Decanting Champagne

Decanting Champagne


On Saturday May 3rd, I teamed up with Riedel to do a decanted champagne comparison. The side by side of Demarne-Frison Goustan Brut Nature from bottle and decanter was awesomely nerdy! This was the first good experience I’ve had with decanting Champagne.  In the past I’ve always felt that decanting does more harm than good because the wine ended up losing too much of its fizz.

I chose the Demarne Goustan because I have a lot of experience with this wine and know its much better on day two when its had time to breath and unwind.  I also had a range of decanters to chose from and ultimately decided on Riedel’s Black Tie Bliss decanter.  I chose this model because it has a small base which limited the amount of surface area for the bubbles to escape.  I also chose this it because its compact enough to keep in the refrigerator. This experiment lasted for several hours and the wine needed to be kept cool.  Finally, I served the wine in Riedel Riesling/Sangiovese glasses to allow the aromas to come out of the glass while not losing too many more bubbles.  This glass is a nice half way point between a flute and the burgundy stem that is the usual Ambonnay glass.

The results of this tasting were fascinating. Immediately after opening the first bottle and decanting the second, the wines were clearly different.  The decanted wine was more evolved and expressed the aromas and flavors that I appreciate so much on day two – rich almond and honey tones, raspberries, and limestone minerality.  The taste from the bottle was tight and the flavors were concentrated on a lot of dusty earth, limestone minerality, and hay. 

The other piece of the experience rests with the effervescence.  The Demarne from the bottle had an aggressive mousse that was a bit overwhelming in the mouth, whereas the decanted version was much more elegant. The decanted wine still had plenty of fizz, and frankly was more enjoyable as a result of being decanted both in terms of flavor and bubbles.

Fortunately, there was enough of the wines left two hours after opening them to revisit.  The wine in the bottle had opened up more and was starting to evolve into the richer tones of nuts and honey, and the mousse was starting to calm down and become pleasant.  The decanted Demarne continued to evolve as well the barrel notes became more noticeable, some earthiness emerged, both of which made it fascinating to drink as the honey, almonds, and raspberry notes were all still showing as well. Unfortunately, the bubbles were waning. The wine wasn’t flat, but it wasn’t particularly lively either.  Essentially this is the experience I had the other times I decanted Champagne.  Enhanced flavors demand the sacrifice of bubbles. 

Overall, I appreciated the experience of the side by side, however I am still hesitant to recommend decanting champagne regularly.  I think you have to know the champagne in question rather well to know whether it will take to decanting. If the wine is tightly wound and very effervescent decanting is worth considering, but if it’s a delicate champagne or one that made in a lower atmosphere style, then I would avoid the decanter.  Either way, you need to drink the decanted champagne quickly if you want to enjoy the fizz. The experiment further confirmed that serving champagne in burgundy stems is a good compromise.  The glass helps open the wine without sacrificing too much of the mousse.