To Decant or Not to Decant, That is the Question?

The other night while making dinner for a friend, I decided to serve a bottle of 1995 Il Palazzone Riserva Brunello di Montalcino, a coveted Five Star Vintage that I have been eyeing in my collection for quite some time. Since I was busy cooking I gave my friend the task of pouring the wine. Just as I was taking the rack of lamb out of the oven, I looked over and saw my friend about to pour the wine straight from the bottle to our glasses. I quickly interjected and suggested we decant it. With a puzzled look on my friends face, he asked why? I responded (with a slightly unsure answer), letting him know that I typically decant older vintage wines as it helps to remove any sediment and to coax in the development of the flavor profile.

Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most famous and prized red wines produced anywhere in the world. It is made entirely from the Sangiovese grape and it is one of the longest-lived red wines of Italy, with most bottlings drinking well for 12-30 years. According to Alder Yarrow, of the blog Vinography, he suggests to decant Sangiovese as far in advance as possible. As Sangiovese, more so than any other grape, seems to require a lot of oxygen contact to open up. The younger the wine, the more he says to decant it, but even when serving a 20 year old Sangiovese, he suggests should remain in the decanter for at least an hour prior to drinking.

Since it seems there is some controversy about the notion of to decant or not to decant a wine, I decided to do a bit of research and get down to the bottom of it! Many experts say yes to decanting as it helps to soften the wines tannins, where others say it may ruin a wine by overexposing it to oxygen.

Decanting can be defined as pouring a liquid from one vessel to another to separate it from its sediments and to allow it to breathe, to improve its taste. In my research I found that many wines on the shelves today have no real need for decanting. The modern winemaking process ensures the wine is thoroughly clarified before it is bottled, by a process of fining (passing egg whites or bentonite clay through to collect solid matter) and mechanical filtration.

But wines which have aged in bottle (10 years of more), typically red wines rather than white, may acquire sediment. This sediment can be displeasing to the eye, and can also be unpleasant in the mouth, which is why they would deserve decanting.

Some young wines such as bold reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Bordeaux) and even some whites (Mersault , Chardonnay) can also benefit from decanting, although not for the removal of sediment (as there is rarely any such sediment in young wines), but rather to aerate the wine. The action of decanting softens the youthful bite and encourages the development of the more complex aromas that would normally develop when aged in bottle. But, be careful what you choose to decant, author Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible, notes that it could be harmful for more delicate wines like Chianti and Pinot Noir.

The effectiveness of decanting is still a hot topic with some wine experts like Emile Peynaud claiming that the prolonged exposure to oxygen when decanting actually diffuses and dissipates more aroma compounds than it stimulates. And that the process of decanting over a period of a few hours does not have an effect of softening tannins. The softening of tannins occur during the winemaking process and oak aging when tannins go through a process of polymerization- decanting merely alters the perception of sulfites and other chemical compounds in the wine through oxidation, which can give some drinkers the sense of softer tannins in the wine.

So how do you know if a wine should be decanted? When in doubt, it is always good to verify if a wine needs to be decanted before unloading an entire bottle into a vessel. I suggest, start by pouring a small sip from the bottle to taste, then swirl it around in the glass to incorporate air and let it breathe for a minute or so, next take another sip, if the wine seemed to benefit and opened up after the second sip, then you may want to decant it. This can be slightly different for an older wine, I typically take a candle or flashlight up to the bottle to gage the amount of sediment before choosing to decant, but also tasting the wine works here too.

The How-To of Decanting:

Older Wines:
Since the decanting process in older wines is mainly for removing the sediment, it is best to stand the bottle in which you will decant upright the day before (or at least for several hours) to allow the sediment to settle. When opening, take the cork out and slowly pour the wine at a 60 degree angle into the decanter. Stop pouring when you see sediment start to pour with the wine. Set the wine down and repeat again after 5 minutes. You may have to do this a few times to get all the wine out of the bottle. But since older wines are a bit more fragile, as it could possibly ruin a wine by overexposing it to oxygen, they should be decanted and served immediately.

Younger Wines:
Since the decanting process is to aerate younger wines, simply open the bottle and pour completely upside down into the decanter, this “beats up” the wine a little, giving it more air as you pour, which can speed the aerating process along. Once it is in the decanter, give it a few swirls and let it sit for a bit before serving. Another way to “decant” a younger wine is through an aerator pourer. In recent years several companies have designed these portable pourers, which attach to the opening of the bottle, allows the proper amount of air to be drawn into the wine, letting it breathe instantly. This is a great tool, if you only want a glass or two, as it allows you to pour as much as you want rather than decant an entire bottle.

Cleaning a Decanter:
Some decanters (such as the Eve by Ridel) may be a bit tricky to clean in a standard kitchen sink, so Maximillan Ridel suggest utilizing your bathtub or shower when rinsing one out. It is best to rinse it with mineral water to remove any residual chlorine odor. Never clean your decanter with detergent, because the shape of a decanter makes it very difficult to get the soapy residue out. When storing a cleaned decanter, same as nice stemware, be sure that it is spotless and free from any musty cupboard aromas.

Types of Glass Decanters:
Decanters come in all shapes and sizes, as well as price points. One is not particularly better than the other, but rather a personal preference. Some people like having a simple, clean designed decanter where others, like having a “show-piece” at their dinner table.

Riedel Decanter (from Williams-Sonoma $49) Riedel Amadeo Lyra Decanter ($395)
Decanter Helpers:

Cascadia Aerating Wine Funnel with Stand ($18.99)- Directs wine towards sides of decanter or glass while you pour enhances the bouquet & softens young wine, bringing out flavors that would take hours by simply decanting.

Types of Aerator Pourers:
Much like a decanter, these aerators come in different shapes and sizes, as well as price points. I have the Wine Soiree pourer, and like it, but have also had wine poured from the different aerators, which I think work nice as well. So again, it is up to personal preference!

Wine Soiree Decanter Aerator Pourer ($19.99)
Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator ($39.99)
Versovino Wine Decanting System ($40)


Recipe: Harvest Soup

This soup just screams Fall, it is hearty, satisfying, super easy to make and is surprisingly vegan! It has a richness from the sweet potatoes and squash, a nice spice from the ginger and a holiday essence from the nutmeg. I developed this recipe after trying a similar soup at a little café in my neighborhood. If you like Butternut Squash soup…you will love this!

1 Butternut Squash (cut into 2 inch pieces)
2 Sweet potatoes or Yams (peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces)
6 Carrots, about 1 Cup (peeled and sliced into ½ inch thick rounds)
¼ Cup Yellow Onion (finely chopped)
¾ Cup Celery (cut into pieces)
1 TBS Fresh Ginger (finely chopped)
3 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
1 ½ tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 TBS. Salt (I prefer Sea Salt)
1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
2 TBS. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 Cups Water
(Optional) ½ Cup Ground Parmesan Cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees

In a large stockpot (with a lid) heat 1 TBS. Extra Virgin Olive Oil on medium heat, add Onion and cook for 1-2 min until softened. Next add the Carrot, Sweet Potato, and Celery, let the vegetables sweat for 5 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the Ginger, cook for 1 minute. Then add 1 tsp. Nutmeg, salt, pepper, give it a stir, before adding the Water and Thyme. Let mixture come to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 hour, until all vegetables are soft.

Place chopped Butternut Squash on a baking sheet and toss with 1 TBS. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, ½ tsp. Nutmeg, and a dash of salt and pepper to evenly coat each piece. Place in oven and roast for 35 minutes (then remove and let cool).

Turn off heat on the stockpot and let the vegetables cool down for about 20 minutes on the stove. *Optional, add grated Parmesan Cheese to the pot at this time.

Add the roasted Butternut Squash to the cooled vegetables in the stock pot, then with either an immersion blender or a regular blender, blend the soup to a puree. If doing it in a regular blender, do it in batches. Then serve!

Optional garnishes include:

Cilantro leaves or Sprig of Thyme, with dash of truffle oil
crème fraîhe with a few toasted pumpkin seeds
crème fraîhe and cinnamon

Yield: 10-12, 1 Cup Servings


Pizza Party

If someone were to ask me what my favorite food is, I would hands down say PIZZA! There is just something about the combination of the melted gooey cheese, tangy tomato sauce and toasted crust, that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I have been and will always be a pizza fanatic! My love affair with pizza dates back to my early childhood where pizza was considered a celebration food at birthdays, slumber parties, holiday affairs and school events. It was also used as a form of reward, i.e. after a game, having to stay in with a babysitter, or getting a good grade on a test. In college pizza was a staple in my diet, it was inexpensive and was always a crowd pleaser, and was the food of choice when pulling an all nighter studying for that bio-chem midterm or to fulfill my drunken spirits after a night on the town. But it wasn’t until recent years that I began to look at pizza as a gourmet food, and when I officially started my mission to find the perfect pie. Having the luxury of living in NYC gives me the perfect platform to explore, as you will most likely encounter a pizza shop on almost every corner you turn, but as I have learned throughout my years of research, you have to dig a bit deeper to find that memorable or orgasmic slice.
I have an on-going list of favorites that I have discovered here in NYC and beyond, but one that I am particularly fond of these days is a little place called Keste (meaning: this is it, in Italian) in the West Village. Their pizza is unlike any other that I have tasted, the dough is pillowey and light and slightly charred from the wood-fired oven, the simplicity of the sauce with the tart/sweet flavor of the tomatoes is cravable, and the cheese is beyond fresh! They have definitely made some noise in the media and have been praised for the handcrafted Napoli pies they are turning out.

So when my friend Roberto Caporuscio , owner and chef at Keste, offered to give me a hands on pizza making class, I gladly accepted and opted to invite a few friends! Roberto is the the American-chapter President of Associazone Pizzaiouli Napoletana , so I was honored that I was learning from the best in the biz!
The lesson began with some interesting historical facts about pizza:

-The first documentation of pizza was in the 16th century, in Naples, where they made a dish with flour, olive oil, lard, cheese, and herbs, like a white pizza.

-In 1522 Tomatoes were brought back to Europe from the New World (Peru). Originally they were thought to be poisonous, but later the poorer people of Naples added the new tomatoes to their yeast dough and created the first simple pizza.

-In 1889, A baker named Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita", a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil representing the colors of the Italian flag, to welcome the Queen of Italy, Queen Margherita, to Naples. She loved it and the name stuck to what we know it as today!

-In the late 19th century, pizza was sold in the streets in Naples at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most people in Naples eat pizza 7x a week….this is my kinda town!

- In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi claims to have opened the first United States Pizzeria in New York City.

Once we began to talk about techniques he explained that the flour is a key if not the most important ingredient in the production of pizza. Roberto uses Antimo Caputo, “double zero” flour at Keste. It is made especially for pizza from seven different kinds of wheat. The wheat is ground very slowly so as not to damage the flour and the nutrients. This flour creates a dough that is easier to stretch and the slow rise gives more flavor. Roberto, hand mixes the dough with water, yeast, and salt, then lets the dough rest/rise at room temperature for at least 8 hours before using it. This gives the dough lightness and creates a better crust all around. When handling the dough he explained that you need to be gentle and not to over stretch it, because if you over-work the dough you will wind up with a chewy/tough crust.

After the overview, we were ready to roll, I started patting my dough ball into a flattened round shape, slightly pulling it out each time I flipped it between my hands.

Once it was about 12 inches around I dressed it with the sauce and other accoutrements, before putting it into the 900 degree wood-fired oven (all imported from Naples). The toppings Roberto uses are the finest and fresh ingredients from sources such as Di Paolo. His pizza is almost an art form in the way he treats each pie.

Moments later, I was surprised to see that the pizzas were only in the oven for just about 1 minute before being removed and served. They had a perfectly puffy and charred crust, the cheese was melted and the smell was divine…I couldn’t wait to dig in!

Our class moved over to a table where we were served a Grangnano wine, Penisola Sorrentina “Lettere”, think Lambrusco style, to go with our custom pies. As each of us enjoyed the first slice of our own creation, we then switched plates to try each others for the second slice. It was interesting to see the difference in the taste/structure of the pizza; they were all a bit different even though the ingredients were the same. I think I got a little over-zealous with my dough, it was slightly chewier then a few of my classmates…I guess I have some practice to do! Roberto also brought out several signature pies for us to sample as well, one of my favorites included a butternut squash (for the base), chestnut cheese, mozzarella and basil- yum! He also introduced us to a dessert pizza with nutella, it was delicious.

To make the “Keste” style pizza at home, Roberto advises to use this recipe.

3.75 pounds Tipo "00" flour
1 liter warm water
0.1 ounce fresh (or dry) yeast
2.1 ounces salt
0.7 ounce sugar (optional)

1. Split the liter of water, using half to dissolve the salt, and the other half to dissolve the yeast.

2. Combine the flour and sugar. Then add the wet ingredients, and start working the dough.
3. Roberto learned how to mix by hand, but realizes that machines are helpful. If you have a KitchenAid, put it on the lowest speed possible. However you decide to mix the dough, stop after ten minutes, or when it isn't sticky anymore.

4. Let dough sit for an hour, covered under plastic.

5. Form into balls, about 20 ounces each. Store balls in a cool spot, either the fridge or counter-space, for at least 8 hours to let the dough rise.

6. Preheat oven to 500°F, or the highest setting possible. Spread dough on a baking pan or stone, gently stretching the edges.

7. Bake the dough for ten minutes before adding toppings. Then add the tomato sauce and cheese, etc. and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted.
I can't wait to try this at could be very dangerous (or slightly addictive)!

In addition to Keste, here are some of my other favorite pizza places....the list is always growing, so if you have a suggestion please let me know:

Numero 28: Family run, rustic pizzas set in a quaint exposed brick space. Located in Greenwich Village on Carmine near Bleeker.

Vezzo: Ultra-thin crust pizza, for days when you are craving pizza but want to keep the calories low. Located in Murray Hill at 31st and Lexington.

Motorino: Similar to Keste’s style, offers some unique pizza combos like the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and smoked pancetta. Located in East Village and Brooklyn
Peasant: An Italian restaurant that makes a fabulous pizza! Located in Nolita on Elizabeth near Spring

La Villa: A neighborhood joint in Park Slope Brooklyn, the Focaccia di Nonna is a must!

Pizzeria Bianco: This place is incredible and in an unexpected location: Phoenix, AZ. Chris Bianco is the man behind the pie, and he definitely knows what he is doing… worth checking out if you are in the area, I’m still dreaming about the time I went!
Lombardi’s: The original pizza joint…first in the US, and still turning out amazing pies! Located near Little Italy on Spring and Mott.

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