Marty on Wine – Decanting Wine

by Marty Cook

You may ask, “Why decant a wine?” and “Does decanting improve a wine?”

According to Wine Enthusiast, “There are two main reasons for decanting wine. The first is physical—to separate clarified wine from solids that have formed during aging. The second is that decanting accelerates the breathing process, which increases the wine’s aromas from natural fruit and oak, by allowing a few volatile substances to evaporate. Decanting also softens the taste of the tannins that cause harshness and astringency in young wines.”

Most red wines benefit from decanting, including less expensive wines to improve their flavor. All it takes is a suitable decanter, a bit of pre-planning, and some patience. In the remainder of this article, we will focus on decanting red wines.

Decanting times for red wines can range from approximately 30 minutes to more than 3 hours, depending on the grape variety and age of the wine. A list of decanting times for different types of red wines is shown below; and, since every bottle of wine is somewhat unique, check your wine periodically as you decant to determine if it meets your individual taste requirements. When the wine reaches a point where you find it rather pleasant, then it is time to drink it!

Most of us drink red wines that are five years old or less; so, the following rules-of-thumb apply to approximate timeframes when decanting most red wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: 2 hours
Dão and Douro Reds: 2 – 3 hours
Grenache/Garnacha Blends: 1 hour
Malbec: 1 hour
Mourvèdre/Monastrell: 2 – 3 hours
Nebbiolo: 3+ hours
Petite Sirah: 2 hours
Pinot Noir: 30 minutes
Sangiovese: 2 hours
Syrah/Shiraz: 2 – 3 hours
Tempranillo: 2 hours
L V Port & Madeira: 2 hours
Zinfandel: 30 minutes

In the case of red wines with very high levels of tannin, consider decanting for more than three hours. Younger wines or wines with more astringency (tannin) will require a longer time for decanting. But, again, it is important to taste as you decant and avoid decanting a wine for too long. Keep in mind that there are limits to how much a wine will improve and decanting is a non-reversable process. Also, after a red wine is decanted, it has a limit to the length of time that it will remain palatable (generally 12 hours at best).

For best results with an old red wine in the 15 – 20 year range, it is advisable to decant immediately before serving, tasting as you go. And, avoid using wine aerators with old(er) wines.

Archaeological Find

by Marty Cook

One of the many wine-related organizations to which I belong does something that has become a regular feature in their bi-weekly meetings. They call this fun segment “Archeological Find”. Someone invariably comes across a bottle of wine of dubious age and integrity. Perhaps it was a bottle lurking in the shadows of their wine cellar, or maybe they inherited some long-forgotten bottle of wine in an estate settlement. Suffice it to say that the bottle is enshrouded in an air of speculation and curiosity over how the wine may have held up during its longer-than-anticipated slumber. They discuss what facts there are that may be known about the bottle, and then they carefully open the bottle and pour samples for any who wish (or, dare!) to taste the ancient find. Some of these finds are beyond recognition as a wine and more akin to salad dressing, while others are “meh”; but, there are also those discoveries that thrill and amaze!

I am sure that this has happened to most of us at least once. During the pandemic shutdown of this past March, many of us were busy drinking our wine cellars. I am willing to bet that more than a few rogue bottles of wine bubbled to the surface. Bottles that had once been laid down with the best of intentions and then forgotten in an accumulation of time and dust. Enter the essence of “Archeological Find”! Although we might not (yet) be able to gather as a group to hear and see the story and taste with trepidation, we can nonetheless share the episodic experience of our “mystery wine” discovery with a written and photographic account of that find and its sensory assessment.

So, get in touch with your inner Indiana Jones and do a little digging! Then, relate your story to us. How or where did you discover (or, re-discover) your Archeological Find, what was it that you found, and how well the wine held up! You can share your Archeological Find with us for reprint in an upcoming eNewsletter by sending the story and supporting photos to Happy hunting!

President’s Column – December 2020

by Dave Williams

Life certainly seems to span a smaller circle, although no less rich.  Changes have caused me to reflect on many things that never caught my attention before, because of busyness.  At first it was annoying, but now I look upon it as an opportunity to explore and expand my awareness.  To that point I have been investigating and drinking a number of new wines along with cooking some new recipes.  White wines composed of some less familiar grapes have captured my interest:  Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.  They offer a rich mouth feel and plenty of complexity to rival many reds.  Most enjoyable with the smaller gatherings at my table with a very small circle of health-conscious friends.

I urge you to take a moment and reflect on those things big and small for which you can be thankful.  Pause for a moment and celebrate the occasion with a new or favorite wine or recipe.  Share the experience, because nothing is so valuable until shared with someone else.

I encourage everyone to take advantage of the virtual wine tastings (VWT) offered by PWS, hosted by Marty Cook, on Zoom.  This is an opportunity every two weeks to open a bottle someone else is opening at the same time and share the experience.   We’ve offered varietal-specific and region-specific events, and several VWTs have highlighted some of Pennsylvania’s top wineries.  Please stay safe and healthy.  Happy Holidays.


BYOB Insider – Sammy’s Authentic Italian Restaurant

by Zak Ortenzio

502 N.3rd Street, Harrisburg (717) 221-0192
Call to check on hours. Reservations suggested, street parking, no corkage fee.

Sammy’s has been a fixture on the Harrisburg restaurant scene for years. Upon arrival, “…you are family, whether you’ve traveled a block or a galaxy…” to get there. After ordering you can relax and enjoy a meal that was prepared with attention to detail.
For our appetizer we decided to order Portobello Oreganato and divided it among the four of us. The appetizer came with three Portobello Mushrooms served with oregano, bread crumbs and olive oil.  While eating the Portobellos we noticed a hint of spiciness which was not mentioned when we ordered the Portobellos. The spiciness did not mask the meaty flavor of the mushrooms, and the olive oil did not saturate them they had not lost their firmness. This was a fine start to the meal.

Our main courses were: Veal Florence, Veal Margarita, Lasagna, and Scallops Provençale. All of our main courses included a salad. The salad greens were fresh and the dressing was applied sparingly so as not to mask the taste of the fresh greens. The Veal Florence also included Italian sausage, spinach and lemon sauce over Angel hair pasta. The veal was not overdone and had the same lemon sauce, which did not over power the veal.  The Veal Margarita was tender and served with a tasty sauce as well.  Sammy’s Lasagna is not your typical Italian Lasagna. It had a mushroom brandy sauce, which was unusual, and included pieces of portobellos and tomatoes.  The Scallops Provençale were sautéed with diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs and served over Angel hair pasta. The Scallops had a wonderful sear, were fork tender, and paired well with the rest of the meal. All of the pastas were done al dente.  We did not ask about dessert. It is always pleasure to visit a restaurant where food preparation is of the highest quality and the wait staff has knowledge of the entire menu. Sammy’s is highly recommended.

Another Reason for Cork

by Dave Williams

If there is one wine that gets more scrutiny than others, it must be Champagne, if for no other reason than reverence and cost. And with science now catching up to what history has shown, once again another finding of minutia to ponder when consuming your bubbles. In a recent 5 year study science has shown a benefit to cork during tirage (champagne’s in bottle second fermentation) in comparison to lesser expensive crown caps which are plastic coated metal caps similar to conventional beer bottle caps.

The study was performed by Amorim, a Portuguese cork producer which included sparkling wines from across the globe, not just champagne. Three properties were assessed: 1) retention of CO2, 2) oxygen kinetics and 3) volatile components. The study found measurable differences of volatile components and oxygen kinetics. While cork had similar CO2 values with crown caps, it showed greater preservation of volatile components like esters which we can sense in the nose and taste.

However, it was differences in oxygen kinetics that the study highlighted. It was explained that there is a balance between oxygen and reduction. During tirage there is a breakdown of components such as dead yeast cells, which consumes some of the dissolved oxygen in the wine making the second fermentation reductive (reducing oxygen). This can lead to unpleasant Sulphur-like aromas. It was shown that the small amount of air trapped in the micro pores of cork were injected into the bottle when it was compressed for insertion adding 2-2.5mg of oxygen per bottle. This small amount of O2 helped reduce the oxygen consumption during tirage creating a better balance. On a scale of 1-10 most winemakers preferred a balance of 3-4. Crown caps had an average measurement of 2.5 whereas cork had 4. The lack of reductive aromas and better preservation of esters creates more flavors, more fruit, more toast and brioche in sparkling wines. While the study ran for 5 years many of these differences were noted after 2.5 years. The unanswered question is what happens after 10 or 20 years?

One Sommelier’s Guide to Picking a Good Pink Wine

by Dave Williams

With the recent popularity of pink wine, and explosion of new offerings coming on the market over the last 5-6 years, the question is – how do you select a good one? All too often wineries, negotiants or importers rush to meet marketplace demand without much regard to quality. Many wines have fallen victim to urgent capitalism, leaving a less than positive consumer experience. In fact, before we go any further I want to share a few traditional terms which more accurately identifies the origins of pink wine. In France “rosé” is the proper name. “Rosado” or “clarete” will come from Spain and in Italy “rosato” or “chiaretto” are used. In Abbruzzo, Italy it goes by “cerasuolo”.

Christopher Hoel, founder of Harper’s Club (an advisory firm that curates some of the world’s top wine collections) and sommelier, who established himself curating wine for clients, buys rosés based on color. He feels the lighter colored wines are higher in quality. It is generally regarded that the short maceration (crushed grape contact with juice) method is the best way to make quality pink wine. In this case the winemaker has a specific aroma and taste profile for the wine. Many are wonderfully refreshing, dry and redolent of flowers and summer fruits. Darker pink wines tend to be mass produced where maceration time is less closely controlled. Great rosé is about delicacy and finesse which lighter pink wines are more likely to deliver.

Another criteria he uses is country of origin, and “ABV” or alcohol level. France has a long history with rosé which always a good indicator. However, other countries and regions are remarkable as well. Dry wines will have an alcohol level of 12.5% or higher whereas wines with some level of residual sugar will be less than 12.5%, say 10-12%. (The old Rosé d’ Anjou comes to mind.) Good-to-great pink wines are almost always dry.

So the next time you are shopping for a pink wine and are overwhelmed by the selection, try this guide to see if you find something of your pleasure.

New Wines – There is more than Beaujolais Nouveau

by Dave Williams

I would bet most of us are familiar with “new wine” because of George DeBoeuf and Beaujolais Nouveau which appears annually on the third Thursday of November. George certainly did a marvelous job as a promoter or extraordinary marketer. To the point where it has become cause for grand, and some say crazy, celebrations; and certainly increased revenue for wineries and retailers across the globe regardless of whether one likes Beaujolais Nouveau or not. In Japan one such ritual is for the consumers to bathe in giant pools of the stuff. Makes one wonder if they drink their way out of the pool. While George may have latched on to a wildly successful marketing ploy, he certainly has no claim of exclusivity or originality, as new wine has been made in the Old World for hundreds of years.

As far back as Medieval times wine makers traditionally first tasted their “new wines” around St. Martin’s Day (November 11). In Eastern Europe the Czeck Republic and Hungary also have such celebrations around wines called Svatomartinske’ Vino and Marton bora or wine of St. Martin, respectively. Not all are made via carbonic maceration, though most are. (Carbonic maceration is when harvested grapes are fermented in closed vats bathed in carbon dioxide prior to crushing, producing simple wines with low levels of tannins. These wines are quickly bottled and consumed with no intent for longevity.) In fact, the Czech Republic has quality standards for Svatomartinske’ which undergoes evaluation by the state wine making institute. In Hungary, Marton bora is strongly connected to goose dishes with goose feasts occurring throughout the country upon release.

All so called, “new wines” are produced from early harvested grape varieties. Gamay being the most well-known. However, in Central Europe Muller-Thurgau, Fruhroter Veltliner and Muskat Moravsky used to make white as well as rosé “new wines”. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon your opinion of these wines, most are unknown outside the local areas they are made. For example, the Gaillac appellation in Southwest France makes Gaillac Primeur and releases it on the same day as Beaujolais Nouveau. I would bet you have never heard of this new wine, let alone tasted it. “New wines” also appear in Austria, Italy and Spain during fall in the year of harvest although few if any are imported to the US. Released on October 30, Italy’s “vino novello” is probably the only one likely to find its’ way Stateside.

In summary, “new wines” bring energy and some excitement to the wine world. Celebrations occur after release for a few weeks then all is quickly forgotten, very ephemeral.

Blue Grillhouse – Bethlehem PA

by Jim Lang

We had a late lunch here on Tuesday, July 21 and loved this place. Food, wine and service all exceptional. I know it’s out of the way, but it’s a good stopover when coming back from the Poconos or eastern states because it’s open essentially all day every day, and you can reserve or just drop in, as we did. They have a patio, but we chose indoor because of the A/C.

Tables and booths are well spaced, and masks are needed before seating, and then not needed. Starting with lobster bisque (in so generous a serving that we took home half of it) and bacon-wrapped scallops (bacon should be in everything if possible) we had glasses of CA Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot Noir, and both went perfectly with these appetizers.

I had to have a second glass of the same wine with my duck two ways. I have found that some PA restaurants think that medium-rare means medium, so I asked if I should order it rare, and our server assured me it would be medium rare.

This was the first indicator that the food, wine and now the service would be professional. We spent some time talking with her about being a server, and a Black single parent server during the pandemic, and without revealing some personal information she willingly gave us, I can just say that it was a privilege to meet her.

Nina had baby-backed ribs with a choice of two BBQ sauces, KC or Carolina, so she got both, and this favorite entrée of hers was exceptional. We both got doggy bags of both. We intended to get the almond cake for dessert, but we were stuffed and got that to take home, 90 minutes away. I needed no dinner that evening.

This is a fine dining restaurant with prices to match and they have a full menu of wine and food to satisfy everyone’s taste, and the jazz soundtrack and décor complete it. We enjoyed it and place it with our favorite PA restaurants now.

And I have to mention after reading a Philly Inquirer article, we will henceforth were a mask whenever a server comes by, taking it off only when no one is around unless our server tells us we don’t need to do that. Servers and runners and greeters are all essential workers these days and they all deserve our help, both financially and health-wise.

4431 Easton Avenue Bethlehem, PA 18020 610.691.8400
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 9:30 pm; Friday – Saturday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm; Sunday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm

Wine Worthy – Black N Bleu

by Jim Lang

My wife and I enjoyed an early dinner (4:30, since they had no other time when I called, much too late, on Saturday.) at this throwback restaurant with fake art, lots of TVs (mine was tuned to wrestling) and a police picture of Frank Sinatra when he was arrested in 1938. Masks to get in, none needed when dining.

I asked for a wine list and told there was none for bottles, but I could look in their refrigerated wall. So I got up and looked, taking some bottles out to examine them. Finally, I chose one, and it turned out to be terrific: an ’16 OZY Zin from Lodi ($40), amazingly only 14.2% alcohol. Our pleasant and patient server tried to open it, but she had trouble thanks to a cheap corkscrew and she finally took it to the bar where someone else opened it.

This wine with its dual chocolate infusions went perfectly with the two kinds of ribs we had: she the baby backs slathered with barbeque sauce with sweet potato fries; I the dry-spiced with mac & cheese. I asked for and got honey on the side for the fries, and we split a huge beet salad. We just laughed when offered dessert, and took home half her ribs and much more.

There was a patio outside with a splendid view of the parking lot and a full experience of the heat, so dine inside if you can.
Take your time exploring the refrigerated wines and you could find something good like we did, although the thrill was gone when I discovered later that the wine was available online for $12…but not the ’16.

Black & Bleu Restaurant, 6108 Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, open from 11:30-7 or later just about daily.