Barale and Cavallotto from a fine Piemontese cellar

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My familiarity with Cavallotto goes back a long time before I first started tasting Barale, and in the past few years it’s been exciting to learn that the Barale wines – both old and new - are every bit as good. Cavallotto has long had strong national distribution in the US; this has given their wine good visibility at retail, in restaurants, and with wine publications. Although Barale first exported in 1934(!), for a long time in the US their wines have been available in just a couple of states, so they are generally much less well known and publicized.

Barale's first export certificate, 1934                                                                                                                         

 

As with all older Barolo (and Barbaresco, and Alto Piemonte), these bottles will more than reward careful handling. They have a lot of sediment, so they need to stand up for at least a couple of days to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle, and then they need to be carefully decanted off of the sediment 6-8 hours before dinner. That’s not a typo! By happy coincidence, I’m writing at the same time that John Gilman, author of the remarkable newsletter called View from the Cellar, has published a fantastic article about serving old wine. John has amazing (and enviable) depth of experience in tasting fine old (and new) wine, so I was very gratified to read that we agree about how to handle Nebbiolo (and, because it's controversial, I was just as pleased to read that we agree about decanting Pinot Noir!). 

I'm not a sommelier - as guests at some of our dinners can attest, I pour for you  at your own risk - but I have decanted a lot of old wine. Here are some basics.

Shown here - at home - is everything you might need to decant. For old corks it's great if you have a Durand - the corkscrew on the left - but you can almost always make do with a decent 'waiter's' corkscrew like the green one in the photo. It's a good idea to remember that old corks are delicate, and you don't need a lot of force to pull them!

You do not need a decanter – any glass pitcher or bottle will suffice, along with a light source like a flashlight or candle - or cellphone.

 

1. Stand the bottle upright to allow the fine sediment to settle. With older wines try to allow at least 24 hours – even more time is preferable.

Using the Durand                                                                              

 

2. Pull the cork carefully so as not to disturb the sediment that’s now settled to the bottom of the bottle, thanks to step #1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. In this photo I'm positioned so that I can see the light shining through the neck of the bottle, illuminating the stream of wine passing through the neck - this is described in more detail below.

4. Begin to pour the wine into the decanter (being right-handed, I hold the bottle in my right hand and the decanter in my left); try to keep the flow slow and steady to avoid agitating the bottle.

5. As you watch the illuminated wine flowing through the upper part of the bottle, the cloudy part of the wine (ie, the lighter part of the sediment) will begin to enter the stream of liquid; when it reaches the top of the bottle, stop pouring. Typically anywhere from ½ inch to 3 inches of wine will be left in the bottle; this amount depends on how gently you’ve operated, and of course on the amount of sediment that was there in the first place.

Any wine left in the bottle can be poured into a glass to settle out again – you can see later if this looks worth trying or not (and if you do try it you will likely notice how much the sediment compromises the quality of the wine). Some people recommend filtering the sedimented wine through a coffee filter or cheesecloth, but we would advise against adding filtered wine back to the clean decanted wine.

Sediment down the drain:

Giacosa Barbaresco 1989                                      
F. Rinaldi Barolo 1970                                                     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An optional final step: Once the wine is decanted you can rinse out the bottle (very often there’s lots of sediment left behind), and then re-pour the wine back into the bottle. You’ve now “double-decanted”, which permits you to serve the wine from the bottle instead of from a decanter. This is especially useful if you’re taking the bottle to friends or to a restaurant, and you want to avoid showing up with a wine full of suspended sediment.

Double-decanting                                                                        

 

A pitcher is much easier to pour from than a decanter! What's missing? that funnel I can't find...

The big question: How far ahead of serving should you decant?

This can be controversial. For example, many Burgundy aficionados insist that you should never decant old Burgundy because the wine is too fragile; based on the shocking number of fine old Burgundies we’ve tasted that have been ruined by sediment, we respectfully disagree, and when we’re in control of the bottle will decant a bit ahead of serving the wine. This should be the baseline for serving old wine / wine with sediment: decant just before serving.

By contrast, we have observed countless times that some wines benefit from extended time in the decanter; this is especially true for Barolo and Barbaresco, including even very old bottles of those wines. Too many times the very last of the bottle has been the most delicious – and not because we’ve been drinking!

Some suggestions for how long ahead to decant:

Barolo and Barbaresco: 6-8 hours for bottles up to 40+ years old; 3-4 hours for older wines;

You can read Gilman's detailed prescriptions for success in the attached article, but here's my current thinking on other types of wine:

Bordeaux: 1-2 hours for bottles up to 20 years old; shortly before serving for older wines;

Burgundy: 1-2 hours for bottles up to 10 years old; shortly before serving for older wines;

California Cabernet: 1-2 hours for bottles up to 20 years old; shortly before serving for older wines;

Rhône: 2-3 hours for bottles up to 10 years old; 1 hour for older wines.

And, yes, we do decant young red wine, and we often decant white wine, but we’ll leave those for another day. If you have any questions or comments, please email me: jamie@chambersstwines.com

PS: Because we're trying to catch up, deliveries of these wines will be made the week of May 11th (except for local deliveries, which should be ready next Tuesday or Wednesday). Thanks for your patience!

 

 

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