Old Barolo Decanting Suggestions

I recently purchased over 40 750 ml bottles of Barolo from multiple producers, vintages from 1952 to 1973. Also a 1970 A Conterno double magnum. Suggestions on when to pop the cork, decanting?

I’d say, use the search function, but the reality is that you are going to find lots of conflicting advice. My recommendation: make sure you stood the bottle up for a few weeks before drinking to let the sediment settle (I usually try to wait at least a month for bottles >25 years old). Open 10-12 hours before serving and decant (I like to double decant and serve out of original bottle). Put back in cellar. I usually test it about 6 hours after decanting, and if it’s starting to smell and taste good, I sometimes put it in the fridge to slow things down a bit if I’m feeling nervous (see below for why this is probably unnecessary). If you are committed to serving for dinner and it’s still not really open at about 15 minutes before people sit down, I sometimes pour glasses in advance to let them open up in the glass a bit.

Unfortunately, I find that it’s all a bit of a dance. Others will tell you to “slow-ox” (and others will say that doing so is pointless). Still others will give different advice for different ages. I tend to follow the same initial regimen (opening 10-12 hours in advance and double decanting) for all but the most recent vintages, although I’ve never opened a bottle from the 1950s. But I think there is so much variability with 40+ year old wines that bottle variation accounts for a lot of the different advice. The good news is that undamaged Barolo is pretty sturdy stuff, and you’ll also hear plenty of anecdotes from people who experienced improvement over 24 hours or more in 40-year-old Barolo, so I tend to believe that you don’t need to worry about opening too early in the day. If the bottle is sound, it won’t go bad and will likely benefit from air. If it isn’t sound, your decanting regimen probably won’t save it.

Good luck!

+1

For the very old wines, sniff to see if there’s any sign of oxidation. I foolishly ignored the warning signs and double decanted a 1995 a year ago and was DOA by the time I got to the restaurant. I think it would have been drinkable poured straight from the bottle. (Obviously you don’t normally expect oxidation in a 1995.)

Some very good suggestions here and I agree for the most part. Super important, which was re-iterated, stand the wines up in cellar for a few weeks minimum. Then carefully decant the wine off the sediment using a super fine mesh. Smell and possibly taste after a few minutes to make sure the wine isn’t oxidized and is worthwhile. Assuming its sound, I’ll typically let it sit in the decanter about 6 hours or more before funneling back into the bottle, which will have been thoroughly cleaned of all sediment. I’ll decant again about a half hour before drinking. I drink a pretty fair amount of old Nebbiolo, at least 1-2 bottles a week, and have had pretty excellent results. I don’t subscribe to slow-o on nebbiolo (where I would on other wines). Nebbiolo needs air.

Just for clarity, are you saying the oxygenation here is aimed at coaxing out a seemingly dull wine, rather than one that seems over the hill and a little oxidised?

The older wines I have most trouble with are the latter.

regards
Ian

What Daniel Moritz said. The only thing I’d add is doing the initial bottle evaluation can take some experience to distinguish between a sound and not sound bottle, so I’d error on the side of more decanting rather than less. The upside of a wine that seems questionable at first and opens to a glorious wine with sufficient (6+ hours) decanting is so much more than the down side of missing a wine that’s enjoyable but at the end of its life. This approach has worked well for bottles back to 1947 and many from the 50’s, so bottle age isn’t a disqualification here. More air being the cautious approach seems counter intuitive…Barolo is apparently like golf where you have to hit down on the ball to make it go up more.

Nebbiolo at every stage of life needs air you just can’t kill older Nebb. Stand the bottle up for a few days before opening. Pour through a strainer until you reach the fine sediment and decant for 6-12 hours before serving.

Thanks for all the recommendations. We are going to have 4 wine gatherings around the bottles. I need a lot of decanters

Hi Andrew,

I fully agree with Jay’s recommendations on the handling of the wines, but the question I would ask you is will you be shipping the wines over any distance before you have the bottles in your cellar. I learned the hard way to allow old Barolo to settle in after travel for several months if the wines move any distance, as I wasted several great bottles opening them before they had recovered from transit. Nebbiolo’s sediment is really very bitter and astringent and you want to make sure that it is not still kicked up in suspension before planning on drinking the wines, so if the forty bottles have travelled a bit, do give them some extended time in the cellar to recover. And once they are out of the travel zone, I always stand them up for a minimum of two weeks before decanting them, just to let that sediment again sink to the bottom.

John