To decant or not decant? This is a question that puzzles and intimidates many people when opening a bottle of wine. It is even debated amongst wine experts at times! Lets take a look at when and why wine is decanted.
First, what is decanting wine? Decantation is a process for the separation of mixtures of immiscible liquids or of a liquid and a solid mixture such as a suspension. In layman’s terms, decanting is when you slowly pour wine from its bottle to another container without disturbing any sediment that may be in the wine bottle.
To separate the wine from the sediment is the original purpose of decanters. This is due to older red wines and vintage ports start to produce sediment as they age. The sediment is when the tannins and the color pigments bond together. Sediment is certainly not harmful but it is not pleasant to get a mouthful of when drinking your wine. It has bitter flavors and a gritty texture.
Some red wines start to produce sediment after five years, others may take up to ten years. When in doubt, go ahead and decant.
Here is how to decant so you look like a pro in front of your friends…
- If you are pulling the wine bottle from a vertical position, then set the bottle upright for 24 hours or more before drinking, so the sediment can slide to the bottom of the bottle. It is easier to decant this way but if you do not have that much time, it is okay. Even a couple of hours is better than nothing.
- Locate a decanter or other clean, clear vessel from which the wine can easily be poured into glasses.
- Remove the capsule and cork; wipe the bottle neck clean.
- Hold a light under the neck of the bottle; the old school method has been a candle but a flashlight or your phone’s light will also work just fine.
- Pour the wine into the decanter slowly and steadily, without stopping; when you get to the bottom half of the bottle, pour even more slowly.
- Stop as soon as you see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle. Sediment isn’t always chunky and obvious; stop if the wine’s color becomes cloudy or if you see what looks like specks of dust in the neck.
- The wine is now ready to serve. Discard the remaining ounce or two of sediment-filled liquid in the bottle.
The other reason to decant is to “open the wine up” by aerating it with oxygen. Some wines, especially younger, full-bodied wines take some time for their flavors to become more expressive and this is when aerating is advantageous. If the wine has age, be careful about decanting to long before you want to enjoy since the flavors may become too aerated and oxidize. You can also miss out on how the wine evolves in the glass as well. That is part of what is fun about wine…they are always evolving.
We certainly recommend experimenting with decanting for aeration. If you know the wine is big and bold and needs it, go ahead and decant an hour before you want to enjoy it. If you are unsure, open and try a bit first.
There are many different styles of decanters. Some are simple glass containers that look similar to a flower vase. Then, some are made of delicate, hand blown crystal with elaborate shapes. Decanters can definitely be a beautiful showpiece on the table so part of decanting can be the “show” and beauty of it.
If splurging, we highly recommend the fine crystal decanters of Riedel and Waterford. Le Chateau Wine Decanter is a nice less expensive glass option that looks nice and works well.