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Pinot Noir – To Decant or Not To Decant

Joe Davis of Arcadian Winery, in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills AVA, is asked the question, When and why would you decant Pinot Noir? He first explains that Burgundy (which is of course made with Pinot Noir grapes) is never decanted, but that, even though Pinot Noir is a delicate varietal, part of the reason for that is tradition. He goes on to say that, in the case of Arcadian Winery, they do decant young Pinot. He then gives a detailed explication of the rationale for doing so, involving the chemistry of the wine–specifically the amount of dissolved oxygen in it. It seems that a wine that has less than one milligram of oxygen per liter will be closed and will not show much in the way of bouquet or flavor, but a wine that has 4 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter will be open and ready to imbibe. Which is all very interesting, but left me wondering how I would ever know how many milligrams of oxygen per liter a bottle of wine had in it.

Wes Hagen, the vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe, which is also in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, says basically the same thing–that you shouldn’t decant a mature Pinot Noir, but it’s not necessarily a bad idea with a younger one–but does so in a much more practical and easy to understand way. Instead of digressing into chemistry, he gives us a basic rule of thumb: decant the two most recent vintages, but never, never decant a mature Pinot Noir.

So to sum up, the answer to the question, Pinot Noir, to decant or not to decant? depends on how young the wine is. A young Pinot can benefit from some aeration so it makes sense to decant it, but a mature Pinot Noir is too delicate for such rough treatment.

Speaking of Pinot Noir, the Santa Barbara Wine Country, with its beautiful scenery and many excellent wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms, is a wonderful place to go on a wine tasting tour and taste world-class Pinot, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and lots of Rhone style varietals and blends. For tips on which are the best wineries to visit on a Santa Barbara wine tour, just click on the link.

4 Responses so far.

  1. alej keigan says:

    we’ve gotta do another wine trip to this area – we usually do day trips here and bring our bikes. do you have a list of must-hit spots? and, more related to this post 🙂 – what do you think of the vinturi aerator? we tried it at a tasting once, comparing a wine poured with and without it and it seemed to make a ton of difference. at home we’ve found that cheap wines that aren’t that great in the first place (like charles shaw) taste even worse when they go through it and “good” wines taste better.

    • admin says:

      I haven’t actually tried the Vinturi aerator, but I’ve tried some similar products, and I agree with your assessment: it works well with good wines, but can make an inferior wine taste worse.

      As for must-hit spots in Santa Barbara’s wine country, there are so many good wineries and tasting rooms to visit that you’re kind of spoiled for choice. In Santa Barbara city itself, I can recommend six tasting rooms that are more than worth a visit: Carr Vineyards and Winery, Jaffurs Wine Cellars, Kalyra By The Sea, Whitcraft Winery, Santa Barbara Winery and Stearns Wharf Vintners.

      If you’re interested in more info about S.B. and Santa Barbara County wineries, I go into more detail about it here: Santa Barbara California.

  2. David Cox says:

    My wife and I have this discussion every time we open a Pinot Noir. I appreciate the second way to decide but how young is young – 1 year, 2-3 years. We are not decanting 2008 Schugs for example but is it considered mature?

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