configuration (any of the three shown would do the job – and have); and a tea towel, dish towel, or napkin.

The visual cues to good technique are in the blur and the foam. Remove the closure and in a single motion thrust the neck of the bottle, held almost vertically, deep into the container. Let the wine wantonly gurgle, splash, and swirl as it likes, keeping the neck of the bottle out of contact with the rising wine. The more action the better. It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds and you’re done.

The towel is there to help you do a little mopping up afterward – just in case your butler has the night off.

 

Stephen Meuse is a wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, and regularly talks wine on local PBS affiliate WGBH with host Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen Radio. 

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ruinart

Ruinart Champagnes on display at Formaggio Cambridge.

We’ve long been enamored with grower Champagnes – those wonderful bubblies that are made and bottled by the very same people who cultivate and harvest the grapes. So trendy have these Champagnes become that it can easily be forgotten that the oldest winemaking tradition in this part of the world involves a relatively small group of specialty establishments who have a different approach to making the world’s premier sparkling wine. Known as the Grandes Marques, these houses rely mainly (but not solely) on grapes and wine purchased from select growers. What they contribute is artful sourcing and blending. These establishments bear some of the most recognizable names in Champagne: among them, Taitinger, Bollinger, Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, and – the original – Ruinart.

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Three Vintages from Gigondas

Our three-pack of fantastic vintages from Domaine la Bouïssière Gigondas, France

Brothers Gilles and Thierry Faravel make wine in some of the most weirdly beautiful geography in all of France: in Gigondas, one of the crû villages of the southern Rhone Valley and in the very shadow of the rocky outcropping known as the Dentelles of Montmirail.

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Asti Spumante and Panettone

Asti Spumante and Panettone – A perfect pair!

Why does food and wine matching seem so difficult, so fraught with opportunity to miss the mark? It’s simple really: we insist on reinventing the wheel, overlooking time-tested pairings that are always spot-on in favor of hit-or-miss improvisations.

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holiday_wine_picks_2014

Our wine buyers’ top picks for the holidays! La Cigarrera Amontillado VOR, 2012 Domaine Comte Abbatucci “Cuvee Faustine” Rouge, 2005 CUNE “Contino” Rioja Reserva, and 1979 Kopke Colheita Port

The holiday season is upon us, and once again this year we’ve asked our wine buyers at both shops to recommend the wines they’re most excited about gifting this year. These are not every day wines, but rather special bottles that you will want to gift or sip with loved ones. If any of these wines strike your fancy let us know so we can set a bottle (or more) aside for you, as some of them are rare and available in very limited quantities.

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Montburgeau Cremant du Jura and winter cheeses

Montbourgeau Cremant du Jura with (from left to right), Preférés de nos Montagnes, Harbison, Comté Fort Sainte Antoine and chestnuts, white truffles, and Bosc pears.

As the seasons change and the pastures are coated in frost, we look forward to some of our most decadently delicious cheeses of the year. Grass-fed milk is often prized for it’s buttery, vibrant yellow-orange color and mouth-watering flavor. These qualities are most present in cow’s milk alpine styles, like Comté or Gruyère, where beta carotenoids from grass (the same compound that give’s carrots their color) provide that deep yellow color and diacetyls, produced in fermentation, give us that characteristic “grass-fed” flavor. Summer’s milk is lean and grassy, making it a perfect raw material for harder, longer-aged cheeses with longevity and elasticity (try bending a piece of Comté). However, for the lavish, richly-textured, scoopable delights of the holiday season there is no substitute for winter’s milk. When the cow’s move off pasture and temperatures drop, their diet shifts to primarily hay and grain, and they produce less milk at each milking. As a result, the milk is much richer and sweeter and significantly higher in fat, protein, and lactose. This milk is ideally suited to making those soft-ripened cheeses that pair perfectly with a holiday meal, the globular palate-coating beauties that sink in to every nook and cranny of a crusty baguette.

These kind of winter-milk cheeses pair perfectly with the Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura, one of our favorite sparkling wines for tyrophiles (cheese-lovers).

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The Vallana Winery

The Vallana Winery

The rolling Alpine foothills of the Alto-Piemonte (or Upper Piemonte) are not as well known or as frequently visited by wine-lovers as the Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions just to the south, but fascinating and delicious Nebbiolo-based wines are made here, too!

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