Jane McQuitty, the Times wine writer and disco enthusiast, wrote an article a few years back where she wondered what the point of decanting was:
“Decanting all white wines and the majority of red wines is a waste of time. . . Air is the enemy of wine and decanting exposes it to air air unnecesarily, because the minute you pull the cork the deterioration and oxidation process starts. Venerable reds can fade in seconds and even decade-old reds start to soften alarmingly swiftly, so decanter fans have to move fast and open these wines no more than half an hour before drinking. The only bottles that merit decanting are those grand reds and vintage ports that throw a bitter, flaky sediment that muddies the taste.”
Now I don’t want to start a wine war with someone as experienced as Ms McQuitty but I beg to differ. She sees the oxidative process as purely destructive but with certain wines it is vital for softening tannins and bringing out flavour. I noticed this with the Brunello I bought for my father a few years back – straight of the bottle it was undrinkable. Decanted and left for two hours it was one of the best wines I’ve ever had.
This Lirac was similarly difficult. I had been invited back by the House of Townend to their Xmas tasting despite mistaking some of their customers for prostitutes the previous year. The first sip was a mixture of vinegar and very dry tannin which coated my mouth and made my tastebuds curl up like hedgehogs under attack. I was with the writer Toby Clements and he was all for telling our hosts that there was something wrong with it. Having tried this wine before, albeit it an earlier vintage, the ’89, I was wise to its shy nature. After a good swirl to expose it to oxygen, it gradually started to come out of its shell with glimpses of spice and dried fruit. By the end of the night, it was positively vivacious. It’s a cliché to compare Lirac to Chateauneuf-du-Pape but this one really merits the comparison. It’s hot, ripe and delicious but also elegant and never overblown.
Lirac ‘Les Queyrades’, Domaine André Méjan costs £10 which is much too cheap. You’ll need to buy a case for House of Townend to deliver. I’d recommend you get a few bottles this one also:
Pigeoulet de Brunier, Vin De Pays de Vaucluse 09 – another beauty from the Southern Rhone. This one is made by Chateauneuf-du-Pape legends Vieux Telegraphe £8.95