Wednesday 2 November 2011

Decanting wine for appearance's sake – Cape Diversity shiraz

I have taken to decanting my wine of late. But this is not to improve its flavour; frankly, a lot of the cheaper stuff dies a brief death in contact with the air.  Nor is it to reduce my consumption, although finishing an elegant demi-carafe seems to complete a meal, and suppresses the urge to go and slump in front of the tv and polish off the rest of the bottle. 

No, the decanting is simply to avoid the suspicious glances of my household, as yet another garish bottle featuring animals of the world, flora, fauna, ugly graphics and strange typefaces threatens to grace the dining table.

Mrs K and I take great pride in the presentation of our dining table. I don’t go quite as far as one restaurant I visited before opening time, where a white-gloved maître d’ went around the tables matching every place setting, to the centimetre, against a photograph. (But I if I could…)

We are not eating off crates. Our dining table does not look like this. We take our Indian out of the foil trays in which it arrives.

And if you do take care with your choice and layout of crockery, cutlery, napery then surely you should be concerned about the look of the wine bottle you put in the centre of the table?

I am not alone in this. That great style icon Bryan Ferry, interviewed in the Wall Street Journal, objected to this label, which shows the rock that makes up the vineyard’s terroir. “I hate that,” he said. You hate the wine, asked the interviewer? “No, the label,” he said. “I can’t drink a wine if it has an ugly label.”

This by way of comparison, is one of his favourites. Bryan Ferry and I are as one. (Sorry, can I just have the pleasure of repeating that sentence? "Bryan Ferry and I are as one…")

It’s been shown by lots of controlled tastings that our judgment of a wine is influenced by things such as cost, name, reputation and, of course, label. And why not? Like the plating up of food, or the framing of a print, the presentation of something helps to shape our experience.

Writing a while back about a Chilean wine from the Lafite Rothschild stable, I explained why I believe that actually, we do judge books by their covers; which is why we have Harry Potter in adult jackets, and why the novels by one author will often be redesigned to match the cover of his bestseller. So I get a little exercised with critics who insist that we should ignore the label on a bottle of wine. Appearances count

One American wine website decided to explore the alternative, that “it’s what’s inside that counts”. Just look at the hideous, garish bottles used to illustrate this thesis. 

Frankly, I wouldn’t care if their contents were delicious. They look as if they contain fizzy drinks. They would reduce my dining table to the status of a children’s party.

(Perhaps they include the repellent Vimto, the only drink I know whose name is an anagram of its consequences.)

I could send you all over the web to look at hideous wine bottles, but I will settle for just one, this set of blue glass bottles with cartoon wine labels, the whole effect not only garish and nauseating, but disturbingly childish on an adult drink.

I do have a couple of very nice decanters, which are a pleasure to use and look at. But even before I did, I have to admit that I would pour wine into anonymous bottles, rather than put ugly specimens like these on my table.

(Here’s a tip – the Nicolas petites recoltes range of vins de pays  come in completely clear glass bottles from which one can easily soak the cheap paper labels. In the days before I could afford a decanter, I used one of these to serve wine anonymously. I was trying to follow the minimalist designer John Pawson, who had recommended this Baccarat crystal decanter – which looks like a wine bottle, has the capacity of a wine bottle, will aerate your wine no better than a wine bottle, but costs £238. The Nicolas bottle is equally hopeless for aerating, of course [although the pouring from the original bottle will help] but it only costs £5.49 – and yet unlike the Baccarat one, it comes conveniently filled with wine…)

And a decanter will, of course, genuinely improve some wines in flavour as well as appearance. I was forced to put Cape Diversity's shiraz into a decanter, simply because of its hideous label, depicting (Why? Why??) a species of South African grass. Bryan Ferry would, I am sure, have agreed, although I doubt he drinks much wine costing £6.95.

From the bottle, it was a tight, unforgiving little wine. It left my mouth resembling a cat’s anus.

But decanted, and left a while, the tannins softened, the wine opened up, and it became richer, softer and altogether better than its price tag might suggest. Even Mrs K “thought it was alright,” an approval rating neither its taste nor its appearance would have been likely to achieve straight out of the bottle. 

A decanter won’t solve everything. And let’s face it, while you can decant a bottle of red, it’s a little odd to decant your white (and harder to keep it cold), while only an idiot would try and serve a sparkling wine decanted. (Put that Tesco Cava back, CJ…)

But at least it does keep your wine anonymous, attractive and suitable for a civilised dining table. And while a decanter can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it can sometimes retrieve a satisfying drink from a cat’s anus.


1 comment:

  1. Vimto is not the only drink whose name is an anagram of its consequences. What about a very dodgy bottle of Hunters?


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