Generally, most people with some knowledge about wine would agree that decanting wine has its benefits. But there can still be many questions around the subject – Should I only decant old wine? Does decanting wine improve its taste? Does decanting wine remove sulfites?
Well, we’ve put together this guide to help demystify the process and make decanting easy.
What does decanting mean?
Simply put, decanting means to pour a bottle of wine into another vessel – preferably a proper wine decanter. These can come in all shapes and sizes but a simple, clean, basic decanter will do the job perfectly well.
Why should I decant wine?
There are five main reasons to decant your wine:
1 – To aerate the wine.
Introducing air to the wine brings out the flavour and allows those subtle nuances to come through.
2 – To separate the wine from sediment.
Sediment is colour pigments and tannins bound together that fall out of solution. They have a gritty texture and are bitter, tasting not unlike black tea. If you were to shake the bottle, the wine will become cloudy and the bitterness will taste in the wine.
3 – To improve your and your guest’s objectivity.
By having the wine in a decanter it’s naked. You are more likely to be objective without the fancy label winking at you. You may know what it is, but there’s something about the look of the bottle that can sway you…
4 – To blow off some of the sulphur.
Sulphur affects me greatly and it’s often more present in younger wines. I would often double decant a young wine. This doesn’t get rid of all of the sulphur but it makes a huge difference.
5 – Drama and anticipation.
There is always that extra anticipation when opening a fine wine. Decanting, even if you think it unnecessary, will only magnify the occasion. A shiver of delayed gratification and the increased hope that it’s as good as you imagined.
How long should I decant a wine for?
For old wines, 25 years plus, you should decant and serve the wine straight away, within 15 minutes. You can then enjoy its further development over the course of a meal or other social occasion. 15 minutes may not seem a long time, but I would rather have the wine too soon than see it fade at the table.
Young and full bodied wines can be decanted for longer periods. If you are decanting a young wine, to open it up and soften the tannins, then it really is a question of taste. In my view, young wines should only be decanted half an hour, or one hour tops, before serving. This way you won’t risk losing the wines vigour or freshness. Also, I want to drink and show the wine as it tastes from opening. There is no doubt that it will evolve over the course of the meal. This is fascinating in itself, and can hold clues to the wines potential longevity.
Can I decant Champagne?
You can most definitely decant champagne, although hardly anyone does. I attended a Champagne Gosset tasting not too long ago. I very much enjoyed the wines and exclaimed to a company representative that they reminded me of Chablis. Chablis with bubbles. This is and was taken as a compliment. Within moments he decanted the Champagne. The transformation was immediate and incredible. The wine had become richer, fuller bodied and more sumptuous. I would recommend decanting all styles of Champagne.
Should I decant White Wine?
Generally, white wine will not improve with decanting. White wines rarely throw a deposit, or sediment. From time to time you may find tartaric crystals, but this is very unusual. There are no tannins to soften either. So without sediment or the need of aeration it is generally unnecessary.
There are some exceptions. Any fine wine, can and should be decanted. You will find that aged whites hit their stride sooner, after a decant. And anything full bodied will become more overt and expressive. Chardonnay, Riesling, white Rhone and white Rioja for instance. And of course decanting, prolongs the occasion, adds to the drama and if you weren’t salivating at the label, you will be when you see, hear, and smell the decanting process at work!
Steps to Decanting
1 – Choosing the wine.
As I’ve said, the tradition is to decant older, finer red wines but really any wine can be decanted and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
2 – Choosing a decanter.
Any decanter will do, glass or crystal, the effect is the same. But if you want to go the extra mile with your crazy, expensive wine, here’s a few tips. Medium bodied reds and most white wines should be served in a slim decanter with a smaller surface to oxygen ratio. Full bodied wines, including bigger Chardonnays, require a fatter vessel with a wider base. The bigger the wine, the bigger the base. If you can’t decide, go for a plain decanter. Remember, you don’t need a work of art on the table. Function is what matters and the focus stays on the wine.
3 – Before opening the wine.
Stand the wine bottle up in a cool, dark place. This allows gravity to do its bit and settle the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Ideally, stand the bottle in a spot that will be its desired serving temperature.
4 – Opening the wine.
Be sure, after the effort of cellaring, expense of purchase and standing the wine up, not to shake it a lot while opening. Keep the bottle upright and preferably, keep it flat on the table. Hold the bottle firmly while twisting the screw or removing the cork. Wipe away any bits of cork from the neck of the bottle.
5 – Pouring the wine.
Easy does it. Hold a torch (only use a candle when you’ve got the hang of this) under the neck so you can see the liquid. Pour the wine into the decanter. Be sure not to stop or jerk the bottle. It should be one seamless flow. Slow the flow once you have poured 3/4 of the bottle into the decanter. You will be able to see the sediment. It can be in bits or cloudy. When you see this be sure to stop pouring when this part reaches the neck of the bottle.
6 – Get rid of the bottle and its remaining contents.
Throw it out! It’s tempting to keep pouring when the wine is expensive. Just a bit more. No. When sediment is at the neck of the bottle, stop pouring.
If there’s anything we haven’t covered in this article, drop us an email at [email protected] and we’ll do our best to answer your decanting questions. Happy decanting!