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Decanting Vintage Port

December 25, 2011
Question by: Martin, Westport, USA

Q:

I have opened and decanted a number of Vintage Ports, so I read your "How To" on this with interest but with some experience. I was surprised and puzzled at the advice to look through the neck of the bottle to detect sediment.  While this works with a table red almost all the Vintage Ports that I have opened have been in bottles that are completely opaque. Even with a candle one cannot see into them. How do you rationalize your advice when it really does not work.
 

A:

Hi Martin, Over the years, Port has been bottled in a wide range of bottles and glass types, some more opaque than others.  A quick survey of several empties here in my office:  a 1963 Warre's bottle appears black and is barely translucent, furthermore the neck is still mostly covered by the remains of the wax seal, a 1977 Warre's is nearly opaque - certainly candle light would not help but a strong table lamp does shine through the neck, and I have something that looks like a clear green bordeaux bottle which in fact held a brilliant 1970 Vintage Port that was made by the Symingtons and shipped in cask to England where it was bottled by Berry Brothers and Rudd

For this reason, we actually recommend several different possible tactics for decanting.  While candlelight is lovely, any strong light works - I've held a flashlight while a friend decanted during a power failure, and in an article about Decanting on the Graham's Blog you will see a photo of someone standing in the window at the Factory House to decant by strong sunlight!  If you mistrust your ability to spot the sediment in the neck of the bottle either shift to pour out the last bit of wine into a glass rather than the decanter, or decant using a funnel lined with a bit of thin cotton fabric - we use sterile surgical gauze pads at the Graham's Lodge, as you can see in the photo at the top of the Decanting article here on the VPS.

Finally, a litle sediment is completely harmless and will not throw off the flavour of the Port in your glass.  At the conclusion of The Vintage Port Site article about Decanting, Charles Symington, head winemaker at Symington Family Estates, explained that the sediment in Port is heavy enough to settle to the bottom of your glass and is not astringent, as it in dry table wines.  Not long after having that conversation with Charles, I had the opportunity to put it to the test:  friends were decanting a Port from the late 1950's, and I asked them to pour out the sediment into a glass.  They thought I was mad, but I tasted the sediment.  It had an unpleasant feel in the mouth, like gritty sand, but it actually had little to no flavour, so was not that disagreeable.



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