Lan Truong

You’re not supposed to put wine in a blender. But that’s what I’m doing. Pouring in half a bottle of a good Lagrein and hitting the button to zap it. It froths energetically, with an odd purple color that looks more like I stuffed a Sesame Street character in there instead of an Italian red. I’m not much of a wine puritan, but it feels violent, an act of vandalism. According to wine lore, you never manhandle vino like this.

I’m actually trying to make the wine taste better. The technique is known as hyperdecanting, and it’s just a way of getting air into the wine quickly. It’s in the nature of wine to change—it’s often discussed as though it were a living thing, advancing from a vigorous youth to a regal maturity. In the sealed environment of the barrel and bottle, alteration is a process of months and years, but in the glass it can be a matter of minutes and hours. Exposure to air causes the wine to oxidize and evaporate. That can be a good thing, as it diminishes disagreeable and unwelcome compounds while allowing aromatic and flavorful ones to shine. It’s what’s known as “opening up” a wine.

Leave a glass of wine long enough and it starts off as one thing and becomes something else over time—possibly something better. Which is odd, when you think about it. You don’t leave a dish of steak and fries for an hour to enhance the flavors, or to change them so the steak smacks of chocolate caramel and the fries taste like bananas. Beer doesn’t generally get better when left out; it just goes flat.

The problem comes when a wine needs too long to open up. It’s frustrating, not to mention a waste of money, to drink a wine that only gets good by the end. It’s a nice revelatory moment (“Ah, that’s what it’s meant to taste like”)—until you tip the bottle and realize it’s empty. Sometimes a wine will even taste better the next day, or beyond—I recently had a bargain Italian rosé by Cecilia Beretta ($11) that was fairly ordinary upon opening, yet (freakishly) tasted incredible by day four.

A wine glass (if only partly filled) is often sufficient to aerate a wine. Despite the mannerisms of some wine professionals, there’s nothing profound about swirling wine in a glass—it’s simply a way to draw air into the wine so it releases its true character. Decanting works in the same way, except the whole bottle is aerated when it’s poured. Most wines off the shelf are relatively young, so I’d consider decanting almost any red and maybe some whites. Even cheap wines will usually benefit from a decanter moment as it will help blow off any ugly ethanol or sulfur (bad egg) aromas. There are also devices known as aerators that fix onto the bottle and introduce air as the wine is poured.

Hyperdecanting is supposed to be swifter and more effective. The method was developed by Nathan Myhrvold, author of the science-focused, five-volume Modernist Cuisine cookbooks. His tests demonstrated that running the wine in a blender improved the flavor, especially in young reds. It’s the kind of thing that upsets wine aficionados—if you have one in your life, stick their favorite Barolo in the blender, stand back, and watch the resulting hysteria.

I experimented with a bottle of Moser Mangiapietre, which I knew stubbornly holds onto its best flavors almost to the very last drop. I used random folks at a wine bar as guinea pigs and gave the wine a 20-second blast. Everyone agreed it was better than the just-opened bottle. At first it had been dominated by tart cranberry flavors. Blended, it was softer and more rounded out, as the savory and raspberry background notes shone through. It was ready to drink. I ran the blender for over a minute—torturing the wine, it felt like. My test panel liked this version the least, as it took too much out of the wine, making it sharp and flat. There is obviously a sweet spot, as an excess of air will destroy a wine.

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Despite the science (Myhrvold’s, not mine), I don’t think I’ll be inclined to rev up the blender, and instead will stick to decanting. I like how wine is transformed by time, unsure how it will progress. It’s part of the complexity and mystery of what I’m drinking—each time I dip back in is a different experience.

A Tip on Decanting

Though decanting can seem affected, especially when cut crystal and somber gentlemen in suits are involved, it’s really just a tool. You can use any glass or porcelain vessel as long as it pours and is clean and aroma free. Then you simply uncork the bottle and pour the wine in. Precisely how long to decant is a boorish wine-world micro debate best steered clear of. Esteemed wine writer Matt Kramer suggests just 15 minutes before serving. I’d probably angle for a little longer—I’ve definitely had reds that have benefitted from an hour or more. Some wines shouldn’t be decanted (and definitely not blended). Older, delicate wines don’t thrive in air for long (though they may be decanted to remove sediment). And if you happen to be drinking Burgundy with the winemaker in the room, don’t ever reach for the decanter—Burgundians believe their wine is always perfect straight from the bottle.

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