The Art of Decanting
With the wide variety of shapes, sizes and artistic twists on today’s modern wine decanter, it would be easy to assume decanting a bottle of wine is all about style and beauty. But there are good reasons for decanting your wine – reasons that have everything to do with taste and enjoyment, not just how good it looks on the table!
There are two general reasons to decant a wine:
1. To Remove Sediment: Old wines that have been cellared properly will contain sediment from the aging process. By properly decanting the wine, the sediment will remain in the bottle and not in your glass.
2. To Let the Wine Breathe: Young full-bodied red wines can benefit from decanting because when they come in contact with oxygen, the aromas present in the wines are released. Remember, tasting wine is just as much about the nose as it is about the tongue.
Wines which have aged in bottle, typically red wines as opposed to white, often produce a sediment once they hit about 10 years old. Not only is this sediment somewhat unsightly, it can also be quite unpleasant in the mouth. More than any other wines, these are the ones that can benefit from decanting.
Today’s winemaking process ensures its product is thoroughly clarified before it is bottled, by a process of fining and mechanical filtration. Although these wines can certainly be served straight from the bottle, many can benefit from decanting as well.
The aim in decanting a young wine is not to remove the sediment (as there is rarely any), but rather to aerate the wine or let it breathe. The actual process of decanting the wine together with the fact that the wine in the decanter has a large surface area in contact with the air alters the wine. The exposure to oxygen tends to soften its youthful bite and encourage the development of the more complex aromas that normally develop over the years in the bottle.
Decanting an Aged Wine
- First stand the bottle upright for a day or so prior to decanting, to encourage any sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle
- When ready to decant the wine, have a corkscrew, a decanter and a source of light(such as a small lamp or candle) on hand
- Remove all foil or wrapping from around the neck of the bottle -- it's important to have a clear view into the neck of the bottle while you transfer the wine to the decanter
- Position the light source to shine through the neck of the bottle from behind
- Hold the decanter in one hand and the bottle in the other, and with a
- smooth, steady action (to avoid disturbing the sediment) pour the wine into the decanter
- Keep the neck of the bottle over the light source, so you can see any sediment moving into the neck of the bottle – stop pouring when you see the sediment
- Once done, you should have a full decanter of clear wine, and just half a glass or so of sediment-laden wine in the bottle
Decanting a Young Wine
- For a young red wine, choose a wide bottomed decanter which will provide more surface area for oxygen to come in contact with the wine
- When it comes to the transfer, splash the wine into the decanter while pouring -- the more it splashes, the more oxygen it comes in contact with
- Let the wine settle and rest for a short time -- you can usually let the wine sit in the decanter for 1/2 to 1 hour before drinking
When looking to purchase a decanter, keep few things in mind:
- Here’s where your style comes into play, what suits the glasses you have and will compliment your table?
- Most decanters are clear glass, to allow you to enjoy the clarity and colour of the wine, but opaque and solid decanters are also available
- Decanters come in lots of unique and interesting shapes, however consider how easy they’ll be to clean (and check out Cleaning Stemware for tips for cleaning decanters)
So technically-speaking, even though it is true that most wines sold today don’t necessarily need to be decanted, doing so, in the right way for the right wine can improve your wine-tasting enjoyment.