THE QUESTION: I was dining with a group of friends and we ordered three different red wines. When the server brought the third, she attempted to reuse the decanter. She told me the bartender says "it's good to have leftover wine in the decanter." Is this true?
THE ANSWER: That's a new one to me. In tony restaurants where decanters are used, a fresh decanter for each bottle is standard.
In fact, many good restaurants deploy clean stemware with each new bottle, assuming the wines are of a different brand or vintage. But I'm going to throw your waitress a bone. There's justification for reusing a decanter besides the obvious convenience to the restaurant, though I'm not surprised your waitress didn't offer to elaborate. Two words: soapy residue. Decanters, which tend to have a wide bowl and thin neck, are a pain to rinse. Soap scum and even restaurant odours tend to cling to the inside surface unless the establishment takes good care to keep things pristine. I know this will sound pretentious, but these odours can easily sabotage the subtle flavours of a fine wine. By reusing a decanter, you're eliminating that risk. It's much more benign to use a decanter with a few drops of wine residue in it than one with soap scum or kitchen odours. But your restaurant was following bad form. It should confidently trot out a fresh - clean - decanter with each new wine.
Have a wine question?