How to make cheap wine taste expensive

by Jessie K on January 21, 2013

186758715767348979_KeyC4cIp_cJake and I were invited to a dinner party over the weekend and our hosts served the most delicious red wine: smooth and rich without any of that tart, astringent aftertaste that is characteristic of many lesser tier wines. It was so delicious, it reminded me of my all-time favorite red. I asked the hosts what kind it was but they politely demurred. Later on, as we finished our meal, I asked again. The hostess looked a bit sheepish and asked, “You’ve heard of Three Buck Chuck, right?” I hesitated, thinking I’d just been wine punk’d.

She admitted the luscious wine I couldn’t stop praising was the famous (or infamous) Charles Shaw — a.k.a. Three Buck Chuck — Cabernet Sauvignon from Trader Joe’s for $3.29! $3.29!

The secret, she said, to making Three Buck Chuck taste top shelf is to decant it twenty minutes before serving. She began employing this trick after she also couldn’t stop commenting on the “fine wine” served at a friend’s dinner party some time ago.

Decanting — pouring wine from one vessel to another — works because it exposes a wider surface area of wine to oxygen, enabling it to take on subtle, complex flavors at an accelerated pace. (Read more about decanting here.)

I have a decanter — a wedding gift — but I admit I rarely use it, long assuming decanting is one of those fussy, old world activities performed more for pretension than any legitimate flavor benefit. I now see the error of my ways. Think of the savings! Three bottles of vino for the price of one. And I’m telling you: Three Buck Chuck tasted amazing.

One-of-a-kind decanters abound at thrift shops. If you want a new one, check out options from Terrain, CB2, MoMaStore, and Wine Enthusiast.

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